Robert Price

Robert Price


California billionaires have a different set of hobbies than you and me: Investing in exotic ventures, private-jetting to distant places and dreaming up ways to carve up the country's most populous, diverse and politically powerful state.

Most efforts, on that last count, have been laughable. A few years ago, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur came up with a scheme to create six Californias: His own would be the wealthiest in the nation and the chunk that included Kern County would displace Mississippi as the poorest.

Late-night comedians appreciated the fodder.

Tech billionaire Timothy C. Draper refused to go away, however, and now he is back with another California carve-up scheme. Draper has submitted paperwork that would put this question before voters in 2018: Would three Californias be better than one?

Well, it would be better than six.

We already know California is at least three states: Northern, Southern and Inland. Each of these sub-states has its own attitude, topography and politics: Northern is green, wet, wealthy and liberal; Southern is the sunny cliché most of the world visualizes when someone references California; and Inland, particularly the Central Valley portion, is hot, working-class and conservative. We are Massachusetts, South Florida and Oklahoma all rolled into one feuding, ungovernable confederation of 40 million people.

Draper's 2014 plan, which went nowhere as expected, would have created clear winners and losers, Kern County most certainly among the latter. This conservative county relies, ironically, on the wealth of other, predominately liberal California counties to subsidize our poverty. Everyone, except perhaps Draper's home "state" of Silicon Valley, had something to hate about the idea.

The rest of the country would have hated it too. North Dakota probably enjoys having its two U.S. senators occupying the same chamber as California's two. But six Californias would have a combined total of 12 senators, per the Constitution's instructions, while the states with no people in them would still be stuck with two each.

Draper's revised, three-state proposal would create political units of approximately equal populations and wealth. One, which would get to keep the name California, would run from Greater Los Angeles up the coast through San Luis Obispo to Monterey. The state of Northern California would include San Francisco and points north and northeast; and Southern California would encompass the Central Valley and Inland Empire all the way down to San Diego and the Mexican border.

This would make for some strange bedfellows. Monterey under the covers with L.A.? I foresee unrest. The libertarian isolationists of Modoc County in the sack with leftist San Francisco? Awkward. Kern County kicking off its work boots to cozy up next to sandals-wearing San Diego? Incomprehensible. Bakersfield West, also known as Pismo Beach, cannot be severed from us by some arbitrary border.

But three Californias, divided as Draper proposes, wouldn't be as distasteful to the rest of America as six. Sure, two additional Californias would send four new West Coast senators to Washington. But without San Francisco's influence, two or even three of them might be Republicans, a more palatable political distribution as far as America's conservative middle is concerned. Bakersfield folks who feel like hostages in a socialist country would like it too.

This is all fantasy, of course. As with the fictional breakaway state of Jefferson, with its capital city of Yreka, carving up California is a just a political parlor game. Even if voters were to approve Draper's ballot measure (unlikely), the state Legislature would have to vote yes (even more unlikely), and then Congress (at that stage, not beyond the realm of imagination).

More likely, and more defensible, is a two-California division that gives Giant fans yet another reason to dislike Dodger fans but doesn't thrust together disparate cultures and sensibilities any more than they already are.

Likeliest of all: One California, huge, independent and imperfect.

Reach The Californian's Robert Price at or on Twitter: @stubblebuzz.

(1) comment


I'm all for dividing California for the only reason of giving my conservative vote a real voice in this insanely liberal state.

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