Six ways to California

Splitting the state isn't just a bogus idea, but the proposed names also bite

Greg Lucas' state-politics column Capitol Lowdown appears every other week in SN&R. He also blogs at

While nowhere near as rich a comedic vein as Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, carving up California is a comedic cornucopia. At least it has been the 100-and-some times the idea has been broached legislatively and politically throughout the 20th century and the last 50 years of the 19th. California was thinking about cutting itself even before it became a state.

Back then, though, supporters of downsizing California limited themselves to creating two, sometimes three, California-ettes. One up north. One down south. But that’s totally yesteryear. In the way more bitchin’ 21st century, the latest split-the-state scheme slices California up six ways from Sun City.

The aptly named “Six Californias” initiative is a proposed amendment to the state constitution that needs more than 807,000 signatures by July 18, to win a place on the ballot. The premise is that California’s diversity and 38 million-and-climbing population—a plurality of which will be Latino this month for the first time since 1848—make the Golden State “nearly ungovernable,” using the initiative’s language. Backers of the initiative claim the answer is creation of six teensier Californias within the same outline of the current California. This division will make government more responsive, less remote and, presumptively, the governed will all thrive accordingly.

It must be a good idea, the initiative says, because Californians “overwhelmingly” supported splitting the state in two back in 1859. Not to wax snarky, but California also happily slaughtered Native Americans, enacted laws restricting Chinese immigration and put American citizens of Japanese ancestry into detention camps as recently as 1942. All three seemed like swell ideas at the time.

But limiting this screed to the merits of six Californias being better than one, there’s just no way around the fact that five of the names for the six new states totally bite.

No right-thinking human being is going to trade down from being a stompin’-on-the-terra-firma resident of the most-awe-inspiring, badass state in the whole darn U.S. of America to a nebbish schlepping through life in one-sixth of the State Formerly known as Kal-E-4-Na-A—particularly when it has some clunky Geography 101 moniker.

North California? Sounds like North Dakota. Try this experiment: No self-censoring, just go with what immediately comes to mind after seeing the words, “South California.” Exactly. South Carolina.

It’s not like there isn’t killer state-naming material to work with. The new state composed of Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Los Angeles and Ventura counties would become West California. Really? That’s the best these “Six Californias” pikers can do? Without breaking a mental sweat, here’s five state names that would have Walt Whitman pissing himself with poesy: Cayucas. Isla Vista. Buenaventura. Topanga. Zuma.

The new Central California, consisting of much of the Central Valley counties, seems derivative. According to the address on the letter submitting “Six Californias” to the attorney general for scrutiny, “Silicon Valley” would be the new home state of the initiative’s creator. Just as it would be for the 6.8 million people in Alameda, Contra Costa, San Benito, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and Monterey counties.

The state of Silicon Valley would have the highest per capita personal-income level of any state in the union—$63,288, according to the legislative analyst. Central California’s per capita personal income would be the lowest in the nation, $150 below Mississippi, the analyst notes.

Equity aside, Silicon Valley is yet another sucky name. Does a Californian in Walnut Creek, Aptos or Salinas consider themselves part of the Silicon Valley? Do they even want to?

Jefferson, the northernmost of the six states, has a nice ring to it, however. Maybe because that’s what residents wanted to call their new state back in the early 1940s when they supposedly were going to shack up with some southern Oregon counties and proclaim their liberty from the tyranny of Sacramento and Salem. Jefferson conjures a certain magic and majesty. It’s inclusive and inspirational and evocative.

Like California.