Here we go again. It’s been a whole year since the last attempt to split California into smaller, regional sections. Within a state that stretches 770 miles from the southern border of Oregon to Mexico and 330 miles from the Pacific Ocean to Nevada, and with dramatic differences in geography and climate among regions, there are bound to be areas of divergent interests and economics.
Residents of Lassen County or Modoc County may have little in common with their fellow Californians in Orange County or San Francisco County. Likewise, people in the densely populated cities of Silicon Valley may have interests that vary considerably from those of us who live in the agricultural counties of the Great Central Valley. And, although we residents of Madera may not recognize much difference between San Diego and Los Angeles, which seem to run together in Orange County, if we were San Diegans, we might have a different perception.
Attempts to split
Over the past 168 years, there have been more than 220 efforts to divide our state into smaller segments. This year billionaire venture capitalist Tim Draper is leading another attempt to carve separate states from our golden fabric.
His similar attempts in 2014 and 2016 failed, but — about two weeks ago — he was scheduled to present a petition to divide California to the Secretary of State. According to the state’s constitution, 366,000 signatures are required to put the issue on the November ballot, and Draper told Reuters New Service that he has gathered about 600,000. Unless 234,001 of those signatures is invalidated, this may be the closest Californians will have come to division since 1859.
The Pico act
Less than one decade after statehood (1850), residents of Southern California believed that tax and land laws were unfair and also supported the Confederacy’s pro-slavery position. Assemblyman Andres Pico sponsored a bill in 1859 to rename part of the state as Colorado or Colorado Territory. The new state would be composed of all of Southern California, including San Luis Obispo, Kern, and San Bernardino Counties.
When the issue was submitted to the voters, seventy-five percent cast ballots in favor of the division, and the governor signed the bill. All that was needed at that point was approval by the Congress. However, before the measure could be heard, the Civil War started, and all other business was set aside. As the war wore on year after year, the act gradually died.
The Dolwig proposal
During the century after the Civil War ended, there were about 200 attempts for California to devolve into smaller units. The next attempt that became a near miss occurred in 1965 when state Sen. Richard Dolwig proposed dividing the state in half, drawing the line at the Tehachapi Mountains. The reason for his bill was the state’s continuing struggle over water.
According to Dolwig, “You’d have North California and South California, and those two states would then enter into contracts as far as the water was concerned and you’d take (the controversy) out of politics.” The Senate approved the bill by a decisive 27-12 margin, but the Assembly refused to hear the measure. So, it never made it to the governor’s desk.
The Statham bill
In 1992, there was another attempt to split the state, and again it was a result of the “Water Wars.” However, Assemblyman Stan Statham envisioned three states: North California, South California, and Central California. This time, the measure was approved by the Assembly, but it died in the Senate.
According to the Sacramento News and Review article that was published in 2002, “While his quest eventually failed, Statham, who was born in Chico, became identified with rural California’s seemingly perpetual feeling of inadequacy in a state that’s more closely identified with sunny beaches and cable cars than endless farmland….”
Partisan political split
In 2011, a county supervisor from Riverside proposed carving South California from the rest of the state. The new state would be composed of San Diego, Riverside, Imperial, Orange, San Bernardino, Kings, Kern, Fresno, Tulare, Inyo, Mono, Mariposa, and Madera Counties. The 13 million residents of the new state would lean heavily toward the Republican Party.
The effort, which was never very popular, was killed by Gov. Jerry Brown, who said, “If you want to live in a Republican state with very conservative right-wing laws, then there’s a place called Arizona.”
Reviving an idea that goes back at least to 1941, there was an effort by residents in Siskiyou and Modoc Counties in 2013 to create the new state of Jefferson. The movement gained momentum when Glenn and Yuba Counties joined the crusade. Supporters even created a flag and great seal for the would-be state.
Jefferson, which would be composed of twelve counties from northern California and southern Oregon, would have been the smallest state with 423,000 people. But, like the rest of California which has 39 million people, it would still get two U.S. Senators, a system that has never seemed fair to me.
Two years ago, Tim Draper, who made his fortune with Hotmail and Skype, presented a plan that included elements of previous attempts to divide the state. But, he added a few new features that eventuated the creation of six separate states. He told the Sacramento Bee, “California, this is your opportunity to get a better government or a government that’s closer to you and more responsive.” It was this version that I wrote about in April 2017.
This year, he has modified his plan to create just three states, and he’s named the movement Cal 3. Moreover, he has declined to name the states, but he’s given them “place-saver” designations as California, Northern California, and Southern California, stating that after the division, residents of the new states could choose their own name.
California would be the smallest of the new states, geographically, being compose of Los Angeles County and including only the coastal areas up to Monterey. Southern California would included Orange County to Fresno County and all of the inland area to the U.S.-Mexico border. Northern California would start with San Francisco County and stretch all the way to the border of Oregon.
Personally, I think the whole thing is kind of silly because when the Big One hits…
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Jim Glynn may be contacted at email@example.com.