Article and Photos By Mary-Justine Lanyon
At a meeting called by the Lake Arrowhead Communities Chamber of Commerce, local business leaders gathered to share their experiences during the recent blizzard and its aftermath.
“How do we overcome negative publicity and get tourism back?” asked Robin Bull, the Lake Arrowhead chamber’s executive director. “How do we turn negative energy around?”
She further asked what financial resources are available. “We have lots of bills. We have to make payroll. We have to deal with the fact our businesses have been closed. We don’t know our level of loss yet.”
The county, Bull noted, is in the process of gathering information on lost rents, lost profits, lost inventories. “We know we have more losses than structural damage.”
“This has put a hardship on businesses,” said Josh Martin, the manager of Lake Arrowhead Village. And the closure of Highway 189 between Blue Jay and Lake Arrowhead Village is creating another set of problems. “We are getting hit from all sides. We need clarity on what we can do.” Martin added he would like to let his tenants know what is available and help them apply for grants.
“Lake Arrowhead will survive this,” said Clark Hahne on behalf of the real estate market. “There will be a dip. This is the worst storm I’ve ever seen. Some people might decide Arrowhead isn’t for them. There will probably be an increase in inventory. There may be a dip in prices but not a crash.”
Hahne added that the “county did a very good job once they got organized and got equipment out there. One storm like this could wipe out a city’s budget.”
“I’m mad about the economic devastation,” said Harry Bradley, publisher of the Mountain News. “People pay a tremendous amount in taxes – we want some of those taxes back. We need rebuilding grants. We need expedited building and safety. We employ you and we implore you – don’t forget that those of us who live and work here are not rich. We work to pay you. Now we want it back. We want you to get to work with us and rebuild this mountain community.”
Chad Logan of Logan Construction implored the county to speed up the permit process “so we can get repairs done on the commercial and private side. If we don’t get a grip on it, people will move forward with repairs not up to code.”
SkyPark’s Bill Johnson said that, because they knew the storm was coming, they rented a loader two days before the storm so they could clear their parking lots. They offered and will continue to offer SkyPark as an emergency command center. “It’s not a surprise to have a couple of bad months for a business but this is more severe,” Johnson said.
He added he “didn’t get” why the state moved plows to the Cajon Pass. “Why don’t they have their own yard and loaders?” he asked. “We are our own sustainable community. We need our own equipment.” Johnson also expressed concern for the park’s 200 employees. “The unemployment process doesn’t work. I would like to get some help for them. To lay them off for four to six weeks is brutal.”
Tricia DuFour, owner of Arrowhead Pine Rose Cabins, said she hopes the state and the county will look at this experience as an opportunity on how to better assist in an emergency situation. Her employee April shared how she has been dealing with cancellations. “People are irate and upset. I keep hearing they don’t want to get trapped. They are hearing on social media that our community can’t handle an emergency. It’s hard to reassure people it won’t happen again. People with reservations in April and May are trying to cancel. Snow used to bring us money – we called it white gold. Now people are scared to come up here.”
Nathan Hazard, owner of the Littlebear Bottleshop in Skyforest, said he was very outspoken when interviewed on TV news programs. “I tried to get the message across that, while there was failure on many fronts, the community came together.” He added that he implored Sunset magazine to come back in a few months and do a piece on why this is a “magical” place. “We are not crumbling, we are not broken, we have a lot to offer,” Hazard said.
“It’s unrealistic to say we should have been prepared,” said Bob Mattison, general manager of the Arrowhead Lake Association. “This was an epic event.”
While Mountains Community Hospital did very well, Julie Davis, the ER/med-surg manager, said their issues came from the roads not being plowed. Staff couldn’t get to work, patients who had been released could not get home. Because they have to care for their patients 24/7, she and others stayed on duty for 36 hours or more. Essential workers, she said, were not allowed access to the mountain. MCH was overwhelmed, Davis noted, with patients who did not have their medications. “We became an emergency dispensing station,” she said. And, she added, the hospital ended up being like a shelter. “What is your expectation of us?”
Sara Green, reporting for the Crestline Chamber of Commerce, asked how the community’s volunteers can continue helping when their homes are falling apart. Nine businesses, she said, had major interruptions due to structural or gas issues. Some businesses were unable to open due to berms blocking access or due to their parking lots being used to dump snow. “We need structural assistance, grants, rebuilding programs so we don’t have to rely on private insurance, grants to cover fixed expenses.” She added that tourism is where Crestline’s money comes from. “If the tourists don’t come, will we survive the summer? How many businesses will be shuttered?”
The economic impact to the Running Springs area was in the millions, said Jennifer Hurlbut, reporting for the Running Springs Area Chamber of Commerce. They were cut off from everyone else for a period of time, she said. “A lot of small businesses say they are close to not being able to stay open – how can they pay their rent, utilities, their employees?” She added that the Running Springs Fire Department was amazing in getting to people but they couldn’t get to everyone on time.
Supervisor Dawn Rowe, who attended the meeting, told the group that donations would continue to be accepted and the food distribution site would remain open, despite an announcement of their closure having been made. The county, she said, will look at what it can do better to prevent mistakes from happening in the future.
One of the biggest challenges, Supervisor Rowe said, was the redeployment of assets. The decision was made to redeploy assets, she said, “to help Edison so people would have power. Then the snowfall was heavier. It changed from plowing to a scoop and dump operation.
“We will look into the lessons we have to learn.”
Rowe added that the board of supervisors had waived all building and safety fees and will streamline the permitting process, with a dedicated team in Land Use Services.
Assemblyman Tom Lackey said he recognizes that this was “an enormous challenge for all of you. You should be proud: Your community leaders engaged in a way I’ve never seen.” He added that coordination and communication are the answer. “It sounds simple but it’s not so simple to accomplish,” Lackey said.
San Bernardino County Fire Chief Dan Munsey concluded the meeting by saying this was the most complex incident he had ever been on. The incident management team came together, establishing priorities.
“We know we can always do better. Lessons were learned. We will gather and create what’s required so the county is better prepared to respond to an emergency,” Chief Munsey said.