SAN FRANCISCO - Creating the state of California took a revolt that led to the short-lived Bear Republic, a war with Mexico, and various international treaties. Now, some northern natives hope to take it apart, starting with a couple of ballot initiatives.
Tuesday, voters in Del Norte and Tehama Counties will consider a measure calling for separation from California and the formation of a new state. Supporters are hoping to generate momentum for pulling together portions of northern California and southern Oregon into an entity to be called Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson once imagined that part of western North America might develop into a freestanding republic.
Local vexations with state government were cited by Aaron Funk, an aptly named organizer of the movement: "lack of representation, lack of infrastructure, inability to use a lot of our resources." Heavy winter rains often wash out US 101, a major artery in the region. That really rankles him. So do restrictions on timber harvesting. Most of all, Funk loathes the region's paltry representation in California's senate, with its population-based allocation. Just 28,000 people call Del Norte County home, compared to 38 million for the state overall.
Business owners are doubly confounded, he said, and face"mounds of paperwork, red tape." Funk owns and lives in a recreational vehicle park in the coastal town of Klamath.
Opponents of the measure say it sounds an economic death knell for the area, given its poverty and high unemployment. "We will continue to face the same challenges," wrote Del Norte County officials in their formal argument against the measure. "Except we will no longer be subsidized by the State." Efforts to chop up California boast a long history. Disgruntled residents first proposed a state of Jefferson, also comprising counties in nearby southern Oregon, in the 1940s.
In 1993, after voters in 27 counties approved, the state Assembly agreed to a nonbinding statewide vote on whether to divide California into three. But the measure never made it into the state Senate, and the referendum was never held.
More recently, venture capitalist Tim Draper suggested splitting California into six separate states, while fellow venture capitalist Balaji Srinivasan proposed that Silicon Valley secede from the country.
Good luck to any of these measures, say scholars of constitutional law, who point out that such separations require approval of the state legislature and the US Congress. "There is no incentive," said Ethan Rarick, director of the Robert T. Matsui Center for Politics and Public Service at the University of California, Berkeley. "If you're one of 100 senators," he reasoned, "you don't want to become one of 102." Supporters of the latest separation initiative say it has a better chance of passing in Tehama County than Del Norte County, where opposition has been well organised.
But advocates like Funk say they must try, at least to publicize their frustrations. "It puts us at the table," he said.