A state divided is no longer golden

Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper is funding a petition drive to place his "Six Californias" initiative on the ballot.
(John Todd / Associated Press)

SACRAMENTO — Cracking California into six pieces and calling each chunk a state sounds really crackpot.

Don’t like this state government? How about five more?

What about the notion of Los Angeles students attending UC Berkeley or San Diego State and paying out-of-state tuition?

Think L.A. and the San Joaquin Valley have water problems now? Wait until the new state of North California cuts off water flowing south from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.


Yes, splitting California into six states is crazy.

But the proposal could wind up on the state ballot.

Yes, it probably would fail miserably.

But some people — one very rich man in particular — are very serious about the concept.

“California has become the worst managed state in the country,” says Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper, 55, who’s funding a petition drive to place his “Six Californias” initiative on the ballot. “It just is too big and too ungovernable.”

He doesn’t blame Gov. Jerry Brown.

“I think we have a great governor,” says Draper, a Republican-turned-Democrat-turned-independent. “We’ve had great governors. It’s just systemic and getting worse and being managed worse.”

OK, hold it.

Some of our governors have not been so great. But Brown is managing fine. He may lack the imagination he showed during his first gubernatorial reign — a current example being his old-style Delta tunnel plan — but Brown is balancing the books and not going nuts on new programs. The unfunded bullet train aside.

Few people these days continue to claim that California is ungovernable. The Legislature has become much more functional since voters allowed it to pass budgets on a majority vote.

Says Draper: “It’s hard for people to defend the status quo. Jobs are leaving California like rats from a sinking ship.”

But in reality, jobs are increasing and state tax revenue is pouring into Sacramento beyond all projections.

Draper’s split-up-California proposal, he contends, would result in more local control and focus on regional problems.

These would be the six new states:

South California — San Diego, Imperial, Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange counties.

West California — Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.

Central California — The San Joaquin Valley east over the Sierra to the Nevada line. This would be the poorest state in the nation based on personal income.

Silicon Valley — Monterey though San Francisco counties, including most of the Bay Area. This would be the country’s richest state.

(But come on, with a beautiful, world-renowned city like San Francisco, why would anyone name this state Silicon Valley, unless that’s where he called home?)

North California — Sacramento extending east and west, up the Sierra to Lake Tahoe, and across through the delta and the Napa-Sonoma wine country to Marin and the ocean.

Jefferson — Practically everything north to the Oregon border. Lots of redwoods, rice paddies and rivers.

This is all fodder, of course, for late-night comedians. Jokes about the states of smogville, fogville and potville.

But two political operatives are alarmed and trying to form a bipartisan coalition against it.

“It’s totally nutty,” says Democratic strategist Steve Maviglio, a former communications director for Gov. Gray Davis. “Just when we’re getting our momentum back in California, we now have a conversation about how screwed up the state is. And it’s totally erroneous.”

Joe Rodota, a GOP consultant and former policy analyst for Gov. Pete Wilson, complains: “Draper has received fawning national press coverage with very feeble rebuttal. He has gotten a free ride here because you guys just dismiss him.

“His premise that California is broken and can’t be fixed, that the California experiment is past and this is a place where you can’t do business, I’m not ready to accept that,” Rodota continues. “But if this qualifies for the ballot, it’s bad for the California brand.”

Draper has poured nearly $2 million into signature-collecting. He needs about 808,000 valid voter signatures to get his proposition on the ballot. They need to be certified by June 26 for the measure to qualify for November, which means handing them over in early May.

“It looks close,” he says.

If Draper misses that deadline, he has until July 18 to collect enough signatures to keep the initiative alive for the 2016 ballot.

Draper has dabbled in initiative politics before. In 2000, he sponsored a ballot measure to provide taxpayer-funded vouchers worth $4,000 to help any child attend a private school. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the idea.

Proposals to split up California have been around almost since statehood. In 1859, the Legislature actually passed a bill to separate the state at the Tehachapi Mountains. But Congress, facing a Civil War, never acted on the proposal.

And, of course, it’s highly unlikely that Congress and the president would approve Draper’s proposal either. Just what the nation needs, they’d say, 10 more U.S. senators from California.

In 1993, the state Assembly passed a proposed non-binding ballot measure that would have asked voters whether they wanted to split California into three states. But the Senate refused to take it up.

The sponsor was then-Assemblyman Stan Statham, a Republican from Shasta County and former TV news anchor, who recognized a good sound bite. Statham was planning to run for lieutenant governor, a race he lost in the primary.

“Someone up north said they hated to lose the beautiful Capitol building in Sacramento,” Statham recalls. “I said, I’d like to keep it too, but do you really want the contents?”

Actually, I’d like to keep the whole state. But go ahead and put this thing on the ballot. We could use some fun.