SACRAMENTO, Calif. - California officials and consumer groups have joined forces in an effort to block a bill in the legislature that they say could make earthquake insurance unavailable.

They include Speaker Emeritus Willie Brown, D-San Francisco; Assemblyman Richard Katz, D-Sylmar; the Consumers Union; and the Proposition 103 Enforcement Project.

The group held a news conference Tuesday at which they vowed to block the bill, SB 58, which would eliminate the law that requires insurers to sell earthquake insurance if they offer homeowner's insurance.

If the two products are unlinked, insurers will no longer offer earthquake insurance to consumers, the group says. It contends that this would leave the 2.1 million California homeowners who currently have earthquake insurance without coverage.

Even as insurers attempt to get out of the once-profitable market, more lenders are requiring buyers to have earthquake insurance, the group said in a press release.

Freddie Mac, the secondary-market giant, has begun to require condominium associations and condominium owners in quake-prone areas to have earthquake insurance before it will buy their mortgages. The group said this requirement may soon be directed at individual homeowners, but an official at the agency, formally the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., said emphatically that it has no intention of extending its requirement.

Those in favor of eliminating the mandate requiring insurers to offer earthquake insurance believe the move will bring the insurance companies back into the state to sell homeowner's insurance.

Nevertheless, the group said that no companies have made assurances that they will return and some companies have said they will not return. The industry says companies should not be forced to offer a product that could financially destroy them, but consumer groups say that insurers have not proved that earthquake insurance would be financially ruinous to the industry.

A compromise might require the insurers to sell limited, no-frills earthquake protection.

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