FAIRFIELD — Welcome to Solano County, heart of the new state of North California.
This is a state that includes the beaches of Marin and Sonoma counties, the Napa Wine Country, the metropolis of Sacramento and Lake Tahoe. Interstate 80 is its spine.
It’s much smaller than the old California, which was split into six states. Now Solano County is an agricultural, biotech and military powerhouse of North California, with a diversified economy within a diverse state.
Of course, all of this exists only in the mind of venture capitalist Timothy Draper. But he’s trying to gather enough signatures in coming months to put the matter on the November ballot or the November 2016 ballot. His proposal has already garnered much publicity.
“The citizens of the whole state would be better served by six smaller state governments while preserving the historic borders of counties, cities and towns,” Draper’s proposed initiative says.
He proposes forming the states of Jefferson, North California, Central California, Silicon Valley, West California and South California.
Even if state voters passed such an initiative, California would still be one state. Congress would also have to approve the move, something it might be reluctant to do because an area represented by two United States senators would then be represented by 12.
State Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, dismissed Draper’s proposal. It might pass at the ballot box, but not in Congress, she said.
“I think that would be the end of it,” Wolk said.
Wolk said Draper’s proposed initiative isn’t generating much talk in the state Legislature, where she does her work.
“It’s basically ignored. Nobody thinks it would ever happen,” she said.
Draper might well be indulging in his own version of California Dreamin’. But, should his long shot come true, Solano County would be in a far different position than it is today as a state with 38 million people gets dismantled.
North California would have 3.8 million residents.That would make it the 32nd most-populated state in a new, 55-state union. It would be a behemoth compared to such states as Wyoming (population 582,658), Rhode Island (1 million), West Virginia (1.8 million), Nevada (2.8 million) and Utah (2.9 million).
No longer would Solano County be one of 58 counties, dominated by such metropolises as Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego. Sacramento and Santa Rosa would be the biggest metro areas. Solano County would be a bigger fish in a smaller pond, the third-most-populous county in a 13-county state.
Joining Solano County in North California would be Amador, El Dorado, Marin, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, Sierra, Sonoma, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties.
That might give Solano County more political clout.
“Certainly, there’s merit to having a large voice,” Solano County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Linda Seifert said.
While Seifert had heard of Draper’s proposal and was willing to do some off-the-cuff speculation, it’s not an issue she’s explored. Like Wolk, she didn’t see a chance California will be split into six states.
“I always try not to spend too much time on things I think are infeasible,” she said.
Solano County in the 1850s had the state capital, first in Vallejo and then in Benicia, before state legislators settled on Sacramento. If Draper’s dream came true, it might bid to become the capital of a new state of North California.
Then again, North California would have Sacramento, which already has a perfectly good Capitol building complete with an impressive dome, as well as plenty of room for state offices. With California splitting into six states, a lot of that room would suddenly be vacant as a smaller state government would be needed.
North California would be one of the richer of the new states. It couldn’t compete with Silicon Valley’s per capita income of $63,288 annually. But its $48,048 would be second, much higher than Jefferson’s $36,147 or Central California’s $33,510 and higher than the existing state’s $46,477, according to data released by the Legislative Analyst’s Office.
Water is a sticky issue in the existing state of California. The state has a complex delivery system to move water from the wetter, less populated areas to drier, more populated areas.
Split the state into six and a complicated water situation gets only more complicated.
Fairfield gets water from two sources: Lake Berryessa reservoir and the Delta. Lake Berryessa in Napa County would remain in the new state of North California. But, though the new state would have part of the Delta, it would not contain Lake Oroville reservoir that collects water for the Delta delivery system.
It might not make a difference, if the new states honored the State Water Project and its current contracts, Fairfield Assistant Public Works Director for Utilities Felix Riesenberg said.
He expects this would happen. He pointed out that, while Lake Oroville might be in the new state of Jefferson, the old state of California paid for the State Water Project.
“But it would probably create a different bureaucracy and multiagency bureaucracy that would probably make things more challenging,” he said.
Wolk thinks that Solano County wouldn’t be better off in a new state of North California. The county shares interests with the Bay Area when it comes to transportation, environmental, business and land use issues, with counties to the south on the Delta issues, with northwestern California on water issues, she said.
“We share a lot of interest that go across the state,” Wolk said.
She sees better ways to tackle California’s challenges than ending California. She mentioned passing a sunshine law that would require the state Legislature to make proposed laws available in print for at least 72 hours before voting on them. That would end the practice of rushing bills through at the last minute with no public review.
She also suggested shrinking the size of state Senate districts.
“My Senate district has a million people in it,” Wolk said. “That’s larger than any congressional district. That’s more than twice as large as an Assembly district.”
Wolk expressed hope that people would put their energy into making changes of the type that she thinks could really happen, instead of a quixotic attempt to split California into six states.
The state Legislative Analyst’s Office report on Draper’s proposed ballot measure mentions past attempts to split up California. In 1859, the state Legislature voted to allow the area south of the Tehachapi Mountains – including Los Angeles and San Diego – into a separate state. Southern California citizens voted on the proposal and three-quarters of them agreed to it.
But Congress never agreed to the split. Subsequent attempts to split the state also failed. California has remained California.
History might repeat itself.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.