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Home » Cultural Geography, Geopolitics, North America, Northern California

Tim Draper’s Proposed “Six Californias”

Submitted by on January 8, 2014 – 1:12 pm 21 Comments |  
US States Divided MapAs was noted last October on GeoCurrents, efforts to split U.S. states have been gaining increased attention. Geographer Andrew Shears has made an intriguing map that shows a number of “failed state partition proposals through US history,” posted here. Note that few of the 50 states have never been so challenged. A single map of this type, however, cannot capture all such proposals, as many have overlapping boundaries. California and Texas in particular have seen many partition plans. On Shears’ map, the proposed state of Reagan in southeastern California is particularly notable.

6CaliforniasMapThe potential division of California made news again this past December when prominent high-tech investor Tim Draper announced that he would be putting together a ballot initiative designed to create six new states. Draper argues that California is nearly ungovernable, and that “citizens of the whole state would be better served by six smaller state governments.” Getting the initiative on the November 2014 election ballot will not be easy, however, as many thousands of signature will first have to be collected. Thus far, extensive organization seems lacking. The website devoted to the project does not yet have any content beyond a simple map and advice to “stay tuned.” And even in the unlikely event that the proposal does appear and triumph on the ballot, it is highly questionable whether the U.S. constitution would allow such state-level partition.

SicCaliforniasMapRegardless of its feasibility, Draper’s partition plan is worth a closer look. State division proposals are usually based on regional rivalries, strong regional differences in political orientation, or the feeling that a particular area is neglected by the existing government (or some combination of the three). Past efforts to split California have thus most often been based on the rivalry between greater Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, the division between the more conservative interior and the more liberal coastal region, and the common sentiment in lightly populated rural countries that their needs are not being met by a state government dominated by metropolitan interests. Draper’s plan seems to take all of these issues into consideration, taking a maximal approach to state division. It is questionable, however, whether it does so effectively.

dividedCaliforniaMapOne of the most interesting aspects of the Draper plan is the fact that it would divide both of California’s major metropolitan areas: greater Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. Los Angeles County—by far the most populous US county, with some 10 million residents—would be linked to Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo counties to become “West California,” while suburban Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino countries would join with San Diego to form “South California.” Such split does make a certain kind of political sense, as the former state would be decidedly Democratic-voting, while the latter would be more of a political toss-up (the counties that would compose “South California” were recently quite conservative, but they have been trending to the center in recent elections.) I do, however, question the proposed names, as most of “West California” is in the eastern half of what is now California. (Ask most geographically informed Americans, “What is the Longitude of LA Maplargest city east of Reno, Nevada and west of Chicago, Illinois?” and the usual answer is “Denver, Colorado.” The actual answer, however, is “Los Angeles, California.”) “South California” is also a problematic name, as the heart of “southern California” is certainly Los Angeles.

6CaliforniasPolitical MapDraper’s proposed “Central California” also makes political sense, as it is anchored by the agricultural heartland of the San Joaquin Valley. It would be a generally Republican-voting state, although it too has been trending more to the center, in part because it is becoming increasingly Hispanic. Such a state, however, would reliably vote against most environmental initiatives favored in the more left-leaning coastal counties.

Silicon Valley MapThe San The Francisco Bay Area would also be divided, with its core going to the new state of “Silicon Valley” and its northern counties placed instead in “North California.” The proposed name of “Silicon Valley” seems unfortunate, as the actual Silicon Valley, as it is conventionally understood, comprises only a small portion of this would-be state. I can only imagine that most voters in San Francisco and Oakland, and also in Monterey County to the south, would find this name offensive. But whatever its appellation, such a state would be far to the left on the conventional political spectrum, especially in regard to social issues. In Silicon Valley proper, however, libertarian leanings are quite common.

Draper’s oddest proposed new state is North California. The name is not intuitive, as “northern California” includes the entire Bay Area, while far northern California is instead placed in the state of Jefferson. The main problem with “North California,” however, is the fact that it would join together a number of liberal coastal counties with some decidedly conservative interior counties. I imagine that this state was configured this way in order to place the resort area of Lake Tahoe, located at the angle along California’s eastern border, in the same state as the north Bay Area as well as the capital city of Sacramento. North California would also be politically liberal, much to the consternation of rural voters in agricultural counties such as Sutter and Yuba and upland counties such as Amador and El Dorado.

The final state, Jefferson, was analyzed in a previous GeoCurrents post, which emphasized the fact that left-leaning Mendocino and Humboldt counties make a poor fit. I would only note in addition that  this version of Jefferson is not conventional, as it lacks southern Oregon.



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  • Peter Rosa

    Splitting up states is an idea that pokes its head up every so often, yet the last time it actually happened was with West Virginia 151 years ago.

    • Martin W. Lewis

      Yes, and it took the Civil War to make it happen. Tim Draper’s investments here will probably not yield anything.

      • SirBedevere

        I agree, although it was as much the 1864 election as the Civil War that got West Virginia (and Nevada) statehood. Actually to split an existing state, it seems to me that there would need to be one party with an overwhelming majority at both the state and federal level (like the Republicans, after the entire South, including whatever part of Virginia did not want Kanawha to secede, seceded) or some sort of deal between a party that would benefit at the state level and one that would benefit at the federal level, both with overwhelming majorities. I wouldn’t hold my breath, certainly not for a complex arrangement like this one.

  • Randy McDonald

    The only federal country I know of where state boundaries get redefined is India, and in that case it’s open to question how federal that country actually is.

    • Martin W. Lewis

      Yes, and state division is a hugely controversial issue in India.

  • seme6

    Draper’s plan seems to have completely ignored the fact that politics of water and water infrastructure trumps or underpins any other issue in California. Watersheds speak against most of the plan. Balkanization will exacerbate the situation. Explain to me how funding 5 more state bureaucracies is more efficient. The only issues driving this plan is the current outlook of partisan politics representation.

    • Martin W. Lewis

      Excellent point. In Draper’s plan, the State of Jefferson would control the vast bulk of California’s water resources. This is a huge issue, especially considering the fact that California has had virtually no precipitation for a year.

      • SirBedevere

        I may be completely wrong on this, but I always thought much of California’s water supply came from outside the state anyway. Even if it doesn’t, some other states get their water supply from out of state, I believe.

        • Asya Pereltsvaig

          If so, we badly need it now…

  • Y

    “Monterey”, not “Monterrey”.

    • Asya Pereltsvaig

      Thanks for catching the typo, all fixed now.

    • Mike

      To be fair, it’s not a real mis-spelling. Monterey is a Spanish word, and spelled properly, SHOULD be spelled Monterrey. It was just spelled wrong long ago…

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  • Xezlec

    Today I learned that I am not a “geographically informed American”. I would have guessed Phoenix, Houston, or Dallas/Fort Worth. I will have to pay more attention to this site in hopes of becoming more geographically informed! ;)

    • Asya Pereltsvaig

      Thank you, Xezlec! We hope you will find many interesting things to read on our site.

    • Martin W. Lewis

      You are evidently better informed than most!

  • D. Schwartz

    Another issue with this proposal is that it was created to address coastal/interior divides and urban/rural divides and it falls short on both counts. Half of these states (Jefferson, North California, and South California) will still have coastal vs interior divides to varying degrees. Further, each one of these lessor states will have some sort of rural/urban divide to some degree, though for some of the interior states it will be comparatively minimal. While it makes an interesting discussion piece, and presumably the new states would create measures to balance issues in their perceived favor, too many issues would carry over into the new arrangement.

    • Martin W. Lewis

      Excellent points. Thanks for adding them.

    • Wombat

      It strikes me as hopeless to try to address the urban/rural divide in the United States through drawing/redrawing state boundaries, even assuming such redrawing were a realistic prospect at all. The idea of an urban/rural dichotomy is built into the very notion of a “state”. Several of the states originated pretty directly as city-and-hinterland: Boston and Massachusetts, New York and New York, Savannah and Georgia, New Orleans and Louisiana, Oregon City and Oregon, St. Louis and Missouri, Santa Fe and New Mexico, yada yada. The states that didn’t originate quite that way still have distinct metropolitan and non-metropolitan zones – such as Des Moines and Cedar Rapids compared to the rest of Iowa. Even in Wyoming, the cities of the southeastern corner are viewed as a region apart from the very rural remainder of the state. Connecticut and Rhode Island seem to be exceptions to this pattern, but the fact is that the swamping of the rural parts of those states by urban, suburban, and exurban sprawl is a relatively recent phenomenon, not reflective of how a “state” is actually conceived in the “unwritten constitution” of the United States.

      To start establishing city-states and (for lack of a better term) non-city-states would require a pretty fundamental re-visioning of federal structure of the United States overall.

  • T.

    As someone who lives in Nevada County (in CA, not the state of Nevada), if we were somehow to be connected to Marin County in a smaller state (Marin county has a much larger population), I’d sell and move out of CA (or its various subdivided states) entirely. Just absolutely NOT – and I’ll be voting against this initiative as fast as my hand can pull a lever.

  • Roger Donaldson

    People like the idea of breaking up california, but this map is all about concentrating wealth and exiling the poor. I’d like to see the state-by-state per capita income distribution that this results in. It’s an obvious cash-grab by draper.

    • jai_dit

      Here’s a map that shows median county income, generated from 2012 Census data.

      I don’t have the population data handy to set up per capita for each new state, but it seems safe to say Silicon Valley would be the richest state and Jefferson would be the poorest.