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‘Empire’ state? San Bernardino County developer pushes seceding from California

A sign over a road says "Welcome to San Bernardino"
A welcome sign on 6th Street greets visitors in San Bernardino.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Citing disproportionate allocation of resources and “unfunded mandates,” a San Bernardino County developer proposed this week that the Board of Supervisors explore seceding from California to form a new state that would be called “Empire.”

The threat of secession has long been a political weapon for political dissatisfaction in California, the most populous state in the nation and one of the most liberal. Conservative forces in far northern California have tried repeatedly to create their own state with no success. A proposal to break up California into multiple states also foundered. There is no indication this one will turn out any differently.

“Our Sheriff’s Department, our judges, are constantly taxed with too much with not enough resources,” Jeff Burum, chairman of development firm National Community Renaissance, said Tuesday at the Board of Supervisors meeting.

“The state of California continues to allocate resources to the high-cost areas to our detriment and other inland valley communities,” he said. “It’s time to stop it.”

Burum proposed putting the issue on the November ballot.

“If we put on an advisory vote for just San Bernardino County residents, a simple yes or no vote: Do they support [the board] looking into … seceding from the state of California, I promise you, you will get an affirmative vote,” he said.

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Joining Burum in favor of the proposal were the mayors of Upland and Fontana, who echoed his concerns regarding the need for resources for public works and other functions.

“We cannot continue to beg and crawl and squirrel count … to get resources for our county,” said Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren. “We have millions of citizens that have needs, and the county is our lifeline, and that lifeline continues to be choked.”

Los Angeles County will not reinstitute a universal indoor public mask mandate after marked improvements in the region’s coronavirus case and hospitalization rates.

“Now we’re hearing that we’re going to have to have all electric cars by 2035,” said Upland Mayor Bill Velto. “I’m curious where they’re going to get the money for the roadways when the gas tax starts dropping.”

California plans to halt the sale of new combustion-engine vehicles by 2035, requiring new cars sold to be zero-emission but not banning gasoline-powered engines entirely, in order to cut down on harmful emissions that are fueling the climate crisis.

“How they expect cities like Upland and many other cities in our county to achieve those mandates when we don’t have the funds is just incredible,” Velto said.

At the close of the meeting, board Chairman Curt Hagman expressed his support for exploring the secession idea further.

Hagman said he was not only displeased with the financial issues but also “fed up with the way they treat our public safety.”

“I support the cause,” he said. “It’s about losing the ability to govern on a local level, which this country was based on. It was based on states’ rights, based on local control.”

The board could not take action on the proposal Tuesday, but the issue could be discussed if it were to appear on a later agenda.

Both Hagman and Warren acknowledged the unlikelihood that the proposal would succeed.

“I know people will say, ‘Y’all went crazy,’” Warren said. “Yes, we have. We have went crazy to serve others.”

San Francisco Mayor London Breed declares a state of emergency Thursday over monkeypox outbreak.

“It’s one in a million that we will be successful at this point,” Hagman said, adding that he hoped exploring such a move would at least send a message to the state.

County Counsel Tom Bunton illustrated the odds stacked against successful secession: A new state has not been formed by separating from another since West Virginia did so in 1863. No new state has joined the union since Alaska in 1959.

The proposal is the latest chapter in a long history of portions of California attempting to secede, citing political and financial divides.

In 2013, the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors voted to explore seceding from California to form the new state of Jefferson. As of 2022, Siskiyou County remains part of the state.


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