Why Tim Draper's 'Six Californias' Idea Won't Fly

Tim Draper | Photo: jdlasica/Flickr/Creative Commons License

If you need a sign that venture capitalist Tim Draper's new campaign to split the state into six parts is more stunt than serious proposal, you need look no further than the billionaire's proposed name for the new state covering the San Francisco and Monterey Bay areas. In Draper's proposed carving up of the state, eight counties running from the San Francisco Bay to Big Sur would be designated the state of Silicon Valley.

Let that sink in for a minute. The state would include San Francisco, Oakland, and Richmond, whose residents increasingly complain that the tech industry is boosting their cost of living, displacing the less-affluent and disrupting livelihoods. It would include wilderness in the Santa Lucias, and hard-working agricultural communities in the Salinas Valley and the Delta.

You might name such a state for its most prominent geographical feature, San Francisco Bay. If you cast an eye toward history, you might choose "Monterey" for that city's role as the state's first capital. But Draper chose to use his proposal to plant an almost literal flag on the Bay Area, claiming it for the tech industry. And the proposal's treatment of the rest of the current state is just as ahistorical and thoughtless.

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Draper, founder of the tech venture capital firm with the Mad-Men-flavored name Draper Fisher Jurvetson, first announced his campaign to split the state in December. Draper cites a number of reasons for the campaign, including some head-scratchers. For instance, he calls the state a "monopoly" and says breaking it up would "provide competition," though how six new states wouldn't just be six smaller monopolies he doesn't explain.

He also invokes an equal representation sentiment:

It is about time California was properly represented with Senators in Washington. Now our number of Senators per person will be about average.

Of course, it's the House of Representatives that provides Congressional representation leveraged by population, another historical fact Draper seems to have overlooked.

Splitting up California is not a new idea, as we saw with Riverside County supervisor Jeff Stone's 2011 proposal to carve the state of South California out of the desert, the San Joaquin Valley, and the Orange-San Diego coast. We detailed the problems with Stone's proposal in 2011, and Draper's makes those look easily tamable by comparison.

Here's the actual proposed initiative, which Draper has committed to spend his own money to get on the ballot:

Six Californias Proposal

Under the proposed division, the state of California would be divided up along existing county lines into six smaller states:

  • The northern quarter of the state, including all of Butte, Colusa, Del Norte, Glenn, Humboldt, Lake, Lassen, Mendocino, Modoc, Plumas, Siskiyou, Shasta, Tehama, and Trinity counties would form a new state called "Jefferson."
  • Amador, El Dorado, Marin, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, Sierra, Solano, Sonoma, Sutter, Yolo, and Yuba counties, making a band across the state just south of Jefferson, would become North California.
  • Central California, the only new state without a Pacific Coast frontage, would include Alpine, Calaveras, Fresno, Inyo, Kern, Kings, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, Mono, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Tulare, and Tuolumne counties.
  • "Silicon Valley" would absorb Alameda, Contra Costa, San Benito, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and Monterey counties.
  • The most populous of the new states, West California, would subsume Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Los Angeles, and Ventura counties.
  • Imperial, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties would become South California.

Drawing the new states along county lines may have made things seem simpler for Draper but especially in the state's less-populated eastern section, county lines were often drawn rather arbitrarily. And Draper's choice of which counties to lump together into states reflects a superficial understanding of the state at best.

Here's what the redrawn map would look like:

Tim Draper's Balkanized California | Map: KCET

But of all six proposed new states, only one, Jefferson -- has any historical precedent. (That's a real feat in a state with a century and a half of secessionist movements to its name.) First suggested as a bit of a political PR move in the last months of 1941 (and quietly dropped on December 7 of that year), Jefferson's original boundaries also included three counties in southern Oregon. In the last few months, county supervisors in Siskiyou, Modoc, and Glenn counties have voted with large majorities to approve secession from California, so Draper is tapping into some regional sentiment and might well see support for his initiative there.

In other places? Perhaps not so much. As mentioned earlier, it's questionable whether Bay Area voters already resentful of Google buses will favor an initiative to hand themselves over, if only in name, to the tech sector.

In the desert, county lines drawn up by coastal political cartographers often make little sense to those of us who live here. Many of those county lines will become state boundaries. Do you work in Lancaster and live in Rosamond? Your house is in Central California, but your job's in West California. Your April 15 just got a whole lot more complicated. If the brass at Edwards Air Force Base decide to update their environmental plan they'll suddenly have to consult with environmental agencies in both those states and South California to boot, as opposed to just working with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

South California would include both remote, nearly unpopulated desert valleys and crowded Orange and San Diego counties. Desert residents often charge the state government isn't doing enough to enact environmental safeguards in projects like Cadiz, where a desert aquifer's water would be piped to water lawns in southern Orange County. It's unlikely the problem would be alleviated if the Cadiz Valley's state capital was in Anaheim.

That's the kind of demographic and geographic division that Draper's plan glosses over. There are certainly credible arguments in favor of decentralizing California, and one of them -- ensuring fair political representation in a very large state -- is rather hard to argue with.

The deserts could reasonably be suggested as justifying their own state, as could the Central Valley and the Sierra and the South Coast. But Draper's plan doesn't actually pay attention to those real divisions.

The way Draper's got it set up, in other words, would split the state into pieces that have little relevance to the way the state actually works, the way people actually live, or the way the state's natural landscapes happen to be. The tiny desert town of Shoshone and the swelling Bay Area exurb of Tracy would be part of the same state of Central California. But Tracy has more in common with Livermore, across the Altamont Pass in "Silicon Valley," than with Shoshone, which shares more commonalities and commerce with Baker -- which would be in South California.

None of which is to imply that this proposal will ever see the light of reality. According to Article Four of the U.S. Constitution, any move to split a state must legally be approved by not only the legislature of the existing state -- which is unlikely in the extreme -- but by Congress.

Even if the California Legislature were to sympathize with the initiative, the task of dismantling the state's regulatory infrastructure would be mind-boggling. Take for instance an issue on everyone's mind right now, that of water. Splitting the state would put the water supply for the state's largest urban area in question, as well as for much of the rest of the state. Right now, California is entitled to almost 60 percent of the water in the Colorado River's Lower Basin allocation. Most of that water goes to what would become West California. The aqueducts that get it there flow through what would be South California. Which state inherits what percentage of the former state's water rights under the 1922 Colorado River Compact?

In fact, the water rights issue could likely sink the Draper proposal all by itself. After the division, the Los Angeles area would be reliant on water from South, Central, and North California, as well as Jefferson. Any measure potentially giving the northern mountains more power over who used their water would be of serious concern to L.A.'s representatives in Sacramento. And the entire proposed State of Jefferson is represented by four current Assembly members: Los Angeles County alone has 24.

It's not impossible to come up with a plan to split the state north-south where Los Angeles could be outvoted on water issues. But Jefferson and North California would need the voters of San Jose and San Francisco on their side. With the six-state setup, that's not likely: Bay Area cities are every bit as vulnerable to interrupted water deliveries as Los Angeles, and the grassroots in the Far North resents the Bay Area about as much as they do Disneyland.

Meanwhile, the ramifications of Draper's proposal would of necessity become a huge national political issue. Bluntly put, there is no way a proposal to split California along Draper's lines will ever make it through a Democratic-controlled Senate. California sends two Democratic senators to DC, and absent a massive demographic shift in L.A. and the Bay Area, it will continue to do so for some time.

Splitting the state Draper-style would monkeywrench that, from the Democrats' perspective. As imagined by Draper, both South and Central California would almost certainly send two Republican Senators to Washington, though the growing Latino population in each state might change that in 20 years. Jefferson would probably send two Republicans as well, and North California -- with significant conservative enclaves in its valley and Sierra Nevada portions, might well split the difference by sending a senator from each party. Silicon Valley and West California would reliably send two Democrats each to the Senate.

That would mean that California's two Democratic Senators would be replaced by four "safe" Democrat and six "safe" Republican seats, with two potential swing seats that might trend Republican at first. The Senate is now 55-45 Democrat, counting two liberal Independents. Were Draper's secession to become effective today the Senate would still be Democratic-controlled, with a maximum of 53 Republican senators to the Democrats' 59. But that's still a significant concession to the opposition, and it would never pass the Senate.

So take Draper's plan as "stunt politics," and as another example to add to the pile of failed attempts to split the state.

About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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