Ignoring Reality, San Bernardino Votes to Ponder Secession, Waste Time

San Bernardino can never, ever legally split from California, but that won’t stop some locals from exploring this stupid and futile gesture

Cooler heads did not prevail in San Bernardino this election, as a wafer-thin majority voted to pursue seceding from California, the Associated Press reports.

That means the county of 2.2 million people joins a movement little seen outside small, rural counties in northern California and Oregon who proposed forming the new State of Jefferson. Though the idea is as unlikely to succeed in San Bernardino as up north, this election’s pro-leave vote indicates a real well of resentment within this racially diverse, fifth-most populous county in the state, whose 20,000 square miles contain more land than nine states.

“There is a lot of frustration overall” with state government and how public dollars are being spent—with far too little coming to the county, said Curt Hagman, chairman of the Board of Supervisors that placed the proposal on the ballot. “It’s been a rough few years,” he added, citing record inflation and friction over covid restrictions.

Kristin Washington, chair of the San Bernardino County Democratic Party, suggested the measure was less a barometer of public sentiment than a tactic to turn out conservative voters.

“Putting it on a ballot was a waste of time for the voters,” she told the AP. “The option of actually seceding from the state is not even something that is realistic because of all the steps that actually go into it.”

It’s unlikely the measure would make it past step one. Technically, the new County Measure EE was not a vote to secede but to let supervisors study the possibility of seceding. Which shouldn’t take them long.

Article 4, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution states: “No new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.”

Thus, not only California but Arizona, Nevada, and Oregon will need to sign off on a plan that one Inland Empire real estate mogul brought to a San Bernardino County Board of  Supervisors to a meeting in July.

That mogul, Jeff Burum, had floated the new state name Inland and not something more on-brand-sounding like Cucamonga or Freedonia. Yet local resentment of state government is such that his idea is one step closer to reality, despite its apparent pointlessness.

“The state’s problems are not likely to be addressed by the jurisdictional chopping block,” William Deverell, director of the Huntington-USC Institute of California and the West said in an email to AP. He cited a consensus-sapping hubris implicit in such a gesture.  “If only this part of the state could go its own way, as we aren’t the root of the problem.”

Claremont McKenna College political scientist Jack Pitney attests to the real pain behind such proposals. “A lot of Californians are unhappy in many ways,” he told AP, describing how record gas prices and rising costs of living and real estate make homeownership out of reach for many working-class families—none of which is improved with new state lines. “The vote on secession was like smashing the china,” he said. It’s a way of getting attention but in the end it doesn’t accomplish much.”

Ontario Mayor Paul Leon voiced his frustration, telling the AP, “Everybody outside this county thinks we are the wild, wild West,” he said.

As for how seceding would improve this impression, further study is needed.

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