The potentially referendum-bound measure to split California
into six states, authored by Silicon Valley investor Timothy Draper, is a
terrible idea. It’s also more probable than you think.
The measure, which would require the collection of 807,615
signatures before July 18 to make it onto the ballot, would place Los Angeles and Santa Barbara together
in one state, lump San Diego and San Bernardino into another, create a third
out of the Fresno area, and make a fourth out of Monterey and the southern half
of the Bay. The fifth would contain the Sacramento and Sonoma areas, and the
sixth would include everything from Redding to the border with Oregon.
Proponents of the six-part division cite the
“ungovernability” of the monstrous Golden State, pointing to marked variations
in culture, socioeconomic background, legislative needs, and political
affiliation in different regions. The division of the state would theoretically
align such cultures and interests, and lead to more efficient government.
That said, there is room for skepticism. Cultural and
socioeconomic differences in California are a great deal more geographically
nuanced than can be represented by just six states. Draper argues that it
doesn’t make sense to have the dense, politically dark-blue city of San
Francisco and the right-leaning, freeway-drowned Orange County in the same
state. But under the new proposal, Los Angeles and Guadalupe would be in the
same state, as would be Santa Barbara and Camarillo, Oxnard and Hawthorne, and Somis and West Hollywood. Arcata up north probably has more in common with
Santa Barbara politically and culturally than it does with nearby Oroville, and
Fresno and Merced are going to squabble over water rights no matter what state
they’re in. You get the point.
The unparalleled diversity of climates and resources is
what boosts California’s economy. The northern third of the state irrigates
crops grown in the Central Valley, which currently produces about half of the United States’ fruits, vegetables, and tree nuts, some of which go on to be sold in
nearby Los Angeles. Millions of dollars of materials produced in the factories
of San Bernardino County make their way north via Interstate 5, a
multimillion-dollar project constructed to facilitate the movement of goods
from northern California to Southern California without the regulation that
comes with interstate commerce.
This highly elaborate system makes California the eighth-largest economy in the world, and if the proposed division were to happen, Silicon Valley would be first in the United States in terms of per-capita
income. Central California, the state that would contain the majority of the Central Valley, would drop to last, below
Mississippi. A widening of the bifurcation between the rich and the poor? Maybe
a little bit.
Division would be a political headache for the state as well
as the federal government. Dividing up the state won’t erase current political
disagreements—in fact, it might actually make them harder to resolve. Today, a
Democratic supermajority in Sacramento usually leads to legislative answers to
pressing questions, even if those answers don’t please everybody. Six states
placed in perpetual disagreement by the very nature of their political division
would subject the California economy to the same gridlock that constricts
progress in Washington, D.C., under the new system.
The question of carbon emissions is one of particular
importance. It is Sacramento’s environmental policy that keeps Riverside and
Fresno from becoming American versions of Shanghai and Beijing, but also
Sacramento that pays to maintain Highway 210 and Highway 60 to make that
region’s urban sprawl work. Without the environmental checks and balances
provided by unity, under-restricted pollution in one state—specifically Southern California—would threaten the environment of western California’s eastern
And the proposed high-speed train between Los Angeles and San
Francisco intended to reduce car-related emissions? A six-way split would
almost certainly become a fly in the ointment for that project.
The remaining headaches brought on by division are too
numerous to count. A student growing up in Montclair would pay out-of-state
tuition to attend the University of California, (West) Los Angeles a
miserable 49 miles away. California Highway 1, so legendary even the French
recognize it immediately, would suddenly find itself crossing five states.
Every document with the name “State of California” printed on it would have to
be trashed. Debt would have to be divided up, which might pose questions of
credit for state expenditures. Even more, the federal government would also be
faced with a few decisions bound to find opposition somewhere, including potentially redesigning the American Flag and adding 10 new senators.
Is all this highly improbable? Maybe. But the 808,000
signatures Draper needs really aren’t all that many if the effort to collect
them is well-organized. The marijuana referendum Proposition 19 surpassed its
signature requirement by over 200,000 in 2010, and the measure in this case is less likely to send conservatives scurrying.
So why does this affect you, Claremont?
Take a look at the map on the Six Californias Initiative
website. No, look harder, down at the border between West California and South
California. That long, almost-straight line you’re looking at currently divides
Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties, and is roughly one-eighth of a mile
from the Claremont Colleges.
True, not a ton would change within Claremont if this
measure managed to pass—but as Californians either by birth or by choice of
educational institution, answer this: Do you really want to cross state lines
to go to Target?
Just something to think about before you sign the clipboard
on your next shopping trip.
Hunter Reardon PO ’15 is majoring in politics and French, and is a resident of Lompoc, Calif. He also runs the Claremont Colleges Airport Transportation Project and is currently studying abroad in Paris.