In land area, San Bernardino County is California’s largest, stretching from the Nevada state line to just north of Riverside and from near Los Angeles to the Colorado River and the Arizona state line.
It is physically larger than nine states, including Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island and New Jersey combined.
Even though Californians by the million drive through it regularly en route to Las Vegas, Phoenix, Salt Lake City and other Western cities, some of San Bernardino County’s 2.2 million citizens feel neglected.
They want more state money for things like welfare, homelessness, road building and repair and many other items.
Some think they can do better on their own than as part of California, to which the county has belonged since there first was a California.
They especially want two U.S. senators of their very own, perhaps because San Bernardino County is often a bellwether in presidential elections, usually switching back and forth from party to party in tandem with national outcomes.
The first thing to say about this proposal, the latest in a long line of attempts by localities to split off from the nation’s largest state, is that it won’t happen in the lifetime of anyone sentient today.
But there just might be a fun campaign on the issue over the next few weeks.
Yes, San Bernardino County won’t do much better in the reality department than the State of Jefferson (a proposed split-off of many rural Northern California counties) or the 2011 proposal from former Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone to make a new state from a dozen or so conservative-leaning inland counties, or a more recent plan to carve up current California into five states.
In fact, state-splitting has been proposed periodically since the 1850s, when transplanted Southerners tried to draw a line from San Luis Obispo to Nevada and make everything south of it into a new slave-owning state.
Plainly, none of these plans passed muster, even though a few counties have voted for them from time to time.
San Bernardino County gets a chance in November to join that list. But let’s say the county votes to study leaving California. Regardless of the vote margin, actual secession would have to be approved by the full state Legislature, most likely a vote of all Californians, and then by Congress.
None of those approvals will be forthcoming, no matter what some officials in San Bernardino may say.
Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren is a vocal proponent of a San Bernardino state. She gripes that the vast county, containing everything from myriad commercial warehouses to bedroom suburbs of Los Angeles to vast tracts of empty desert to some of the planet’s most advanced solar thermal power plants, is often “overlooked by the state and federal governments.”
“They act like we don’t exist,” she said. “We are the economic engine of the state and you need to pay attention to that.”
It’s uncertain that is correct, despite all those warehouses and the 18-wheeler trucks emblazoned with myriad corporate logos heading from them to points all over California and the West.
There has never been a study of any kind examining her claim, or whether San Bernardino County, whose eponymous seat of government is infamous for its 2012 bankruptcy, could survive on its own.
For sure, if it became a separate state, its residents would no longer be eligible for everything from in-state tuition at California’s dozens of public universities, rent subsidies or many other programs that a new state might or might not create on its own.
Imagine the expense of creating a University of San Bernardino of the caliber of the current UCLA, for just one item.
But county voters will get no information on any of this when they vote this fall on the local proposition to look into splitting. The short notice on which the proposal was plopped onto the ballot allows few answers to any questions.
But that doesn’t matter to local politicians, who most likely are really interested in grandstanding to win new name recognition they can utilize if and when they run for higher offices, where they might ironically be called upon to help run the existing state of California.
Email Thomas Elias at [email protected].