The decades-old debate of dividing up Riverside County has been rekindled, but at least one county official doubts the conversation will get very far.
The idea is simple in theory: Divide up Riverside County – now home to more than 2 million people – into at least two geographic segments whose communities have the most in common.
The concept has been discussed by Coachella Valley officials in the past. But recently, it’s been tossed about by a handful of leaders in the southwest part of Riverside County.
According to a report in the Press Enterprise, outgoing Murrieta Mayor Doug McAllister even brought it up during his closing address.
“I’m still looking for the first person to tell me it’s a bad idea,” McAllister told the paper.
“Now we’re at the mercy of supervisors, that I like personally but have no accountability to me as a citizen, making decisions about the place I live in.”
But as Riverside County Supervisor John Benoit and others have pointed out today, creating a new California county isn’t as easy as it seems.
First, supporters would have to gather signatures from 25 percent of the voters in the proposed county and send them to the governor’s office. The governor would then create a commission that would look at all the nitty-gritty details.
After that, it goes back to voters. State law says the idea must be endorsed by voters in the to-be-created county – and by the voters in the county that’s getting divided.
Consider the second vote the equivalent of an “alright, we’ll let you try this on your own” farewell.
“It’s a legitimate question and a worthy debate,” Benoit told us today. “Frankly whenever they begin to look at the practical realities … they might look at it and say it’s a mountain too tall to climb.”
California is home to 58 counties. The last one to be created was Imperial County in 1907.
Still, Riverside County leaders on the other side of the mountain seem intent on going it alone.
Just last year, Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone suggested Riverside and 12 other counties split from the rest of California and create the new State of South California.
Except for attracting lots of headlines – including coverage when Stone suggested they name the state after the late President Ronald Reagan – the concept hasn’t gone very far.
Benoit recalls local leaders were discussing the idea of dividing up Riverside County back in the 1970s, but he can’t recall it resurfacing for at least the last decade.
Benoit noted that his office probably wouldn’t get involved in any discussions about dividing up Riverside County until there’s a greater groundswell of support for the idea.
“At some point, if it became a serious discussion, we’d have to get involved,” Benoit said today. “We’re a long ways away from that.”