Six-state proposal should be taken seriously, but it's just so hard to

Six-state proposal should be taken seriously, but it's just so hard to
Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper talks Tuesday next to six boxes of petitions for a 2016 ballot initiative that would ask voters to split California into six separate states. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Splitting California into six chunks is still a crackpot idea, but maybe it's time to start taking this semi-seriously.

That's because 1.3 million California voters have signed petitions to place the nutty notion on the ballot, its rich promoter says. So it's a good bet the proposal will land there.


But not until November 2016. That means we've got to hear about this doomed fantasy for another two-plus years.

Delaying the statewide vote for two years, rather than placing it on the upcoming ballot, will give everyone time "to sort of stomach" the six-state concept, says its sponsor, Silicon Valley venture capitalist Timothy Draper.

"It gives people time to get over their initial reaction and think about, 'What could my government look like? How could I improve it?' This is a major opportunity for all of us."

Draper contends that California, with 38 million people and extremely different geographies, is too unwieldy to govern, and its elected state representatives are too far out of touch with the citizens.

"We don't have the best government," he complains. "In fact, it's the worst government. It's not the fault of the people in government. I know many of them. It's systemic."

His ballot initiative—which requires only 808,000 valid voter signatures to qualify—"will start the conversation" among citizens, he says, about how to "reboot and refresh" the state.

A 24-member Board of Commissioners would be appointed by the Legislature and county boards of supervisors to guide the California crackup—to divvy up financial and property holdings, and make a lot of lawyers and consultants very rich.

Of course, Congress and the president also would need to sign off on adding five more stars to the flag and creating 10 additional California senators. I figure the senators would split half Democrat, half Republican.

I can't imagine very many people—practical, sane people with real lives—volunteering to spend five minutes on the conversation that Draper wants to start. They may waste hours gazing at World Cup soccer, but futilely discussing a reconfiguration of California governance that's never going to happen?

"A colossal waste of time," says Democratic consultant Steve Maviglio, a former gubernatorial and legislative advisor who's trashing the idea pro bono. "California will now be the butt of jokes for two years—another 'one of those crazy California things.'"

He has formed a small bipartisan coalition of opposition with Joe Rodota, a Republican consultant and former Cabinet secretary for Gov. Pete Wilson.

"It would be a lengthy and costly process of identifying every state record, asset and liability and redistributing them into six new states, while rewriting the state constitution and every law and regulation six times," Rodota says.

"It would constitute—if it could be accomplished—the largest self-imposed, unnecessary cost in the history of any state government."

Well, maybe not larger than Gov. Jerry Brown's bullet train. But I'm getting off track.


"California voters who generally like to avoid risk and cost," Rodota continues, "are going to be faced with a very risky and costly measure."

But the measure's chief spokesman, Democratic consultant Roger Salazar, says: "Ask anyone in the Central Valley. Or in the Imperial Valley or San Diego. A lot of folks want to take a look at this."

So I called Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, the GOP candidate for state controller who leads the state's fifth-largest city. It probably would become the capital of Central California. And she'd be the frontrunner to become that state's historic first governor.

"The future of the Central Valley," she says, "is to better connect with Northern California and Southern California, not to retreat from Northern California and Southern California."

"In the past," she says, "the Central Valley has always felt overlooked because it's sandwiched between two of the most prosperous regions of the world. However, if it were to be cut off from those regions, it could be very detrimental for us.

"As difficult as it can be for the Central Valley to engage with Northern and Southern California, if there were state lines dividing us it would actually be harder."

Valid point. Why would the new North California, with the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta exercising increased clout, agree to pump more—if any—water south? Not only into the San Joaquin Valley, but into the new states of Silicon Valley, West California and South California.

"Because you want people to live," Draper tells me.

Don't be so sure. If I'm a delta farmer, I might tell those people to go live where the water flows naturally, rather than in a place that relies on grabbing it from other folks.

Draper says such details—like who must pay out-of-state tuition at UC Berkeley or UCLA?—can be negotiated in interstate compacts. Let's see, how many acre-feet of water would L.A. Clippers power forward Blake Griffin cost the Sacramento Kings?

One thing to keep in mind: Central California would be the poorest state in the nation, poorer even than Mississippi. Over the hill, Silicon Valley would become the richest state, with per capita income twice the Central Valley's. The northern woods State of Jefferson also would be dirt poor.

L.A. County would totally dominate Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties in the new state of West California. But if they place the state Capitol in Santa Barbara, I'll volunteer to go cover it.

Yes, this probably should be taken seriously. But it just seems a joke and really frivolous.