Column: Rich dude with more dollars than sense launches another campaign to break California up
The culture of disruption is getting out of hand.
Silicon Valley venture capitalist and Bitcoin evangelist Tim Draper has revived his proposal to carve our fabulous state into smaller parts. His current proposal, Cal 3, is a minor improvement over his 2014 scheme, which was to break the state into six parts.
But it’s just as misguided.
Draper claims that creating a Northern California (including San Jose and San Francisco, east to Mariposa County), Southern California (including Orange and San Diego counties) and just plain old California (including the five coastal counties from Los Angeles to Monterey) will magically have the effect of improving education, lowering taxes and repairing the state’s crumbling infrastructure.
“With three states, we’re going to be able to govern for the next millennial,” Draper told the Associated Press in a video interview two weeks ago. “It’s going to be awesome.”
You know what else would be awesome? If you knew the difference between “millennial” and “millennium.”
But I digress.
As you undoubtedly know, Draper’s 2014 plan, into which he dumped more than $5 million, did not make the California ballot. A man more attuned to the wishes of the populace might have, at that point, decided to deep-six the silly proposal, and maybe look for ways to spend his vast wealth actually doing something to make the state a better place to live.
But in Draper’s world, I guess, incremental change is anathema. Disruption is key.
The question is, what is really underlying this urge to disrupt?
As I read the Cal 3 website, my eyes glazing over at the bromides about lower taxes, safe streets and a stronger education system, the only concrete concept that jumped off the page at me was this: “Areas like Sacramento are currently run by powerful special interest groups like the Teachers’ Union. Creating three new states will help put the power back into the hands of the constituents.”
Is union busting a good reason to break up labor-friendly California?
Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers and a former history and government teacher at Manual Arts High School, doesn’t think so.
“One of the things that makes California so exciting is that we have people from all over the world here, and this is a way to divide that up, and segregate more and also to push back on … progressive tax reform and legislation that speaks to the diversity of California,” he said.
Pechthalt didn’t seem too worried about Draper’s kooky plan, but he did take offense at Draper’s characterization of his union as a “special interest.”
“That is not accurate,” he said. “We are teachers and working people who pay union dues. We are the people that do the work.”
Delaine Eastin, the former state superintendent of education who is running for governor, said the idea that California students would benefit from a statewide breakup is unrealistic.
There are already so many inequities in funding as a result of Proposition 13, she said, that efforts would be better spent closing the loopholes in our property tax laws so that owners of commercial properties could be taxed based on the market value of their property.
“It’s unfair that Chevron in Richmond is taxed at the same rate it was in 1978,” Eastin said. “The system is terribly underfunded because of Proposition 13. If you look at New York, they are spending more than twice as much money per child.”
Instead of spending his millions promoting a quixotic plan to break up the state, maybe Draper could spend his money supporting an initiative that will close that tax loophole, generating up to $11 billion in additional revenue for schools, parks, libraries, clinics, services for the homeless, roads and bridges
In recent years, it’s become fashionable to describe the state of California as “ungovernable.”
This is a silly trope and untrue, yet one that Draper has adopted as his rationale for the breakup. In his 2017 book, “How to Be the Startup Hero,” Draper devotes plenty of ink to the importance of scaling up. Scaling California down makes absolutely no sense. There is strength in numbers.
It is true that some Californians — those in the far northeast of the state who would like to break off and form the state of Jefferson, and others in the deeply Republican Central Valley — feel they are not represented by the likes of Democratic U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, let alone our popular outgoing Democratic governor, Jerry Brown.
But the cloud of gloom over our state, borne on the winds of the great recession, has lifted. California has high taxes, yes, but it also has a budget surplus, a low unemployment rate and a renewed sense of optimism. Last week, in fact, The Times published a story based on interviews with more than 100 Californians and their consensus was that the state is in good shape and improving all the time.
“As California chooses a new governor — one of just a handful in the last 40 years not named Jerry Brown — the state seems to be enjoying something unusual in these tumultuous political times: a feeling of relative contentment,” wrote my colleagues Mark Z. Barabak and Phil Willon.
Californians hardly seem to be in the restive mood necessary for such a convulsive reordering of things.
People in politics are known for their glancing relationship with the truth, but one of the features of our current moment is that now they seem to feel free to just make stuff up.
Draper, on his website, bemoans the fact that “California ranks 50th in high school graduation rates.” I could find no substantiation for that claim. Indeed, California’s high school graduation rate is in the middle, by some estimates, and around 40th by others. The far more salient fact, which also has the benefit of being true, is that the state falls in the bottom half of per-pupil spending compared with others.
Nearly two weeks ago, Draper said he had collected 600,000 signatures, more than the 365,880 necessary to qualify his initiative for the ballot. (The California secretary of state’s office has yet to verify those signatures. Draper’s 2014 attempt to place his “California Six” initiative on the ballot failed to earn enough signatures to qualify.)
Trumpeting this achievement, Draper released a statement claiming, “The unanimous support for Cal 3 from all 58 of California’s counties to reach this unprecedented milestone … is a signal that across California, we are united behind CAL 3 to create a brighter future for everyone.”
I know he’s a super smart guy — I mean, I’m reading his book — but I have no confidence that he knows what “unanimous” means.
I would have asked him, of course, but he did not reply to my email.