How to split up California?

The idea of splitting up California has been previously discussed on NOL (see here, here, and most recently). In this post I wish to consider how California could be split up.

California has a large population of 38.8 million. For comparison Canada has 35.1 million residents distributed among its 10 provinces and the New England states house 14.7 million yankees in six states. With such a large population it is not surprising that the state has several regions with distinct cultures. This in itself is not sufficient merit to split up the state. One of the wonders of a liberal republican form of government is that diverse populations can coexist so long as they are treated equally before the law and have the freedom to exercise their various cultures. The problem is when these cultural differences lead to different public policy demands.

Consider for example the issue of abortion. In most matters of religion it is sufficient to allow different faiths to practice their beliefs so long as they keep to themselves. Why should non-Jews care if Jews must follow kosher dietary restrictions? The same cannot be done with abortion though. Those who believe, often due to their religious inclinations, that abortion is murder cannot tolerate its practice among those of other faiths or atheists. What is to be done?

One option would be to break up California. Although those on both sides of the abortion debate exist across California, there is also quite a bit of spatial correlation. See here. The Central Valley and Inland Empire counties both have significant portions of their populations favoring abortion limitations. Both regions also have low support for same sex marriage, see here, so it is safe to assume that their cultural differences with the rest of California is not on just one issue but several important public policies.

I would caution those who propose splitting up California between its inland and coastal regions. Both the Central Valley and Inland Empire may be culturally conservative, but the inland northern counties do not seem to fall in line. Nor would I recommend the Coastal/Inland split for those concerned about partisanship, see here. The San Francisco Bay Area, Northern Coast and Los Angeles are liberal strongholds but the Central Coast and Orange-San Diego region aren’t.

Similarly a North/South split would do little to help address regional cultural differences. The North/South split would usually split the state apart at San Luis Obispo-Kern-San Bernardino county lines. This would lead to the conservative Central Valley being lumped into the same state as ultra-liberal San Francisco. Meanwhile the Inland Empire and Orange-San Diego counties would find themselves sharing a state with blue Los Angeles.

What would be a good split then?

I personally favor the creation of four new states. Jefferson (the northern coastal and inland counties), San Francisco (the bay area states), Los Angeles (LA County), Central Valley (everything between Fresno and Bakersfield roughly) and the rest of southern California.

Given that any division would have to be approved by Congress the new states of Jefferson, San Francisco, and Los Angeles would have to be gerrymandered in such a way as to ensure they are blue states and maintain as many electoral votes from old California as possible. The Central Coast would likely be gobbled up between LA and San Francisco.  This gerrymandering would be needed to get Democrat votes who would otherwise be against losing all those electoral votes. Although Democrats would get two more seats in the Senate the Republicans could favor the deal in order to sweep extra electoral votes from the Central Valley and Southern California.

Although the split would be less than perfect, it would still grant greater say over public policy to the conservation counties.

Thoughts? Further maps on Californian public policy opinions can be found here.

P.S. In regards to the water issue, I like to think that the split of California would lead to a revision of the Colorado River Compact and related laws in order to create a more market oriented process for water allocation. I can dream can’t I?

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9 thoughts on “How to split up California?

  1. The WaPo ran an article about this a couple years ago.
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2014/07/15/theres-a-plan-to-split-california-into-6-states-heres-what-it-might-look-like/
    Seems like a good idea but I like that California is a virtual mini country inside a unified yet diverse country. It could be the proving grounds for assimilating other like minded countries to join the “Union” like what happened in the 19th century as America expanded across the west. Breaking them into smaller states would tend to “balkanize” the region. Making them increasingly more hostile towards one another. We are the “United” States of America and we should be finding ways to be inclusive and not divide.

    Seems like there was an article about having Mexican States or Canadian Providences or even South Korean joining the Union a month or so ago. I can’t quite remember the post. But I like that idea. Working towards unity for protection and economic growth.

    • @Jeff

      Balkanization would not occur because these new states would still be in the American federation; they’d still have open borders and free trade with each other, and still be subject to the same overarching federal laws

    • @Jeff

      You’re not wrong about Balkanization but you’re not quite right, either.

      Balkanization refers to a time period beginning around 1796 and lasting to present day in a region of the world known as the Balkans. The Balkans was part of a large geographic territory within the Ottoman Empire for centuries before, in the late 18th century, areas in the region began clamoring for independence from Istanbul. These areas wanted complete and utter independence not only from Istanbul, but from the rest of the world as well. Regions like Bulgaria and Greece squeezed what they could out of states like the UK and France, by appealing to Christendom and the like (thus linking them to other parts of the world), but the reality of their goals was to attain independence.

      So when Michelangelo blogs about California splitting up he is not referring to Balkanization.

      Balkanization is now commonly used to refer to decentralization, so again you’re not wrong to use the term, but if you look at the actual term and where it came from and why, you can see that it has a very specific meaning.

      The pedantic son of a bitch in me forces me to point these things out…

  2. ” Those who believe, often due to their religious inclinations, that abortion is murder cannot tolerate its practice among those of other faiths or atheists. What is to be done?”

    How would splitting California, or any other state, into smaller units help in any way? They would still be states and subject to the constitution wouldn’t they? I can think of several reasons why subdividing would be a good idea but culture wars isn’t one of them.

    • They would be subject to the constitution, yes. In my opinion the constitution allows differences in such matters as abortion and samesex marriage. I am personally against prohibitions on either, but I think the federal government using its power will ultimately backfire by increasing the resolve of those who feel they are being cut out of the political process.

      The rise of Trumpism can probably be traced back to these marginalized groups. Using federal power to enforce certain policies may lead to greater liberty in the short run, but I worry that by failing to come up with some compromise we are setting up a scenario were enough people will be marginalized to vote in a Trump-like leader.

      The better option would have been to allow states to continue having different policies in these areas, but make it easier for states to split up and ensure freedom of movement across state lands.

      If you wouldn’t split states up according to the culture wars, how would you split them up?

      • I tend to agree with Dr A here.

        Cultural divisions aren’t that serious in California, but it’s also obvious that California has become ungovernable. The whole plebiscite thing is a disaster, and the public sector unions have become too powerful a lobby. Carving it up using natural barriers seems like the fairest way to do it.

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