Monday’s declaration of “the State of New California” marked the latest in more than 200 long-shot efforts to split the Golden State.
All so far have failed. And many, like this week’s, aim to pit the state’s largely rural areas against its denser urban coast. But breaking up California remains no easy task: A formal secession means getting approval from both Congress and California’s legislature itself.
But that hasn’t stopped folks from trying. Hundreds of times. Here are five recent tries to divvy up the state.
The State of Jefferson (1941)
An effort to hijack California’s three northernmost counties came from just over the border in Port Orford, Ore. That town’s mayor, Gilbert Gable, found himself fed up with the region’s crummy roads that hampered local timber and ore businesses, as Christopher Hall recalls in Via.
So in October 1941, Gable floated the idea of a new state combining California’s Del Norte, Siskiyou and Modoc counties with the Oregon counties of Curry, Josephine, Jackson, and Klamath, per the magazine.
Representatives met in the provisional capital of Yreka, Calif., the next month and settled on a name: Jefferson. Later that month, young men brandishing rifles were stopping cars in the area to hand out a “Proclamation of Independence,” Hall reported, announcing the state would “secede each Thursday until further notice.” Within weeks, however, the effort fizzled out: The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and Americans of every state united.
North California and South California (1965)
State Sen. Richard J. Dolwig sought to cut off California at the Tehachapi mountains some 100 miles north of Los Angeles, as Michael Di Leo and Eleanor Smith tell in Two Californias, a history of the state’s splits. Dolwig, a Bay Area Republican, said his “sole reason” was water politics. “You’d have North California and South California, and those two states would then enter into contracts as far as the water was concerned. and you’d take it (the controversy) out of politics,” Dolwig said in an interview. A majority of state senators — 25 out of 40 — backed Dolwig’s legislation. Both bills passed the Senate but never got out of committee.
North California, Central California and South California (1992)
Stan Statham, an assemblyman from Northern California, embarked on “a quixotic campaign to split California in three,” as Sacramento’s News Review recalled. Amid worries of a recession, Statham gained the support of then-Speaker Willie Brown to put a non-binding question on ballots across the state: Should California divide into three states? A bill made it through the Senate before dying in the rules committee, quashed by President Pro Tempore David Roberti.
South California (2011)
Fed up with the state plugging its budget with local funds, Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone envisioned a secession, the Christian Science Monitor reported. Thirteen counties in Southern California — all Republican, save two — would be jettisoned, forming a state of about 13 million that would rival Pennsylvania or Illinois. The effort lost momentum like many before it, with a governor’s aide deriding it as a “supremely ridiculous waste of everybody’s time.”
Jefferson, North California, Silicon Valley, Central California, West California, South California (2014)
Venture capitalist Tim Draper argued the Golden State’s residents would live better under smaller governments — six, to be exact — placing San Francisco in the State of Silicon Valley, Los Angeles in West California, and reviving the previously envisioned State of Jefferson. Getting an initiative on a November 2016 ballot required about 808,000 signatures. The group behind the effort, largely funded by Draper, claimed to have 1.3 million signatures. But the secretary of state deemed about 40% of them to be illegitimate, and the campaign faltered.
Follow Josh Hafner on Twitter: @joshhafner
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