CALIF. SHAKEN, BUT BARELY STIRRED

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When it comes to natural disasters, southern Californians are a resilient lot.

Just six months after the Northridge earthquake, the attention of Los Angeles County is focused elsewhere. Despite continual reminders of Mother Nature's devastating display of power, elevator talk is more likely to turn to the World Cup or the O.J. Simpson case than The Big One.

And while no one would belittle the Jan. 17 temblor's toll, either in dollars or shaken psyches, Los Angeles County is recovering quite nicely.

The giant freeway overpasses that collapsed during the shaking and clogged the area's lifeline traffic arteries are already back in service, months ahead of schedule.

The effect of the quake on tourism, perhaps one of the biggest fears of businesses, has been minimal.

Indeed, the Los Angeles Convention & Visitors Bureau estimates a 2% increase in hotel occupancy to 65% during the first quarter of this year compared with the year-ago period.

Average hotel occupancy for 1993 was 55% at the downtown properties. This year, the rate has been running better than 60%.

The bureau is quick to note, however, that some of the gain can be attributed to the number of Federal Emergency Management Agency employees in the area.

But the bureau is encouraged. The World Cup international soccer tournament led to sellouts at most hotels in Los Angeles. Even the largest, the Westin Bonaventure Hotel with more than 1,300 rooms, had a waiting list.

"I can't remember the last time that happened," said a bureau spokesman. He added that all 19 of the big conventions scheduled this year in the newly renovated Los Angeles Convention Center are staying put. Last year, the center hosted only three big gatherings.

Nonetheless, the bureau is standing by its original estimate of $308 million in lost visitor spending. However, that figure must be put into the perspective of total visitor outlays of $8.25 billion. The Los Angeles riots two years ago accounted for $550 million in lost visitor spending.

To help promote tourism, an emergency ad campaign, funded in part by the federal government, is drawing 1,000 inquiries a day, the bureau spokesman said. The TV and print campaign, created by Davis, Ball & Colombatto, began June 6 and will run through the end of July in 10 western states. It carries the theme "PLAY."

In the area of work, however, one effort that should have benefited from the quake is seeing only moderate gains.

The Los Angeles County Telecommuting Program, an experiment begun in 1988 allowing city employees to work at home, stood to gain much from the quake.

Ten days after the big shake, the city announced it would broaden the program, with the help of the private sector, to help companies establish work-at-home options for freeway-stranded commuters. The program increased the number of telecommuting centers to 16 from nine in the four counties surrounding Los Angeles. The number of telecommuters jumped, almost overnight, to 700,000 from 500,000 before Jan. 17.

The number of telecommuters has dropped slightly since then, said Susan Herman, general manager of the city's Department of Telecommunications. "People who telecommuted every day have now scaled back to once or twice a week."

Still, the terrifying early morning main event in January opened some people's eyes.

"It woke me up," said Christine Reymand, a 37-year-old Golden State native who has lived through four other large earthquakes. "I said, `Enough of this bullshit.'*"

Out of work as an assistant publicist at Warner Bros. when the studio eliminated her department at the end of last year, Ms. Reymand decided to accept a job offer she'd gotten from a Wisconsin agency.

Now an account exec at KDS, Oakfield, Wis., Ms. Reymand said she's "more relaxed than I've been in 10 years."

Most Los Angeles agency heads reported only isolated incidents of employees fleeing the shaking ground. Gerry Rubin, president of Rubin Postaer & Associates in Santa Monica, said he lost a six-year veteran who "moved instantly" to the Midwest, citing concern for her children.

Mr. Rubin's house in Santa Monica suffered extensive damage and he only recently completed repairs. Because of the demand for tradesmen caused by the quake, he had to import workers from Santa Barbara, about 60 miles north of the city, where he has a second home.

Like many neighborhoods, Mr. Rubin's block is looking better than ever as homeowners attend to previously neglected repair projects.

As to the long-lasting effects of the quake, Mr. Rubin noted the resiliency of southern Californians. "We generally don't look back," he said.

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