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Public Papers - 1989

Remarks and a Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters Following a Tour of the Earthquake Damage in the San Francisco Bay Area

1989-10-20

The President. Let me just say that it's been a very moving experience touring these devastated areas. And first, I'd like to ask the Governor of the State to say a word, and then our Senator, Pete Wilson, a brief comment by our Secretary of Transportation. The FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] leader, Mr. Grant Peterson, is with us, too, to take your questions. And then I'll just have a comment at the end.

Governor Deukmejian. Well, from the very beginning, all of the governmental agencies have been working very cooperatively together. And they have met the immediate emergency response needs. And we are just delighted that the President not only has sent Secretary of Transportation Samuel Skinner out here earlier in the week but now that he, as the President, has come here himself today.

And on behalf of all of the people in California, on behalf of all of the local government officials, as well as the people who have been working night and day to be of assistance, we want to express our deep appreciation to you, Mr. President, for coming out here to take a firsthand look and for your pledge of all-out support by the Federal agencies as we go forward now and try to get people's lives back to some semblance of normalcy.

Senator Wilson. Mr. President, we are enormously grateful to you for taking the time and making the effort to come out and personally visit and see the site of the tragic, tragic earthquake and to make clear the compassion that you have demonstrated to these crowds this morning. I think their reaction to you indicates their gratitude and speaks volumes. We are very grateful for the fact that you have pledged your support. The cooperation has been extraordinary. And as you have learned yourself firsthand today by visiting with the rescue workers, volunteers as well as the professionals from both State and local governments, these are people of whom we are very proud.

This is a tragedy, but it has brought out the very best -- the people of California -- especially those here in the bay area. And we are very grateful that you could take time to come, sir, and see it yourself.

The President. I've asked Congressman Norm Mineta, who has been asked by the Speaker to coordinate matters for this large California delegation and the interests of that delegation, to say a word here.

Congressman?

Representative Mineta. Thank you very much, Mr. President. We are really gratified that you have taken the time to be here. Despite the human tragedy that you have been able to see and experience on this visit, we know that in terms of the long-term aspects the transportation disaster is going to be one that's going to have to be overcome. The fact that you have recognized that and sent Secretary Skinner out here to see this, so that we might be able to make those kinds of preparations to get everything back into order, is something that we are heartened by. And from my perspective as chairman of the committee that deals with highways and bridges and mass transit, Mr. President, I pledge you my support in terms of cooperation in order to get the job done.

Thank you very much.

The President. Well, I'd be glad to take some questions. But I will simply repeat that this matter is of national concern. I want to be sure to properly salute those volunteer agencies and those individuals that are giving of themselves just because they care, they love somebody. And that made an impression on me today, seeing those Red Cross workers. At the last stop, there were five paid Red Cross workers and, I think they said, 1,000 volunteers -- or maybe it was 100 -- but in any event, just manyfold people working and helping out.

The most touching moment -- I was asked about that at the last stop -- when this doctor, this marvelously heroic doctor, and his associate told me of pulling a kid out and having to amputate his leg to get him out of this crushed car. And then I had the opportunity to talk to the dad who was at the bedside of this 6-year-old boy. And I had a chance to tell him that the American people were rooting for him, to tell his dad that we all care. And there's 1,000 of those kinds of incidents, I'm sure, that I'm not even aware of.

But it's been a very moving day, and we do want to help.

Q. Mr. President, now that you've seen the devastation, is this the kind of a cause that's worth American taxpayers or California taxpayers to pay more taxes for to fix?

The President. We're going to do what is necessary to fix it. And I've talked to the Governor about that and about whether he would have to raise additional revenues. But the Federal Government, working with these others, has a responsibility. And so, we will do what is necessary to fulfill our Federal responsibilities, just as I expect the State will, the local government, and the volunteer efforts as well.

Q. Speaker Foley, sir, puts that Federal responsibility at /2\ billion, he said, at a minimum. Will you support that appropriation?

The President. I need to know what it is. I'm interested in talking to him about how he reached the figure. I was just talking to Congressman Panetta, who is one of the Congressmen from the area. He said it's very difficult for him to even give me an estimate. But I don't think we know the answer to the question -- what the amount is going to be. But I have great respect for the Speaker, and I'm sure he had some scientific way of arriving at that. But what I've learned is that the figures just keep piling up, so we don't yet know the answer.

Q. Mr. President, how long do you think it will be before the Federal Government will be able to put a fairly firm estimate on how much money they'll need to provide?

The President. It's not a Federal Government estimate. It has to be from all areas. It has to come in from these communities. They can't begin to tell you in these local areas what it's going to take on the freeways -- or how many lives were lost there even, yet. So, we don't know yet. So, I don't know -- either of you can help on the timing on when we might have a total estimate?

Secretary Skinner. Well, the President has directed that we put this at a top priority. Everybody is working virtually day and night. We'll be working with the House and the Senate, and the Senate scheduled a hearing on Monday. But some of the things we can identify, and as the President indicated, some of them we just have to work further on -- the numbers. But we are making emergency monies available right now for these next few days, and then we're going to move just as fast as we can. That's the boss's order.

Q. Mr. President, didn't the mayors whom you met with each tell you that it's going to cost at least, minimum, billion in each various city -- for a minimum of billion -- in your briefing this morning?

The President. No, they didn't tell me that, but they're right here. We can ask them what they think if you'd like to. And when I leave, ask the question. But I don't think that was covered on the briefing. I think they're all recognizing that their figures are a little soft at this point. But I don't recall each one saying the figure's billion; they didn't.

Q. Mr. President, have you accepted Secretary Skinner's offer to be in charge of the relief efforts?

The President. He didn't make such an offer, but I'm thinking of tapping him for such an effort. He's a good man and cares a lot. The Transportation Department has major responsibilities. So, when I get back I'll make that decision. One of the mayors, and I think the Governor, felt that it would be very useful to have a -- I was going to say a czar -- but somebody who would be the single point man, you might say, to pull all the resources of the Government together.

Having said that, I have great confidence in FEMA, and I was very, very pleased with the initial response to the FEMA action and at the way FEMA has responded. And I'm proud to say that and to speak up for the volunteers and professionals at FEMA. They are doing a very good job. But it might well be that we'll want a Cabinet officer to be the total coordinator.

Q. Mr. President, where would these billions of dollars come from, given the budget deficit problems?

The President. We'll have to wrestle with that, won't we, when we get into the budgeting process.

Q. Mr. President, you said no redtape. Will you have a legislative package that will propose doing away with redtape to a greater extent than now? What else can you do?

The President. No, there won't be such a package. There will be just an ongoing effort to do away with redtape.

Q. Mr. President, would you resist any attempts to impose new taxes to pay for the disaster relief here in this area?

The President. I am going to do what is necessary to have the Federal Government fulfill its obligation.

Q. Is that a yes, Mr. President?

The President. I am going to do -- let me repeat it for you because you couldn't hear it. I am going to do what is necessary for the Federal Government to fulfill its obligations under the law.

Any others? Thank you. We're heading home. And may I say to the various mayors and to the speaker who -- Willie, come over here. Now, you're uncharacteristically shy, standing in the background. [Laughter] And to the mayor of Alameda and to the mayor of Oakland, my sincere appreciation for all your time. And I hope I didn't misquote you when I said that you felt there had been, at least up to this point, good cooperation at all levels; and we want to do our part. But I'm grateful to you all for being with us today. And we will try very hard to join you in helping to alleviate the suffering and helping to get these communities back on their feet.

Thank you all very much. And you guys, I understand you may see a game. Are you guys friends? [Laughter] Come over here just a minute, both of you, and say hello.

Note: The President spoke at 1:18 p.m. on the tarmac of Moffett Naval Air Station in San Jose, CA. In his remarks, he referred to State Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, Jr., Mayor Chuck Corica of Alameda, and Mayor Lionel J. Wilson of Oakland. An earthquake struck the San Francisco Bay area on October 17. Following his remarks, the President returned to Washington, DC.

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