All the many dozens of proposals to split California into multiple states share the same basic defect: a foolish fixation with geography.
The new “Cal 3” ballot initiative, which would create three states, has roots in pre-Civil War days, when the proposal was to split us into a pro-Union north and pro-slavery south. In these and all other cases, would-be splitters of the Golden State make the mistake of using the map to divvy us up, putting some regions into one new California and others into another new California.
Why can’t the splitters see that this geographic strategy is self-defeating?
After all, the fundamental reason for splitting California is that so many Californians feel stuck in a place with too many people who don’t understand us—simply because they are too different. So the splitters seek to tap into a hope—that we would get more of what we wanted if only we lived in smaller Californias where more people were like us.
But this logic simply doesn’t apply here. Our regions are too much like our state—too vast and too diverse. Even with three geographically drawn California states, millions of us would remain trapped with too many people with whom we don’t agree.
To split the state, it’s better to do this democratically, not geographically. Let every Californian choose their state, based on their dreams, not their address. Since California is a state of mind, doesn’t each mind deserve its own state?
The hard part of splitting California would be divining the right categories for division. To start, let’s stipulate that we shouldn’t be divided by age, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, or race, since forming states on a discriminatory basis is probably still unconstitutional, even under President Trump.
When I pose the question of how best to divide California non-geographically, the most frequent answer is, by income. Why not give the billionaires their own state, since they like to decide everything? Wouldn’t states based on income at least solve inequality? Unfortunately, no. Nothing would stop the billionaires from imposing their values and skewing the income curve in the other states that would serve the millionaires, yuppies, the poor, and whatever is left of the middle class.
Housing might offer a more effective divide. We could divide the place up by preference on that most divisive of issues—density—with those who like tall buildings near transit no longer forced to share a government with devotees of the single-family home.
Or why not exploit the way that Prop 13 has divided us by property taxes, with new homeowners paying more and effectively subsidizing longtime homeowners? You could divide the state according to the decade in which your current home was purchased, and the tax base set. Renters would get their own separate state.
Negotiating traffic is something that all Californians have in common, but how we do it is a point of contention. Why not one state for those who drive to work alone, and others for carpoolers, bicycle riders, and scooter enthusiasts? A small state could also serve the 5.3 percent of Californians who use public transit.
And if the internet is polarizing American democracy, why not deepen the digital divide by setting up states based on our preferred social media platform, smartphone brand, or by whether you rely on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, or—the inhumanity!—basic cable.
Health is another area where Californians have both high standards and very different practices. Take exercise—practitioners of traditional yoga, hot yoga, barre exercises, jogging, and walking all deserve their own states. So do smokers, nonsmokers, pot smokers, and vapers. And why not stop fighting about food and just let vegans, vegetarians, meat eaters and devotees of the latest faddish diet all govern themselves? We might divide up the state based on childbirth preferences—with competing states of Doula and Midwife and Ob-Gyn.
Ideas matter in California, and the personal can be political. So we could split up under the competing banners of Second Wave, Third Wave, and Fourth Wave Feminism, with yet another state for those who say they’re pro-woman but just don’t like the word “feminist.”
And for a state so devoted to leading in climate change, a split based on energy usage feels like an opportunity for leadership. You could live in a different state depending on whether you prefer solar, wind, geothermal, nuclear, or fossil fuels. This wouldn’t be much of an adjustment. People who live in the Petroleum State already have long commutes and high mortgages that keep them breathing exhaust, while the people in Solar State have subsidized panels and enjoy the good vibes of government-bedazzled credit. Residents of the Nuclear State could just leave the AC on all the time to keep their cores cool.
Now that I think about it, consumption so defines Californians that it might be the best way to separate us. Why not a different state—Ralphs, Vons, Safeway, Dollar Value, Albertsons, Whole Foods, Stater Bros—depending on where you do your grocery shopping? (I’d happily live in Trader Joe’s.) Or in coffee-crazed era, we could separate based on allegiance to Starbucks, Peet’s, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and McDonald’s—with a breakaway republic for those who prefer the hyperlocal.
Since Californians take their entertainment so seriously that we elect stars to high office, why not four different Californias, each ruled by a stunning musical diva? I’d live in Beyonceland, but would respect those who chose to reside in KatyPerryville, TaylorSwiftopia, or The State of Rihanna. We also could split into four states called Star Wars, Star Trek, The Matrix, and “Sorry, But I Actually Have a Girlfriend and a Life.”
The fairest way to create new Californias would be to assign each of us to a different state by lottery. The downside of such random splitting: Each of those states would end up looking like a smaller version of the California we have today.
And if you don’t like any of these ideas, why not try placating Tim Draper, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist bankrolling the current “Cal 3” ballot initiative?
I saw Draper recently in San Mateo, where he had closed down 3rd Avenue outside his private entrepreneurial university (Draper University for Heroes) for a “Blockchain Block Party.” Draper, like most rich people, thinks a lot about money. He’s a big believer in digital currency, which he sees as a positive force for disrupting economies to spur new ideas. Breaking up California geographically would inspire similar new thinking, he says.
At his party, he handed out chocolate Bitcoins (which were delicious) and revealed a giant banner reading, “Tim Draper Predicts…. Bitcoin Will Go to $250,000 by 2022.”
Of course, Bitcoin trades at $6,500 as I write. But this is California—to each their own. We could give Draper and his cryptocurrency disciples their own state, while also having states for those who pay with their phones or with credit cards.