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The San Bernardino County flag files near the San Bernardino County Government Center in downtown San Bernardino on Friday, Oct. 7, 2022. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
The San Bernardino County flag files near the San Bernardino County Government Center in downtown San Bernardino on Friday, Oct. 7, 2022. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
UPDATED:

After more than a year of study, San Bernardino County is preparing to release a report on whether those who feel the state government overlooks the county – the basis for a November 2022 measure to potentially secede from California – have a point.

The report is expected to be presented to the Board of Supervisors in coming weeks, officials say.

In 2022, the question was posed to voters this way:

“Do the people of San Bernardino County want San Bernardino County elected representatives to study and advocate for all options to obtain the county’s fair share of State funding up to and including secession from the State of California?”

A narrow majority – 50.62% of voters – said they did, supporting Measure EE.

Rancho Cucamonga real estate developer Jeff Burum stands outside the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors' chambers during a meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022. (File photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Rancho Cucamonga real estate developer Jeff Burum stands outside the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors’ chambers during a meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022. (File photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

Is San Bernardino County getting its fair share?

The general public first heard about the secession proposal when real estate developer Jeff Burum addressed the county Board of Supervisors on July 26, 2022.

“With the way things are in California right now, I don’t know if there’s any hope for California,” Burum told the board at the time.

He believed then – and still believes, he said – that the Inland Empire, one of the fastest growing parts of the state, is consistently short-changed by Sacramento. The region isn’t getting its “fair share” of resources, he said, whether it’s investment in infrastructure or state judges.

The answer, he said, might lie in forming a new state, to be called Empire. San Bernardino County, the largest in the United States, is larger than nine states, including Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and Rhode Island combined. It has a population roughly equal to that of New Mexico and more residents than 14 other states.

An in fall 2022 suggested it was near the middle of the pack in terms of state and federal funding, per capita. At that time, county officials estimated the county received a total of $1,071 per person from the state and federal government, combined. That put it behind Los Angeles County, ranked 28th, but ahead of more wealthy counties such as Santa Barbara (52nd) and Orange (55th).

In August 2023, the county hired Oakland-based for $192,400 to “provide a comprehensive study on all options to obtain the county’s fair share of state and federal resources.”

Earlier in the year, a – which was initially to include both public- and private-sector representatives – was formed to guide the process. The committee ultimately consisted of former county CEO Leonard X. Hernandez, Fourth District Supervisor Curt Hagman and county CFO Matthew Erickson, according to county spokesperson David Wert.

The committee met just once, on July 7, 2023. What it accomplished is unclear. According to Wert, there was no agenda, the meeting was not recorded and because there were no formal actions scheduled for the meeting, no minutes were taken.

Burum has no idea what the county’s report will ultimately show.

“I wish to God I knew,” he said Friday, June 7, nearly two years after he began the “fair share” campaign. “They hired a bunch of experts. So I’m interested in what their results are.”

He knows what the report ought to say, he said.

“I’d be stunned if it didn’t” show the county isn’t getting their fair share, Burum said.

This is not the first time Californians have toyed with splitting the state into smaller parts. According to the California State Library, . But even if San Bernardino County residents wanted to secede, secession would have to be approved by both the state Legislature and U.S. Congress.

The San Bernardino County Government Center stands against a blue sky in downtown San Bernardino on Friday, Oct. 7, 2022. (File photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
The San Bernardino County Government Center stands against a blue sky in downtown San Bernardino on Friday, Oct. 7, 2022. (File photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

Was Measure EE a serious ballot measure?

There are critics who think the point of Measure EE is something other than state and federal funding.

“The secession measure was not their true goal. Their true goal was passing Measure D and overturning Measure K,” said Tom Murphy, president of the , the small-government political group that sponsored Measure K in 2020 and spent years in court defending it.

Measure EE shared the ballot with Measure D in 2022, the latter of which set a compensation cap and term limit for county supervisors. But voters who hadn’t been following county politics in recent years may not have realized it was raising both the cap and term limits, largely undoing the stricter limits put in place by Measure K two years earlier.

, overwriting Measure K and raising term limits from one to three terms and capping supervisors’ compensation at 80% of the annual $225,074 base pay for San Bernardino Superior Court judges. Measure K had cut supervisors’ pay to $60,000 a year.

Driving voters skeptical of government to the polls to vote for what they thought were tough new limits on county supervisors was “absolutely” the purpose of Measure EE, according to Murphy.

Burum supported both measures.

“Certainly, it is impossible to ignore how Mr. Burum linked the measure (EE) and Measure D in campaign signs,” Marcia Godwin, a professor of public administration at the University of La Verne, wrote in an email. “It is hard to tell if that strategy worked since Measure D passed by a wider margin. At least a portion of voters made distinctions between the two measures. On the other hand, more organized opposition to D might have emerged if it had been a standalone measure.”

Both measures appeared on the same signs backed by campaign committees Burum had funded.

Campaign signs around San Bernardino County promote 2022's Measure EE, which asks about secession from California, using the slogan "Fairness for All!." Measure D reset county supervisors' pay and compensation to levels higher than were set in a ballot measure passed in 2020. (File photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)
Campaign signs around San Bernardino County promote 2022’s Measure EE, which asks about secession from California, using the slogan “Fairness for All!.” Measure D reset county supervisors’ pay and compensation to levels higher than were set in a ballot measure passed in 2020. (File photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

He bristled at the idea the fair share initiative was a ruse to drive voter turnout for Measure D.

“How could any honest person say it’s disingenuous, when you ask just to study whether you’re getting your fair share?” Burum said. “I’ll put my record up against the Red Brennan Group anytime, anywhere, any place, (regarding) who’s done more to help others.”

The chairperson of the Board of Supervisors also denied that Measure EE was intended as a get-out-the-vote measure.

“Measure D had absolutely nothing to do with Measure EE,” Third District Supervisor Dawn Rowe said Thursday, June 6. “Measure EE was brought to the Board of Supervisors by a group of local citizens as elected leaders who did not feel that we were getting our fair share.”

In the end, the dream of seceding from California is a bit silly, according to Jack Pitney, a professor of American politics at Claremont McKenna College.

“I don’t have any inside information on the secessionists’ motives, but it’s clear that secession makes no practical sense,” Pitney wrote in an email. “Does the county really want to tell parents that their kids will no longer qualify for in-state tuition at the UC and Cal State systems? Does the county really want to take on all the responsibilities of a state?

“Supporting secession is kind of like what the Glenn Close character said in ‘Fatal Attraction’: ‘I’m not going to be IGNORED.’ But it won’t work out any better for the county than it did for the character,” Pitney said.

Close’s character died in the end.

More about San Bernardino County

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to omit an extra word from Supervisor Dawn Rowe’s final quote.

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