If you were a successful venture capitalist with a few million dollars to spare you would probably look around for something worthwhile to do with your money.
That’s what Tim Draper of Silicon Valley did. He came up with an idea no one else had thought of. That is, divide California into six states. He is not the first one to propose dividing California. That distinction goes to a handful of citizens in its northwestern corner who, in 1852 (two years after California became a state) complained about inattention from the capital and wanted to join forces with some neighboring counties in Oregon. Nothing came of it. As for Draper’s plan, he told the Los Angeles Times, “California has become the worst managed state in the country. It is just too big and too ungovernable.”
He has put his money where his mouth is. He has spent approximately $4.9 million to fund a petition-gathering drive to get the matter on the ballot in November 2016. Last week the committee he created turned in 1.3 million signatures. They need 808,000 valid ones to qualify, so it is likely California voters will see this on their ballots in two years.
Draper rhapsodizes about the prospect of six states, according to his group’s press release: “Six Californias is our opportunity to solve the many problems we face today.… Six states that are more representative and accountable. Six states that embrace innovation and strive to improve the lives of residents.” Already he’s learned to talk in Politician Speak, that is, in round, warm statements with no hint of how the wonders are to be accomplished.
So far, no one not employed by Mr. Draper has stepped forward to praise the idea. Most who have commented emphasize their skepticism. How would the state’s several-billion-dollar pension liability be divided? How would the state’s assets — from desks and computers to highway repair equipment — be apportioned? And, what of the University of California system with its 10 campuses or the State University system, with its 23? The always contentious issue of water rights within a single state would become even testier among six different ones. All of these are just for starters. Who would pay for six new state capital buildings and the costs associated with all those legislators and the six bureaucracies that would be created?
Northernmost of the six Californias would be Jefferson, consisting of 14 counties covering a large swath of the state, but with a population under one million. It would also have a weak economy. Next to it, North California would stretch from the ocean (Marin County) to the Nevada border and include 13 counties with 3.8 million people.
Silicon Valley — no fooling, that’s its proposed name — is a state that would cover most of the counties on San Francisco Bay plus Santa Cruz and Monterey. It would be the richest of the six states and have a population of 4.9 million. Perhaps Tim Draper sees himself as its first Governor.
Central California would comprise eight counties of the San Joaquin Valley and some mountain areas. Its population would be 4.1 million. Many of these counties currently have high unemployment and, together, would create the poorest state economically.
West California would have the largest population, over 13 million. It would include Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo Counties,
South California would have 10.7 million people and consist of the desert counties and San Diego.
California voters have more than once passed ballot propositions without thinking through the consequences. This one, however, seems too far-fetched even for them. On the off chance the Draper ballot measure were to pass, the legislature would have to approve it, then the governor would have to forward the plan to Congress and both its houses would have to give it approval. What is the likelihood that several other states will look askance at California having 12 U.S. Senators instead of two? About as certain as the sun rising in the east tomorrow.
Tim Draper fancies six states of glorious separation where now there is one which, despite its problems, has a huge economy and clout to go with it. Carving it up is a bridge too far.