FEMA supports Atascadero earthquake expenditures
December 14, 2012
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Ontario office reaffirmed its previous decisions to fund $8 million in San Simeon earthquake-related repair projects for the City of Atascadero in a response to an audit report by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) that contends the city received the money illicitly.
The same FEMA office that previously approved the funding, evaluated the OIG’s report and its recommendation that $8 million in funding be returned and determined that funding was appropriately allocated and costs were justified for all but $1,312.
In April, nearly eight years after the San Simeon Earthquake damaged the Printery Building and Atascadero city hall, the OIG recommended that FEMA ask the city to return $8 million in relief funds because of issues with conflicts of interest, unsupported requests for monies, and expenditures for a building the city fraudulently called an active youth center.
In its report, the OIG questioned city staff requested for an “improved project” to build a replacement youth center. The city went on to say, “The youth center is currently located in the … Printery Building that was severely damaged during the San Simeon Earthquake,” the state agency acknowledged the city’s claim in a May 12, 2005 letter to FEMA officials. However, the Printery had not been the city’s youth center for several years.
FEMA objected to the OIG’s request that the money be returned noting that a month before the earthquake portions of the printery building had been rented by local businesses for weekly or monthly classes within a month of the earthquake. The FEMA response does not look into the false statements the city made almost 10-years-ago about the building being an active youth center at the time of the quake.
OIG Investigators also found numerous questionable acts in the city’s use of funds to transform a former bowling alley into a temporary city hall building while the former city hall was slated to be renovated.
In its response, FEMA said it disagreed with the OIG’s finding that several transactions were not done at arm’s length and that time extensions were invalid.
In a press release, Atascadero city officials said that while the FEMA is not a “final determination and closeout on the OIG report, FEMA’s affirmation of previous funding decisions is supportive of the City’s efforts.”
“This is wonderful news,”Mayor Tom O’Malley said. “FEMA and CalEMA have been terrific partners in helping the City recover from the devastating San Simeon Earthquake damages. We worked hard to keep our community informed during the entire audit process and are pleased to hear that FEMA has reaffirmed what we always believed to be true. The Council is very appreciative of our staff ‘s good work. ”