Led by county disaster response personnel, state and federal representatives embarked on a two-day driving tour of San Bernardino Mountain communities on March 30 for a first-hand look at the damage wrought by the late-winter blizzard that buried many homes and businesses under more than 10 feet of snow.
The county is pushing for the state to add San Bernardino County to the list of California counties for which Gov. Newsom has requested a Major Disaster Declaration from President Biden. Such a declaration could eventually make mountain residents and businesses eligible for various forms of federal assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).
“We need Governor Newsom to request that San Bernardino County receive a Major Disaster Declaration from the federal government,” said Board of Supervisors Chair Dawn Rowe, whose 3rd District includes all of the snow-impacted communities in the San Bernardino Mountains. “Unfortunately, the most recent action by the governor did not include our county.”
On March 14 the county submitted an initial damage estimate to the California Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES), reporting $143,185,056 in losses to private property. At the time, the county knew of 302 damaged homes, 42 of which had been destroyed and 38 others having sustained major damage. Out of 46 nonresidential/commercial properties listed, 10 were marked destroyed and seven were listed with major damage.
An additional $16,633,550 in costs and losses were reported for public agencies. This included debris removal, emergency protective measures, roads and bridges, public buildings and equipment, and personnel overtime costs.
By March 16, ongoing assessments had pushed that $159,818,606 total to $247,667,278. The general threshold for a Major Disaster Declaration is 1,200 homes destroyed or over $70 million in property damage.
“I am hopeful that this tour moves us a step closer as FEMA and other partner agencies will see first-hand the urgent needs of our mountain communities,” Rowe said. “While I’ve worked hard at the county level to aid our residents and businesses, many of them need additional financial assistance to recover and rebuild.”
Two representatives each from FEMA, the SBA and Cal OES were to spent March 30 and 31 with staff from the County Office of Emergency Services, County Public Works, County Land Use Services, the County Assessor-Recorder-Clerk and the County Fire Marshal driving through mountain neighborhoods and business districts to verify some of the details reported by the county in the initial damage estimate.
The state and federal representatives were not expected to exit the vehicles often or interview residents in what is being termed a “windshield” tour of the damage.
The county’s hope is that the tour will lead the state to request a presidential Major Disaster Declaration for San Bernardino County, which could lead to federally funded temporary housing assistance, funds to repair or replace owner-occupied homes, funds for uninsured or under-insured disaster-caused expenses and serious needs, SBA loans and other forms of assistance.
It was not known when or if these tours will result in a state request to the president or a subsequent presidential declaration, or how long it would take after a presidential declaration to determine what, if any, federal aid will be available to mountain residents, or what the process will be for accessing the aid.
The county will continue to make the strongest possible case for opening all forms of assistance to mountain residents and businesses. In the meantime, residents who sustained property damage are urged to work with their insurance carriers to fund and proceed with repairs.