Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone’s email alerts were fast and furious Friday afternoon.
The “Well Done” and “Good Work” messages – more than 1,000 -- were in reaction that 13 counties, including Riverside, secede from California to form a new state.
Fielding reporters’ questions as he worked inside his Murrieta-based Innovative Compounding Pharmacy, Stone, who represents the 3rd District, said he put forward his drastic pitch Thursday in direct response to Gov. Jerry Brown’s signoff on the budget package and Senate Bill 89.
“SB 89 was absolutely the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said.
As part of the state budget package, SB 89 strips a portion of cities’ general fund revenue derived from the vehicle license fee formula. New cities like Wildomar would take the largest hit because they get additional state funding from the fees during the first several years of incorporation.
Under SB 89, Wildomar will lose $1.8 million – or 22 percent -- in general fund revenue.
Riverside County encompasses four new cities – Wildomar, Menifee, Jurupa Valley and Eastvale. In total, the four are expected to lose a combined total of $15 million in revenues.
(Click here to read the full text of SB 89.)
Stone contends that the four are the only new cities in the state, and it’s no coincidence that all are located in a Republican-held district. Nonetheless, he said he didn’t spend time strategizing his secession proposal, and he did not discuss the move with his fellow supervisors.
“It was in a fit of anger I did something dramatic,” he said, explaining that he made his decision to announce a proposal just yesterday. “The bottom line is this: The state has shown absolute disregard to local government and we need to look at our options.”
Stone’s secession proposal has garnered national media attention and has shined a bright spotlight on four small cities in his county.
Flanked by Wildomar, Menifee and Murrieta city leaders Friday afternoon, Stone said, “The governor pulled the rug right out from under these cities. They (the cities) had to go through hurdles to become incorporated. The state can’t change the rules of engagement.”
Menifee City Councilwoman explained her city’s plight: “This is a death sentence for us.”
Wildomar Mayor Marsha Swanson agreed.
“I really don’t know if we can survive this,” she said. “We did what we were supposed to do (as a city).”
Options for the cities include draconian budget cuts, or bankruptcy and abolishing incorporation. Jurupa Valley’s cityhood became official just today.
Speaking by telephone late Friday afternoon, Wildomar Assistant City Manager Gary Nordquist said staff is looking at its options.
The city's total budget revenues are $8.2 million, of which approximately $6 million is spent on public safety, Nordquist said.
"The $1.8 million has a significant impact, but I do think the city would survive this," he said.
The city will hold a special meeting at City Hall July 7 at 3:30 p.m. to discuss the budget impact. The public is invited and encouraged to offer suggestions.
In the meantime, Stone said lobbyists are in place in Sacramento to fight for amendments to SB 89, and Wildomar Mayor Pro Tem Ben Benoit confirmed that his city has also hired a lobbyist.
Murrieta is not feeling the same effects of SB 89, but the city’s mayor, Randon Lane, said he turned out Friday to show support for his fellow leaders and to embrace options.
“It’s a crazy idea (secession) but it’s crazy to keep doing the same thing over and over,” Lane said. “We have to look at options.”
While SB 89 was the impetus for Stone’s secession proposal, all the leaders expressed dissatisfaction with Sacramento’s policies and the recent budget, which also included steep cuts to the courts, education and local redevelopment.
Stone said that if California continues down its current path, the state would become a Third World economy. High taxes, unfriendly business environment, unemployment and large-scale government assistance were all cited by the local leaders as contributing toward what they see as a downward slide for California.
Secession may not be realistic, Lane admitted, but he said local leaders have to start somewhere.
“For us to just sit by – it’s not leadership.”
It is expected that Stone’s secession proposal will be placed on the July 12 Board of Supervisor’s meeting agenda. Stone said that if the supervisors are willing to entertain his idea, then the next step would be to hold a summit meeting and invite all interested parties to discuss options, including forming a 51st state.