Does plan to divide California have a chance?


California is no stranger to partition movements. The first plan to divide the state, the most populous in the US and No. 3 in overall size, was initiated in 1850, which, ironically, also happened to be the same year it joined the Union.

But today, with nearly 40 million residents spread over more than 163,000 square miles – you could fit nearly 135 states the size of Rhode Island inside California – the movement to divide the Golden State appears to gaining steam.

Among plans being put forward is one that would split it into six individual states, including one that would be called Silicon Valley and would encompass the high-tech region around the San Francisco Bay Area, and another that would be known as West California and include the Los Angeles area.

“No other state contains within it such contradictory interests, cultures, economic and political geography,” according to Keith Naughton at PublicCEO, a website that covers state and local California issues. “It has become impossible to even remotely reconcile the array of opposing forces. The only way to get anything done is to shove laws and regulations down a lot of unwilling throats.”

One of the drivers behind the six-state initiative is venture capitalist Tim Draper.

With tens of millions of people spread over an area 250 miles wide and 770 miles long, Draper believes that a single monolithic California has become ungovernable.

The state’s population is more than six times as large as the average of the other 49 states, and too many Californians feel estranged from a state government in Sacramento that doesn’t understand them or reflect their interests, according to Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe.

“The citizens of the whole state would be better served by six smaller states governments while preserving the historical boundaries of the various counties, cities and towns,” according to the Six Californias Proposal.

Draper’s concept to create a half-dozen states where one exists now would seem a longshot as it’s been more than 150 years since a US state was carved from an existing state.

Map showing how California would look under 'Six Californias" partition plan.

Map showing how California would look under ‘Six Californias” partition plan.

West Virginia’s decision to break from Virginia in 1863 amid the chaos of the War Between the States was aided by a Federal government eager to divide the Confederacy through whatever means at hand, and the issue wasn’t formally settled until a Supreme Court decision in 1870.

However the move to partition the Golden State gained a bit more momentum last month when California’s secretary of state gave proposal backers approval to begin collecting the necessary petition signatures to put the “Six Californias Proposal” on the ballot.

If a little more than 800,000 signatures are submitted by July 14, the measure could go to voters in November.

The plan calls for California to be divided into the following states, from north to south: Jefferson, North California, Central California, Silicon Valley, West California and South California.

Working against Draper and other pro-partition supporters is the fact that legislators are nearly always reluctant to sign away money and power.

The governor of North California, which would be home to the current state capital of Sacramento, would have substantially less clout as one of six states than as the chief of an entity that, were it a separate country would have the ninth-largest economy in the world.

With the loss of status that would be inherent in partition would also come a drastic drop in tax revenue, and politicians hate having to cut back on doling out other people’s money as much as they hate losing power.

Anyone who’s lived in California for any length of time likely understands the state has reached a point where it’s time to give serious consideration to doing things differently, very differently. Whether the powers that be let that happen is another question.

13 thoughts on “Does plan to divide California have a chance?

    • In theory, yes; in reality, no. The people who run the state aren’t going to give up approximately five-sixths of the tax revenues that they currently receive, which is what happen if the state were divided in six separate states. Politicians are not easily parted with their tax revenues.

  1. Searching my memory but wasn’t the state government in California bankrupt at one stage? I could be wrong but I seem to remember some sort of financial/budgetary troubles in recent times?

    Not sure how splitting up the tax/revenue base would make that any better, except for the Silicon Valley state. That proposed entity seems to smack of elitism taken to the nth degree.

    Am I wrong to suppose that changing, ahem, demographics in southern California is also a factor here?

    • This, from what I can tell, is a populace-driven measure. Folks outside of California’s major metro areas have long felt that their voice is drowned out by residents of Los Angeles and San Francisco/Silicon Valley, and that they are ignored by lawmakers, who are still quite happy to take their tax dollars. And this sentiment is nothing new, as, for example, in the early 1940s, there was a significant secession movement in the northern counties of the state that was only pre-empted by the US’s entry into World War II.

      You’re right in that California was in the midst of financial troubles not too long ago, due to declining personal income taxes and corporate taxes. Apparently, the state is actually either solvent or nearing solvency, although it’s difficult to interpret budget documents found on the state’s website. However, I think that the folks who run the state will never let this happen because they are unwilling to give up a) the money that comes from having a state with 30 million-plus residents; and b) the power that California holds as the US’s most populous state.

      I’m not sure that changing demographics are a factor. The area of California I went to high school in, which is along the Monterey Bay and would be included in Silicon Valley, has long had a large Hispanic population. In fact, while I haven’t seen census figures, I believe every part of the state mentioned except perhaps the upper area classified as “Jefferson” has a significant Hispanic population. I think the idea behind Southern California was to create an area with at least one major city – San Diego – along with significant tax revenues (through agriculture, along with other industries that I can’t think of off the top of my head), in order that it wouldn’t become the Mississippi of Southwest.

      • Interesting. The international media image of California is of a region with simmering ethnic/racial tensions between new and historic communities. There is much talk of changing demographics effecting politics and “white flight”. Good to get a more informed view.

        I agree. I can’t see any political establishment willingly giving up its influence. California seems too important in US politics and socio-economics, the counterweight to the East Coast metropolises.

      • California is really quite liberal along the coast, and much more conservative inland. However, as with any area, these regions are not monolithic politically speaking.

        There are definitely some racial issues, but I think some of what you read about is that which has been dredged up by demagogues on both sides of our political aisle looking to inflame voters.

        There’s no question that California has many Hispanics who have entered the state illegally, but I have seen the work they take on and find it hard to fault them for leaving desperate poverty in their homeland and being willing to take up the back-breaking labor involved with picking lettuce or strawberries.

  2. Welcome to our California! This is interesting. I have not been following this, though I have heard of it. I don’t now how serious people really are. While the state has many differences, I wonder what would happen to our Central California if Jefferson decided to deny us water, and there were no intervening legislators to help make decisions about important issues like water rights. I imagine we would spend a lot of time in federal courts trying to settle our differences. A very thought-provoking article, Cotton, as usual. And I learned something else about you – that you are a Californian at heart. 🙂

    • It really would open a can of worms, but I can understand the frustrations of people in more rural parts of the state.

      And, being a fourth-generation native-born Californian and father of a fifth-generation native-born Caliornian, I guess I still do have a bit of California at heart, even though I’ve been gone for a long time.

      • Wow, that’s a bit unusual here now! For me that would almost be back to pioneer times, but not quite. My great grandparents were born in the 1880s or so. There might have been some a bit earlier than that. My family is all from Indiana, though. I’m a CA transplant. 🙂

      • My paternal grandfather’s four grandparents all came from Germany and had all arrived in California by the early 1860s, and the family has owned farmland near Davis since then. My great-aunt is 102 and has told me some remarkable stories of California’s early days, both what she experienced, and what she heard from older relatives. And now, I’m a South Carolina transplant. 🙂

      • Those were early days here. If there are any pictures, I hope you’ve share them with the CA Historical Society. I also hope you’ve written down some of your great-aunt’s stories. 🙂 You are such a great story teller. I’m going to be reading your books some day. 🙂

      • I just got back from California and was able to visit with my great-aunt and visit the family farm. I understand Davis looks nothing like it did even 40 years ago, but she is able to help me recreate what it and Sacramento were like many decades ago.

      • I love Davis. Thai Bistro is one of my favorite places along with the old courthouse restaurant. My step-son used to live there, and he and his wife took us to all their favorite places to eat. I love walking and biking there, and just wandering around downtown. It always seems much cooler there than here and we are only about four hours away. 🙂 I enjoy Sacramento, too, especially near the Capitol. 🙂

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