A voter approved measure that could fundamentally change the way local government operates in San Bernardino County seems posed to survive a recent court challenge in appellate court after judges for California 4th District issued an opinion on July 12.
Oral arguments from both sides will be heard before the court makes its final ruling.
Measure K imposes one four-year term limit on San Bernardino County supervisors and caps their combined salary and benefits at $60,000 a year.
Current rules allow supervisors to govern for three terms.
The measure was immediately challenged by San Bernardino County when it passed with over 66% of the vote in 2020. The Board argued the one term limit was unconstitutional and the benefit and salary cap of $60,000 would put their compensation below the state minimum wage of $15 an hour. Supervisor’s base pay could range anywhere from $45,000 to around $31,000, according to various estimates.
That’s quite a cut from the current $250,106 salary and benefit minimum listed on the Transparent California website. There are several counties with similar compensation packages for their supervisors, like nearby Riverside County, while others pay their supervisors a few hundred dollars.
Supervisor Paul Cook earned around $174,000 when he was the San Bernardino high desert region’s Congressional Representative.
Dawn Rowe, District 3 Supervisor, released a statement expressing her concern the provisions of Measure K would fundamentally change the board’s ability to effectively govern:
“At almost 10,000 square miles, my district requires me to learn complex topics, ranging from to air quality to federal/state/county/city government integration, as well as advocate across as well as advocate across more than a dozen statutorily directed boards and commissions. After nearly four years as a supervisor, I feel that I am finally reaching a point where I can serve my constituents to the highest degree I envisioned when I first took office.”
“…That will leave longevity and the greatest degree of understanding of county operations with a highly capable, but unelected county staff.”
County spokesperson David Wert responded to the Desert Sun’s questions about the counties next steps:
“As the largest county in the United States and the fifth largest county by population in California, supervisors currently work full-time to ensure appropriate focus is provided to govern a large and complex organization…Measure K raises serious concerns as to how part-time supervisors would be able to ensure services are delivered to our residents.”
Supervisor Rowe also expressed concern that the position would result in a dramatic drop in the number of “high quality candidates” seeking the office, pointing out office seekers would have to be independently wealthy or hold another job while serving in the position.
This current appellate court opinion challenges a ruling passed down last August by Superior Court Judge Donald Alvarez stating the measure’s term limits impacts the ability of the supervisors to fulfill their duties by imposing such a short limit on their term in office, and that “imposes a burden that does not reasonably justify the infringement on the voter’s and incumbents’ 1st and 14th amendments right.”
The appellant court pointed out the term limits for State Senators and Assembly members do not violate the state Constitution.
AB 428, a bill written by San Bernardino area State Assemblyman Chad Mayes passed last year, classifies most county supervisors as county officers, giving them powers to decide on their own pay and allowing voters to only impose a limit no smaller than two terms. The regulation does not apply to charter counties a legislative analysis found, and San Bernardino is one of thirteen charter counties in California.
Current supervisors could be affected by the ruling. If the judge’s ruling stands, those elected in 2020, Supervisors Paul Cook and Joe Baca, Jr., would not have their salaries cut, but would be subject to the one term limit.
The Red Brennen Group, a San Bernardino-based organization dedicated to creating “Big-Hearted Communities and Small Government” and sponsor of Measure K, isn’t claiming victory yet. The organization’s president Tom Murphy said they’ll wait to comment until a final ruling is announced.