EXCLUSIVE: San Bernardino Blizzard Response Highlights Bureaucratic Ineptitude, With Deadly Results

David Zalubowski

As covered here at RedState, the woeful California state and San Bernardino County response to the recent San Bernardino Mountains blizzard was at best pathetic and at worst criminal.


I added a personal story to the mix, as a family I love like my own was and still is directly affected.

To better illustrate both angles of the story, I recently spoke with Beth Jahnsen, a member of the aforementioned family, who lives in the affected range. In this first part of the interview, we discussed the indifference and ineptitude characterizing both state and local immediate preparedness for, and response to, the blizzard.

Let’s start at the beginning; actually, before the beginning of the storm. Was there any kind of notification by the county regarding the storm’s severity and any precautions people should take? Or was it just radio silence, and we hope you’re watching the weather report?


Mainly the weather report. We did not get any reverse 911 calls. Most people up here are on Facebook neighborhood groups, and that’s how we find out information. I follow Caltrans. I think my dad follows the sheriff’s department. I sign up for most of my representatives’ email lists.

I left the mountain Tuesday, thinking it might snow a little Tuesday night. I didn’t know it was going to be a blizzard. I never heard that. I packed for a week and a half, mostly work clothes. I thought there’d be maybe five feet of snow. The county said they told us it was a blizzard the day before they found out it would be a blizzard. I heard it on talk radio.

I was thinking about the emergency response or lack thereof and mentally comparing it to a situation you’ll have in Florida or southern coastal states when they know a hurricane is coming. When it reaches a certain point, the officials tell you, “We told you to leave. If you haven’t left yet, you’re on your own; we can do nothing for you.” At any point in time, did anybody from the county suggest you might want to get out?

No. They did not have evacuation centers set up before it started. We did not have the plows we would typically have up here because the snow level was going to be so low. It snowed at my brother’s house in Rancho Cucamonga. It snowed where I work at 1500 feet. They removed resources from the mountain because it was going to be so bad they had to in order to keep the Cajon Pass (I-15) open because that’s where all the trucks come through. (NOTE: I-15 is the highway connecting Los Angeles and Las Vegas.) We actually had fewer resources than usual.


The people up here, generally, won’t want to get out unless they know that, okay, this is going to be a bad one. We heard it would be 52 to 60 inches here and 70 inches in Running Springs. Big Bear (NOTE: Big Bear is a popular ski resort in the area) was going to get it. Big Bear wound up getting less snow than the rest of us because the storm came in through the Cajon Pass and hit our side hard.

I never heard anything from the county. I heard more from my employer regarding what I was supposed to do because they sent an email to my work email, my personal email, and a text to my cell phone. Twice! “This is bad; stay home if you can’t get out. Let your supervisor know.” That’s more than the county sheriff, the county supervisors, or anybody with the county did. It’s been a month. We have still not gotten anyone from the county asking on their Facebook if we’re okay or a reverse 911 call. I have heard one person say they got one. The rest of us did not. In the midst of it, there was no “are you okay?”

Even when they said blizzard, I thought it would be the five feet of snow they’d already mentioned. I was looking at the weather report, which said eight inches on day one and 14 to 15 inches on day two. We usually get two to three feet maximum in a storm. Five feet is a huge deal. So when it hit, on day two, I was talking to my kids, and I saw how much snow they had, and it was double the amount of snow they thought would fall. So we’re freaking out. Now, the county’s not freaking out. They’re plowing Cajon Pass. Our roads didn’t get plowed.


Here’s a comparison. We’ve had our road plowed at least three times today (March 22), maybe four in the past 24 to 30 hours. That’s normal. They start plowing, usually a couple of hours after it starts snowing, because they need to keep up. Once it starts snowing and gets to a couple of inches – not feet, inches – the snow plows start plowing in the middle of the night. The roads are clear by 6 AM. They know where to go, have the routes, and do their thing. Then, they come back and start again. When the blizzard came, they did not do that. There were roads not plowed at all. There are private roads up here that are still not plowed.

Part of this is Caltrans has to do the highways. Every road coming up here to the mountain is a highway. That’s all Caltrans. They’re in charge of all the main roads that run through the town. The county’s plows cannot plow until Caltrans plows those roads because they will not plow a highway; they’ll plow only county roads. Once you get past that, there are two separate district designations within the county, each with its own jurisdiction over which roads they will plow. On the road where my parents live, it literally stops in the middle of the road, and whoever has jurisdiction up to there stops plowing, even in a blizzard. The plow literally stops in the middle, pulls its blade up, and drives over the snow. So, to get the road clear from the bottom of the mountain to in front of my parent’s house, there are three different agencies, and they will not plow each other’s roads even in the midst of a blizzard disaster.


What kind of response was there from Caltrans during the blizzard?

My experience with Caltrans was this. My parent’s electricity went out on day two. I found out the next day through different Facebook groups that a tree was down across some power lines on a nearby road. I called and emailed both Southern California Edison and Caltrans. Caltrans responded that the roads were clear. I told them the roads were not clear because Southern California Edison was telling me they could not get to the downed tree because the roads were not clear. So, Caltrans came back and said they couldn’t plow the road because there was a downed tree on electrical wires, and Southern California Edison had to get rid of it before they could plow the road. So, Southern California Edison couldn’t get to the tree because there were eight feet of snow on the road, but Caltrans couldn’t clear the road to get to the tree because there was a down tree on electrical wires, and it was dangerous.

Days later, Edison finally got a crew to the tree. It was 4:00 PM. We could see them. At 5 o’clock, they left, and the response was it was too dangerous for them to fix. Okay… but there are people who have been without electricity or heat for six days. Dangerous for them as well.

So Caltrans kept telling me they’d plowed the roads. That didn’t mean all the other roads had been. They hadn’t. What’s more, they couldn’t have been with the equipment we had left because when Caltrans reached their stopping point on the road, they were leaving a giant berm across it. The few plows we had left didn’t have blowers; they were regular plows, so they were essentially useless when the snow was two feet or deeper. Moreover, two days into the storm, they ran out of diesel for the plows.


I’d had it. I started calling Edison and telling whoever would answer the phone, “Look. There’s nothing you can do to help me. I’ll tell you my story, but I’m trying to get to your supervisor, who can get me to their manager. Just give me the person above you.” I finally got to somebody who said I’m going to leave a message with the supervisor. She called me at 11:30 PM on my way home from work. I laid it out. I told her, “I get it. You have a lot of problems up there. In the morning, there will be two outages on the map, and before long, it’s 20. They’re getting fixed. My parents and their neighbors aren’t. They’re next. Their town has had no power for six days. My parents are going to run out of fuel for their generator tomorrow. Other people are in worse shape. I don’t care who you call tomorrow morning but get together with the road people. There are three of them. Get together with whoever. This is your priority.” She said she was writing down precisely what I said. I replied, “That’s great, but I don’t want to hear ‘it’s their fault; it’s their fault’ like I have been constantly.” Whether it was because of me, I don’t know, but the following day the power was restored.

(NOTE: If you feel led to help those affected, Beth and others are running Operation Mountain Strong, which is providing direct aid to those still in desperate need of assistance. Please visit their website at OperationMountainStrong.com to learn how you can help.)



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