‘Six Californias’ Initiative Inspires Local Concern, Optimism… and Some Scoffing

Six Californias Map
Six Californias Map

If the current petition drive is successful, “Six Californias,” an initiative to divide California into six states, will soon be on the ballot. The stated goal of the plan is to create states with “more local, responsive, efficient and representative governments.”

The initiative reportedly has some grassroots support in each of the proposed states, but most of the people we spoke with do not support the idea, and the majority of those who didn’t return our phone calls probably share that view. A few told us that the initiative has little or no chance of going into effect, even if approved by voters, because it must also be approved by legislatures in both Sacramento and Washington, D.C.

If the measure passes – and is put into effect – it will benefit people in Tulare County, according to Tim Draper, the Bay Area entrepreneur and investor spearheading the initiative.

“Tulare County will benefit from being closer to their government,” Draper told the Voice. “Their state government will be more representative to the needs of the people in Tulare County. If Tulare County doesn’t want to stay in the current state, if the initiative passes, they can move to another state.

“Since California is the worst managed state in the U.S., and the worst place to do business, and is 46th in K-12 education, it is likely that even if your new state is just average, then you will be way better off, but I believe it will be much better than that,” he continued. “For example, your state could give incentives for manufacturers, and Californians would not lose all the jobs we are losing to other states. Why is Tesla setting up in one of five states, not California? Why did Occidental Petroleum move 8,000 jobs to Texas last month from California? Why did Sony just move 2,500 jobs out of California? Because it is the worst run state in the union. We need to make it better for all Californians. We need choices.”

Visalia Vice Mayor Warren Gubler said the proposal was, “fun to think about, but the reality is it’s not going to happen. I don’t think the current U.S. Senate is going to give California 12 senators versus the two current ones. But if it were to happen – and I’m skeptical – I think politically we’d be a more conservative state so it would be more cohesive, and I think Visalia would have more influence.”

Lindsay Mann, CEO of the Kaweah Delta Health Care District, wanted to make it clear he considered the idea “a longshot” and that he was responding to questions as “an academic exercise.”

He explained that if there were a Central California state, local hospitals would not be burdened with the same seismic retrofitting standards that are in place in Los Angeles and the Bay Area, which have a much more serious threat of major earthquakes.

“As it stands now in the Central Valley, we have exactly the same safety seismic standards,” he said. “There is ‘one-size-fits-all’ legislation on seismic safety.”

Mann also noted that the area relies more heavily on Medicaid and Medicare than other areas of the state, and would hope that a new state adopts a similar healthcare funding strategy as West Virginia, which has been successful in receiving federal assistance for healthcare.

“It’s not likely that a state of Central California would emerge, but if one did, we would have a stronger voice at the state and local level in relation to our local causes,” he added.

“Breaking up California into six separate states will eliminate the state’s diverse economy that has helped protect and stabilize the state from broad swings in economic cycles,” said Michael Washam, Tulare County economic development manager. “The current makeup of the California economy includes agriculture, high tech, manufacturing, aerospace, research and development, and entertainment. The diversity helps smooth the effects of major swings in a particular sector of the economy, much like a mutual funds versus holding an individual stock.

“The economy of Central California relies primarily on the agriculture industry and if it became a separate state, it will be more susceptible to swings in the economy,” Washam continued. “Much like what occurred in Texas and the oil industry – boom or bust. Central California will be without a port of its own and thus, transporting to the ports will be subject to and regulated by the federal government under the Interstate Commerce Commission.

Tim Draper
Tim Draper

“Six California states is not good for a diverse California economy, not good for the Central Valley and ultimately, not going to happen,” he said. “This proposal, while it may be fun to speculate what might happen to the economy of Central California, will never pass congress. There is no way that the U.S. Congress will give 10 additional senate seats to California. That would mean the ‘former California’ would control 12 seats or one-tenth of the entire senate. This is not going to happen and unfortunately – actually fortunately – I have too much real economic activity to spend time speculating on a hypothetical situation.”

Tulare County Supervisor Allen Ishida believes, “We’d be further isolated because we don’t have enough votes.
“Our water will come from out of the state,” he added. “We’d have to go through another state to export our products. Sixty percent of our fruits and nuts are exported out of the country. I think it’s a poorly devised plan. It’s just a bad idea.”

“You would have two U.S. Senators, both coming from Central California!” said Draper. “I believe the U.S. Government will finally notice that you exist.”

“I think that law enforcement would be impacted in a negative way,” said acting Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux. “It’s time for new infrastructure and a lot of that money is coming from the state. Law enforcement would be impacted because the money wouldn’t be there.”

He said that sheriff’s department narcotics teams, which currently receive funding from state grants, would likely not receive that money. “Our funding would be impacted for law enforcement at many levels.

“If there are any positives, it would force us to look at things differently,” Boudreaux added. “Sometimes that can inspire new ideas.”

“I’ve seen these proposals for the past 20 years,” said Tulare County Board of Supervisors Chairman Phil Cox. “This is not a new thing. My concern with these proposals is always the numbers. I think we’d be doing more with less. You’d have six states and they’d all have to be paid for. Every time I looked at these ‘split up the state’ proposals, none of them seem to make good common sense.”

Cox was asked if a new Central California state would be better able to focus on issues of local concern.

“That’s what local government is for,” he responded. “Do we really want a state doing that for us? But it would help to have a state support that.”

More than half of the new state of Central California would be “impoverished counties,” said Cox, although he added, “I don’t know if the counties would be the same. The federal money would still come, but how would that money be split? Would our share be based on our poverty rate? I just see this as a huge mathematical challenge.”
“As far as the proposed six-way split, it’s a challenge to do it two or three ways,” said former Assemblyman Bill Maze, who was also the president and CEO of Citizens for Saving California Farming Industry, which proposed an east-west split of California several years ago. That proposal would have made the coastal counties from Los Angeles to the Bay Area into one state, and the rest of California into another. Both states would each have had about 19 million people.

Maze is not a supporter of the “Six Californias” proposal.

“If something like that happens, you’re going to have mammoth battles between Fresno and Bakersfield,” said Maze, who was asked if maybe they should find the biggest city between them to have as the new state capital.

“That wouldn’t happen at all,” he said, and referred to the effort to get the state to put a University of California campus in Visalia in the early 1990s. “We weren’t even in the running.”

A local four-year public university might happen in a new state, Maze acknowledged. “There would be that possibility,” he said. “Now you’re establishing a different type of system.”

The idea to divide California into separate states seems to pop up every few years, and has ever since the state was admitted to the union in 1850.

“The first try to split the state of California was in 1851,” said Chris Brewer, local historian and author. “They tried to split it into two states, Northern California and California. It actually did pass the state legislature. It got to the U.S. Congress that shut it down. My suspicion is it was due to the issue of the slave states. (Southern) California would probably have been a slave state.”

Brewer, who also works for Caltrans, addressed the impact of Six Californias on local roads.

“If the state of California were to split into six separate states, high-speed rail won’t be implemented because it will be seen as there being no need for it in the Central Valley state,” he said, adding that the conservative government of the new state would immediately kill the project.

“The state of California already has too many highways and local roads to fund, and to repair,” said Brewer. “What’s going to happen when you have divide that money into six? Right now, we have a system of priorities that go through a centralized funding source in each county. The problem is that money is going to be diluted so heavily that you’re not going to have any money to do anything, especially with highways.

“We have two major arteries in Central California that connect Northern California and Southern California. Those highways are major, major thoroughfares and they take a lot of money to restore and keep the maintenance going. I cannot imagine that there would possibly be enough money for just those two highways if we did a six-way split in the funding.”

“My first thought is that we could suffer from a loss of funding,” said Craig Wheaton, Ed.D., Visalia Unified School District superintendent. “I would have to do some research but the Central California section is higher poverty than many other areas and it could be a challenge to replace lost funding that now comes from other parts of California’s economy.

Draper was asked if the low per capita income in a new Central California state would result in an underfunding in programs such as education.

“Turns out they are underfunded today with the current government,” responded Draper. “Central California represents the have-nots of the current regime. When Central California has its own government, Central California can drive its own education, and not be beholden to people in Sacramento, who have not been providing good education to Central Californians.”

Wheaton also considered the possible benefits to education with a new state government.

“It may be easier for Central California to really prioritize education for funding,” he said. “I am assuming that Central California would be much more fiscally conservative and would spend less money on many of California’s social programs. This might result in more funding for education.

“Some great advantages would be to start over with the over-burdensome education code and regulations,” he continued. “I would think we would gain more support to modify and streamline teacher and administrative evaluation and dismissal procedures. A general deregulation of education could provide much more local control, the school board could actually make more local decisions, and it may relieve some of the cost of education. I would think, after all is said and done, the important work we do – teaching kids, would remain the same.”
“The Central Valley could become a state of its own that is more conservative as far as politics goes, which is terribly important,” said David Miller, manager and president of Pacific Employers in Visalia. “I like the opportunity we would have.”

He added that currently there is no opportunity influencing state government in areas such as water and highways.

“The state looks at us like we’re the red-headed stepchild.

“We could have a different political attitude that we see taking place in a number of states, like Texas and North Dakota, where they welcome business,” Miller said. “We can quit acting like anybody who hires an employee is the enemy. Virtually any law that is made (in Sacramento) has no protection for the employer.”

“If Central California was a separate state, it would probably give agriculture a much larger voice in our regulatory, legislative and governmental roles,” said Tricia Stever Blattler, executive director of the Tulare County Farm Bureau. “More of our elected officials would certainly come from and live near rural areas and have a greater appreciation of the value agriculture plays in our economy, and how much it impacts jobs, economic vitality and the generation of income for our communities.”

She expressed concern that “interstate commerce laws may become more difficult in trucking and transporting goods to markets,” but said, “A Central California state would likely be one of the most affordable places to do business amongst the new states and therefore would likely create a demand for our resources, our land and our tax base for those businesses who want to get into a more business-friendly state than coastal or southern or bay area states would probably provide.”

On the negative side, Blattler said, “If inputs for agriculture were manufactured in other states outside of Central California, it could negatively impact our production and overhead costs, having to pay higher taxes on goods and services we have to buy from another state. Central California’s agriculture diverse specialty crops would command a greater value in the market place going to other states, but might also face greater hurdles being transported to those states through laws, regulations, taxes, etc.”

Draper responded to this concern with, “All that will be worked out in state compacts that will be negotiated among the state leaders selected to help organize the new state. I would guess that Central California would be in a strong negotiating position since they produce the food that feeds the world.”

Blattler said a Central California state would, “remain a very diverse agriculture cropping pattern, but water demands are still very critical here, and if our state was in demand as a ‘business-friendly’ state, I could still see more competition for resources and outside states wanting to make grabs for water coming from the Sierras.

Perhaps we could re-design our water rights system in our new state and make sure that all water from the Sierras and underground our Central California state could remain in the basin, and no exports to the urban areas, bay or southern states would be allowed.”

“The reason it is desperate now with the current status quo is that Sacramento doles water out to Central California like allowance to a child,” Draper said. “With Six Californias, Central California will be able to build its own state compacts with other states, and get the water from wherever it wants, and spend properly on infrastructure, so less water is wasted.”

Draper estimated that one-third of the water in California is wasted because of poor infrastructure.

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