Secession measure in San Bernardino County inspires jokes, questions – San Bernardino Sun

The notion that San Bernardino County could become our nation’s 51st state, possibly to be named Empire, is on the ballot as Measure EE, and I don’t know if it’s going to go well. Based on comments on Fontana News Room’s Facebook page, some people treat Measure EE more like Measure Hee-Hee.

“A whole state of meth heads, what could go wrong?” asked Johnna Strength.

“Then we can really be 51/50,” cracked Nikki Kautzman, using the police code for crazy.

Mused Joe Anderson: “Maybe the Carousel Mall can be the San Bernardino state Capitol building.” A.J. Stoyanowski countered that the new Capitol should be in Muscoy. And who should be Empire’s governor? Warehouse king Jeff Bezos, suggested Garcia F. Heladio.

What about Empire’s state song? Rather than Jay Z’s “Empire State of Mind,” Jeff Boyd and Suzanne Morton each suggested a more local pick: Frank Zappa’s “San Ber’dino,” with its line: “They lived in the Mojave in a Winnebago.”

This is the problem with asking a provocative question, as San Bernardino County leaders have done. You don’t know what answer you’re going to get.

To refresh your memory, here’s the wording of Measure EE:

“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?”

It’s an advisory measure, meaning there’s no force of law behind it. But if a majority of voters favor EE in the Nov. 8 election, that’s a mandate to dig more deeply into the data to see what return San Bernardino County taxpayers are getting from what they send to Sacramento and Washington, D.C.

“If it passed overwhelmingly at the ballot, there would be a sense of urgency to work on where the money comes from and are we advocating enough for ourselves,” County Supervisor Dawn Rowe told me Monday.

If it fails? We’ll cross that (crumbling) bridge when we get there, I guess. Rowe said the effort might be less of a priority.

I don’t see EE passing overwhelmingly, and it might even fail, in which case, what kind of case can county leaders make?

Also, while secession may be red meat for the red-state crowd, it’s legally impossible, comes off like a cynical ploy to get attention and has made the county the subject of ridicule — see above.

“My own son asked, ‘What are you doing?’” Rowe admitted.

As one area council member told me privately: “I don’t know why we’re voting on this.”

As attentive readers will recall, this movement is the brainchild of Jeff Burum, a Rancho Cucamonga housing developer who famously feuded with the county in court for two decades ending in 2020 and won legal judgments totaling $167 million.

But now Burum is trying to help. During the July 26 public comment period at a Board of Supervisors meeting, the developer said the county was getting shafted by Sacramento and urged leaders to fight back by seceding. He waved a piece of paper that he said was the language of his proposed ballot measure.

I watched the video later. Burum held the paper in such a way that you can read the large print. His (slightly ungrammatical) wording was this:

“Do you support having the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors and all federal and state elected officials representing citizens within San Bernardino County to seek the approval of Congress and the State Legislature to form a State separate from California?”

In this screenshot from the July 26 Board of Supervisors meeting, Jeff Burum holds proposed wording for a ballot measure that is very different from what was adopted Aug. 9. (Via YouTube)

In other words, Burum’s proposed measure was about secession, full stop. But when the board formally approved the measure Aug. 9, secession was an afterthought, albeit a provocative one.

In fact, some supervisors, and even Burum, seemed surprised that everyone focused on secession when to them it’s a fair-share measure. Hey, if you include the political equivalent of a hand grenade, people are going to focus on the pin.

I ran into Supervisor Janice Rutherford on Friday in Redlands at the Arrow train dedication and used the opportunity to ask why the measure was reworded.

She told me that after that initial board meeting, she met with Burum, who insisted his motivation was that state funding to the county was screwy. She pointed out that his measure didn’t say anything about that. He conceded she was right and agreed that the emphasis should shift to embrace a study.

Why is it on the ballot? Rutherford said the three elected mayors in her district — from Upland, Fontana and Rancho Cucamonga — said it’s what they wanted. Even though she told me secession is “crazy,” she went along with putting it before voters.

“I think it’s an opportunity for people to express their anger and frustration with the state of California,” Rutherford told me. “Secession is not ever going to happen. But on a ballot, there’s a value to people being able to say they’re angry and frustrated with Sacramento.”

I get it. San Bernardino County has 2.2 million people, a considerably higher population than the city of San Diego, but perception lags reality. If people in adjoining counties still think of San Bernardino County as tumblin’ tumbleweeds, imagine what they think of us in Sacramento.

San Bernardino is the Rodney Dangerfield of counties. It gets no respect.

When Burum and I spoke at the board meeting Aug. 9, he offered this stray thought: “Gavin Newsom is going to think this is about him. It’s not.”

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