Jeff Burum, an Inland Empire commercial and residential developer for more than three decades, wants San Bernardino County to secede from California. Some people, starting with the county board of supervisors, believe that’s an idea worth considering.
Longtime Inland Empire developer Jeff Burum is convinced that San Bernardino County is not getting its fair share of funding from Sacramento, and he’s come up with an interesting proposal to solve that problem.
Not from the United States, but from California.
Burum’s idea is that the largest county in the lower 48 states based on geography – about 20,100 square miles – would become the 51st state, and it would be called Empire.
Perhaps, but Burum says he has spent years developing projects while dealing with unfunded mandates and endless regulations created by the state legislature, particularly regarding the California Environmental Quality Act, and he’s fed up.
The time has come for drastic action, even if the chances of his proposal succeeding are remote at best.
Cities and counties are being asked by the state legislature to deal with California’s growing population without giving out the extra dollars needed to upgrade and build infrastructure, Burum said.
“I don’t get behind anything I’m not sure about, and I would never pursue anything like this if I didn’t believe it,” Burum said.“It might be a million-to-one shot, but I’m going to try. When you play the lottery, do you expect to win? No, but you buy a ticket anyway.”
Burum first proposed the idea to the county board of supervisors during its July 26 meeting.
Specifically, he suggested placing an ordinance on the Nov. 8 ballot that would allow the county to consider ways to get more equitable funding from Sacramento, “up to and including secession.
Board members said yes to that proposal Aug. 3, during a special meeting.
“San Bernardino County has long suffered enough from the state of California’s allocation of resources,” Burum told the board July 26. “The state of California continues to allocate resources to high-cost areas, to our detriment and the detriment of other Inland communities.
“It’s time for our citizens to stand up and say enough is enough, to push back, stand up for our rights and get our fair share.”
Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren and Upland Mayor Bill Velto both spoke in support of exploring secession,
“I’m in my [first] term as mayor, and one of my learning curves has been watching the mandates come down from Sacramento, trying to impose them on residents and then listening to their frustration,” Velto told the board. “I hear about the lack of water, housing needs, and we have nothing from the state to deal with those things.”
California’s plan to have electric cars only on its roads by 2035, Velto noted.
“I’m curious where they’re going to get the money for the roadways when the gas tax starts dropping,” Velto said. “How do they expect us to achieve these mandates when we don’t have the funds?’
San Bernardino County secession was covered immediately local news, and the story became international when The Guardian in London, one of the oldest daily newspapers in the world, reported on the matter Aug. 14.
That response was gratifying, but not surprising, Burum said.
“We might be starting a groundswell, something that spreads to other parts of the country,” Burum said. “If that happens, how can we lose? There’s more involved here than San Bernardino County.”
The first time Burum suggested statehood for San Bernardino County was during a conversation with his fellow golfers at Red Hill Country Club in Rancho Cucamonga.
“Everyone seemed to like the idea,” Burum said. “They understood the issues I was talking about, and they took the idea seriously.”
If nothing else, the threat of becoming a state will give San Bernardino County more leverage in its dealings with Sacramento, said Curt Hagman, chairman of the board of supervisors.
“I think it will give us a stronger voice with the state legislature, particularly when we’re trying to argue finances, but I’ll admit the chances of secession are slim,” said Hagman, who voted for placing the “fair-share” initiative on the November ballot . “It’s not completely in local hands. Congress, the California legislature and the president would all have to sign off on it.
“Puerto Rico has been trying for years to become the 51st state and has never been able to do it.”
Still, the immediate support Burum received is some indication of the public’s disgust with government and politics-as-usual, according to Hagman.
“There are 58 counties in California, and San Bernardino County is 39th in state funding, despite being the fifth largest county overall and the largest county geographically,” Hagman said. “All of our research shows that people are not happy with the job Sacramento is doing. They don’t like the policies.”
Not everyone is endorsing the idea of San Bernardino County possibly become a state.
Assembly Majority Leader Eloise Gómez Reyes, D-Colton, State Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, and Assemblyman Freddie Rodriguez, D-Pomona, wrote a letter to the board of supervisors expressing their disagreement with the idea, while others have noted that it’s not clear whether “Empire” could stand on its own or how it would survive without money from Sacramento.
Northern California has often talked of becoming a state, and some have talked about dividing California into as many as six states, but none of that has ever come close to happening, said Manfred Keil, chief economist with the Inland Empire Economic Partnership, a non-profit that tries to attract businesses to Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
Talk of secession will not help San Bernardino get more funding from Sacramento, according to Keil.
“To have leverage, something like that has to have a chance of succeeding, and this has no chance of succeeding,” said Keil. “But I agree that this is a sign of how much dissatisfaction there is right now among voters.”