A real estate developer hopes the residents of San Bernardino County are so fed up with Sacramento that they will vote to leave California altogether and turn the county into a new state, perhaps called “Empire”.
“With the way things are going in California right now, I don’t know if there’s any hope for California,” Rancho Cucamonga developer Jeff Burum said on Tuesday, July 26.
At Tuesday’s supervisory board meeting, Burum asked officials to put an advisory measure on the Nov. 8 ballot.
“Support that the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors and all federal and state elected officials representing the citizens of San Bernardino County seek approval from Congress and the state legislature to form a state separate from the California,” reads Burum’s proposed measure.
If successful, Empire would be the first new state since the creation of Hawaii in 1959, and the first carved out of another state since West Virginia left Virginia in 1863.
Burum said California state officials are ineffective and out of touch with the needs of Inland Empire residents.
“They’re not serious about the issues,” he said after the meeting. “They’re not trying to change anything. They’re just playing politics, trying to look good, look good, so they can get re-elected.
Frustrated with the barriers to building houses in particular, Burum said he wanted to do something about it.
“I don’t like being one of those guys who sit on the patio of a country club and complain about the way things are unless you want to do something about it,” he said. -he declares.
And “doing something,” in this case, means washing its hands of the Golden State, which he says is treating the California interior “like a slum,” putting prisons in the area but not, say, l infrastructure needed to build more houses.
“I think California has gotten so big that it’s impossible to save the whole state. We are the highest tax state in the whole union,” Burum said. “You would think that with this we would have the highest level of services, but that is not the case.”
If voters in San Bernardino County opt in to the proposed ballot measure, Burum thinks more could join them.
“I’m sure other counties that are being left behind in terms of rights might want to join us,” he said.
Details of Empire’s organization and management have not been worked out, and public support for the idea is unclear. Burum said he would do a poll on the issue “very soon”.
But on Tuesday, a number of local officials welcomed the idea at the board of oversight meeting, including Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren.
“We can’t keep begging and crawling and (crawling)…for resources for our county,” she said. “We have millions of citizens who have needs.”
Highlands Mayor Bill Velto blasted California’s unfunded mandates on local governments.
“I’m frustrated too. I’m frustrated with the state of California,” said Board of Overseer Chairman Curt Hagman, the former Republican leader in the state Assembly, though he refrained from endorsing the proposal. “It’s increasingly becoming a ‘one size fits all’ for the largest state in the country.”
It wouldn’t be the first time Californians have wanted to subdivide the state or break away from it entirely:
- In 1941, northern California counties sought to form the state of Jefferson, joining rural southern Oregon counties. The idea resurfaced during the pandemic, as conservative rural northern counties chafed over coronavirus restrictions.
- In 1965, the California State Senate actually voted to split the state in two, using the Tehachapi Mountains as the dividing line. But the idea never left a committee in the Assembly.
- In 1992, the Assembly approved a bill that would allow counties to vote to divide California into three states: Northern California, Central California, and Southern California. The idea died in the Senate.
- The 2003 “CaliFOURnia” proposal, which existed primarily in the form of letters to the editor, would have created four states, with the Inland Empire grouped with Orange, San Diego, and Imperial counties.
- There was a 2009 proposal to make coastal California, running from Los Angeles County through the Bay Area, into its own county.
- In 2011, former Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone wanted to consolidate Riverside, San Bernardino, Imperial, San Diego, Orange, Kings, Kern, Fresno, Tulare, Inyo, Madera, Mariposa, and Mono counties into a new “Southern California”.
- In 2013, venture capitalist Tim Draper backed a ballot initiative to divide California into six states, with the Inland Empire again lumped together with Orange, San Diego and Imperial counties. The initiative failed to qualify for the ballot.
- In 2018, Draper was back with the Cal 3 proposal, which would have split California into three states. This time, the proposal qualified for the ballot, but the state Supreme Court withdrew the measure so that its legality could be investigated.
“It is almost inevitable that some parts of a state will think other parts get all the money and respect,” wrote Jack Pitney, professor of American politics at Claremont McKenna College.
“I was born, raised and educated in upstate New York, where it is an article of faith that New York City dominates state government,” said added Pitney. “Upstaters have thought about breaking up at times, but as is usually the case with such moves, the costs outweigh the benefits. At this point, I doubt the folks in Sacramento are too worried, but we’ll see if the movement is gaining momentum.
But even if voters in San Bernardino County approved of secession, the hardest part would be yet to come.
“There is an infinitesimal chance that a secession movement will gain traction,” Marcia Godwin, professor of public administration at the University of La Verne, wrote in an email. The state legislature would have to approve secession, and then Congress would have to act.
“Even if such a move has gone this far, U.S. senators have no reason to support diluting their influence by giving the most populous state additional senators,” Godwin wrote. “Even California senators are likely to avoid upsetting their colleagues. The odds in the House of Representatives don’t look much better, as there are both resource and supporter considerations that would come into play.”
Burum agrees, acknowledging that getting the state legislature and congress to approve turning San Bernardino County into its own state “will be the biggest improvement of all.”
If the board of supervisors prefers to send the matter back to voters on Nov. 8, it will need to act quickly and address the issue at its Aug. 9 meeting to meet the ballot entry deadline.