“WESTCalifornia dreamin’, on such a winter’s day.” I guess that’s how we’ll have to change the lyrics of the song to read, if Tim Draper, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist who wants to divide the state up into six easy pieces, gets his way. And what about the literally hundreds of other songs written and sung over the decades about the state? Where exactly would we be heading, for example, when we sing “California here I come”? Although at least “it never rains in Southern California” could remain more or less the same, except you’d be talking about San Diego, or Irvine, or Riverside, or San Bernardino, but definitely not LA.
That’s because the Draper plan divides the state up into six unequal segments, supposedly because California, as it is currently configured, is ungovernable. Here are the six newly proposed states, along with several of the larger cities that would be contained in each of them (beginning from the Oregon border):
1. Jefferson (Eureka, Redding, Chino)
2. North California (basically, just Sacramento)
3. Silicon Valley (San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose)
4. Central California (Stockton, Fresno, Modesto, Bakersfield)
5. West California (San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Long Beach)
6. South California (Irvine, Riverside, San Bernardino, Oceanside, San Diego)
Sure, maybe we can all agree that California might be a bit of a pain to govern. After all, its size, diversity, population, and GDP match, or exceed, many other countries in the world. It is not only one of the most culturally diverse states in the Union, but its varied landscape, from the deepest, driest, hottest deserts, to the highest mountain in the contiguous forty-eight, to sparkling beaches, dense forests, pristine National Parks, and the enormous expanse of its Central Valley, where much of the produce the nation consumes is grown, all contribute to its special place in the country and the world. And we haven’t even yet spoken of its vaunted entertainment industry, its enormous technological prowess, and just generally its well-deserved reputation for creativity and new ways of approaching things.
Each of the newly proposed six sub-Californias would contain a segment of what’s listed above, but in this case, the whole definitely remains greater than the sum of its parts. A few of those parts, in fact, would get mightily short changed in a six-way divorce. For example, while the state of Silicon Valley would be rich beyond measure, what would happen to literally poor Jefferson, or even poorer Central California? And even this says nothing at all about the overwhelmingly gargantuan task it would be to actually go through the process of attempting to break the state up into the proposed subdivisions.
To be fair, I suppose, Mr. Draper has done some of his homework. He has laid out a sketchy blueprint as to how resources and debt might be distributed. All of this was well described the other day (July 20, 2014) in an article in the Los Angeles Times, entitled “Chop California in six?” by Robin Abcarian. As she notes, a Board of 24 Commissioners would be appointed by the current state legislature, as well as by county supervisors. How exactly that would happen, in order to make both Democrats and Republicans happy, and what kind of a say giant LA County might have with its 10 million people, vis-à-vis tiny Alpine County with under 1200 people, is left undetermined. On top of that, the proposed Board of Commissioners would have only two years to do its work. After that, if they failed to come to some sort of mutually agreed upon split of assets and liabilities, then each new state would automatically get to keep everything it has within its new boundaries for itself. So, it ought to be asked, what exactly would be the advantage of completing the process in the time allotted? Why would fabulously rich San Francisco County, just as one example, want to share any of its wealth with the 35,000 or so residents of distant, rural Lassen County? And would the good citizens of Lassen, or many other sparsely populated counties, even have a credible voice in the redistribution debate? From these potential stumbling blocks, the list goes on at some length, in terms of exactly how and what would be shared, and at what percentage.
Here’s another example. Everyone knows that California is already in a water crisis with the continuing drought that has afflicted the region for the past three years. And water has always been a highly contentious issue under the best of circumstances, pitting the relative plenty of the northern part of the state against the parched southern regions. Given this long and controversial history, what makes us think that a new state of Silicon Valley would be any more willing to share its precious Sacramento delta water with sprawling and ever-thirsty West California?
And there are many other examples of potential pitfalls. What would we do with the state’s world-famous higher education system? There are 9 campuses of the University of California (UC). Would these become the University of Californias, Silicon Valley, and Jefferson? Probably not the latter, at least, since no UC is currently located north of San Francisco. On the other hand, the California State University’s 23 campuses (the CSU) have the advantage of at least one or two sites being located in each of the newly proposed states. As things currently stand, the retirement systems of both the UC and the CSU are funded by state-wide contributions. The UC has its own retirement, while the CSU, and most other state workers, participates in CalPERS (the California Public Employees’ Retirement System). High school and elementary teachers have their own CalSTRS (the California State Teachers’ Retirement System). In each case, the question remains the same: would there be enough retirement funding to cover everyone in the event of a breakup? And if not, who gets to pay extra to make up for the shortfalls of the less populated new states?
There’s no doubt that all of these enormously complex questions would have to get battled out in the courts. That itself could be astronomically costly, and a process that might take decades to finally get settled. As Robin Abcarian points out in her article, it took Virginia and West Virginia, which split over the question of slavery at the time of the Civil War, over 50 years to come to final agreements. And that was with just two states. In today’s far more complicated and litigious world, how long might it take for six states to come to terms with such questions?
The lawyers would get rich, even richer than they already are. That seems certain. But would it be good for the rest of us? So far, over a million Californians have indicated that they want to at least explore the subject, and since it takes1.3 million signatures to qualify, it would seem that billionaire Draper is well on his way to getting it on the ballot for 2016
Let’s hope that calmer and more reasonable minds will prevail. The costs involved, the legal, economic, and human issues raised, and the iconic ideal of what California has always stood for in this country and in the world at large are all at stake. I for one don’t want to be dreamin’ about a West California, even if I did live there. And when I sing “California here I come,” I really would prefer to be coming home to the whole magnificent state, not just to some puny portion thereof.
It’s okay with me if California isn’t the easiest place in the world to govern. That’s what happens with big, powerful, highly diverse places. And in the end, I have to say, I’m not sure that Virginia and West Virginia have proven themselves to be all that much easier to govern as two states, rather than one, either. So, Mr. Draper, here’s my free advice to you: leave California alone. Just grow up, and deal with it!