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Breaking up California is so hard to do

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POSTED July 21, 2014 12:05 a.m.

Perhaps splitting California into six states wouldn’t be all that bad.

Venture capitalist Tim Draper’s hatchet job on the Golden State appears headed to the November 2016 ballot after his minions turned in 1.3 million signatures. Some 807,000 of those must be verified as registered voters for it to qualify for the ballot.

Draper contends with 38 million people California is ungovernable. He believes the Silicon Valley — which would be the name of a new state that would include San Jose, San Francisco, and Oakland among other locales — is being held back by what he sees as California’s current political mess.

I’d argue that California is the sum total of its vast differences and resources and that one end of the state couldn’t prosper without the other. It would be like Ginger Rogers without Fred Astaire or Abbott without Costello.

Draper says every new California state would prosper. Conveniently his home state of Silicon Valley would have the highest per capita of all states in the union while the State of Central California next door that stretches from Stockton to Bakersfield and east to the Nevada state line would have the nation’s lowest.

Debt would be distributed based on population. And if agreement can’t be reached on splitting assets — the State Water Project, prisons, universities and colleges as examples— each state would get State of California facilities within their jurisdiction.

The fun starts on whether the new states have to honor contracts made with local jurisdictions by the current California government.

The State of Jefferson in the far north would have control of almost all of the State Water Project’s reservoirs. Central California would control the California Aqueduct and much of the Delta. Removal of water from the Hetch Hetchy watershed by San Francisco and Owens Valley watershed by Los Angeles would be subject to new regulations developed by the State of Central California.

And while the federal Bureau of Reclamation controls the largest reservoirs in the Sierra within the boundaries of the proposed State of Central California, it opens the door for other water development since a State of Central California Supreme Court appointed from jurists within its borders is likely to rule point of origin as the superior water right.

As a state, Central California would have a very significant seat at the table when it comes to the Twin Tunnels and Delta management since the largest share of the Delta is within its boundaries. That could prove problematic for Los Angeles and the new State of West California as well as the State of Silicon Valley since the Twin Tunnels project benefits both at the Delta’s expense.

You can also kiss the high speed rail project good-bye. Central California would inherit whatever segment gets built should the measure pass and splitting California into six states becomes a reality. There’s no other region as vehemently anti-high speed rail than the San Joaquin Valley.

The number of convicted felons housed in Central California would drop drastically unless of course, other “new” states paid to warehouse them here. West California, as an example, has 37 percent of California’s convicted felons and less than 7 percent of its prison bed space. As an added bonus Central California would have a new $900 million prison hospital. By opting not to import prisoners from four of the other five new states (the State of Jefferson wouldn’t need to send any out-of-state with 970,000 residents and possessing the Pelican Bay and Susanville state prisons), Central California could meet the federal court prison overcrowding and healthcare mandates. That means we could incarcerate more criminals while the states of Silicon Valley and West California would have to let even more convicted felons loose long before their sentences have been served.

All of this is possible and more with a California breakup.

But let’s be honest. Draper’s idea that is built on the hope of starting from scratch to create state governments to reflect the dynamics of six distinct regions in California should be renamed, “The Lawyer Lifetime Employment Act.”

There is no way that anyone is going to take a per capita share of the debt and then let assets go to new states based on where they are physically located.

As much as folks in the State of Jefferson like to whine, the state has a lot of road debt for freeways and highways that they can’t begin to cover.

You’d be creating six states with at least two if not three having a major retraction in state-level education funding. Uncle Sam will not like that.

There have been many ideas floated since 1851 for segments of California to secede — the idea of the State of Jefferson combining with Southern Oregon is the oldest — to splitting it north-south or coastal-inland.

Draper is not the first person to conclude that California is too big to govern nor will he be the last.

But when all of the emotion is set aside California is the sum of its resources, diversity, and challenges. Six will not stand as strong as one, warts and all.

Whether we live in Redding, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, Manteca, Bakersfield, Delano, San Diego, Needles, Lone Pine, or the Silicon Valley, we are all Californians. Our problems and interwoven with our successes.

Draper might want to think of that the next time he eats fresh produce, consumes wine , drinks a glass of water, or the wind carries the emissions from his luxury cars over the Altamont and Pacheco passes.

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