California is the most populous of the fifty United States. It’s also arguably the most diverse— plans to split it into two (or more) states have been proposed (and rejected) over 220 times since California became a state in 1850*. The natural wonders of California include coastal views as beautiful as any in the world, mountain ranges, vast deserts, pristine lakes, and a plethora of national parks. California has the lowest point in North America (in Death Valley), 128 kilometers from the highest point in the continental United States (Mount Whitney). And there are numerous man-made attractions, permanent and otherwise.
It’s no exaggeration to say that California offers enough photographic and travel opportunities for several lifetimes— much of which could be wasted sitting in clotted urban traffic and shortened by smog, for which California is also famous. Since I’ve lived my entire life in Southern California, a large proportion of this Web site is devoted to places in my home state. In addition to these travel essays, I took many of the pictures on the Scenery and Fine Art pages in California.
*The most recent proposal for splitting California, advocated by Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper, would have created six new states. Despite Draper’s pledge to spend as much of his not-inconsiderable personal fortune as necessary for it to succeed, supporters failed to gather enough valid signatures to qualify the measure for a place on the November 2014 ballot. Draper offered the usual rationale, describing California as “a failed state” and “ungovernable.” But his real motivation was most likely partisan politics: Splitting up heavily-Democratic California would bring more Republicans into both houses of Congress, and to the Electoral College. Despite Draper’s money, I doubt this proposal would have been any more successful than the 220 earlier attempts to split California.
The previous 21st-century proposal, offered by Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone in 2011, would have carved out thirteen counties into a new state of South California. Again, the claimed rationale was that “California is ungovernable.” And again, partisan politics seems to have been the real motivation. Eleven counties of the proposed South California are inland, rural, and agricultural; but the other two are the coastal and heavily urban San Diego and Orange Counties. What these seemingly strange bedfellows have in common is their overwhelmingly Republican voter registration.
One 20th-century secession proposal did show some early promise. In the 1930s, residents of counties in the Far North of California, along with several Oregon counties, were upset that the legislatures in Sacramento and Salem consistently ignored their requests for road improvements. They issued a somewhat tongue-in-cheek “Proclamation of Independence” as the new State of Jefferson at the end of November 1941. Unfortunately, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December pre-empted any news coverage of their proclamation. The war and its patriotic calls for unity suspended any further efforts toward establishing the new state; and new roads built after the war made the reason for secession moot.
Vestiges of the proposed State of Jefferson remain. The State of Jefferson Scenic Byway runs 175 kilometers from Yreka (the proposed state capital) to O’Brien, Oregon. And the Jefferson Public Radio network, established in 1989, serves most of the state’s proposed territory. More recently, initiatives to secede from California and form a State of Jefferson appeared on the June 2014 Primary ballots in Del Norte, Tehama, and Siskiyou Counties. It passed in Tehama County. And the northernmost of Tim Draper’s proposed “Six Californias” would have been the State of Jefferson.
From a practical travel perspective, California already is two states. That’s due to geography rather than politics. Los Angeles is 560 kilometers from San Francisco. That’s an hour by air— which in reality means at least four hours if you include getting to and from the airport, and allowing sufficient time to play your obligatory shoeless walk-on role in the TSA’s Security Theatre production. Alternatively, it’s a six-hour drive, if you’re actually able to travel continuously on boring Interstates at top speed and don’t need to stop.
It’s theoretically possible to travel between the two cities on Amtrak trains. Rail fans who have lots of time might find this appealing, but I doubt anyone else would consider it a practical option. The closest thing to a direct train is the notoriously tardy Coast Starlight, which crawls once a day in each direction between Union Station in Downtown Los Angeles and Emeryville, on the way to and from Seattle. A bus ride across San Francisco Bay completes the twelve-hour trip. Amtrak also offers several risible alternatives involving various combinations of trains and buses, which take between nine and a half and twelve hours.
A $68 billion, 14-year project to build a high-speed train link between Southern California and the Bay Area had its initial groundbreaking in January 2015. When complete, the train is supposed to make the trip between Los Angeles and San Francisco in three hours. But this project has been so mired in politics, bureaucracy, funding problems, and NIMBYism that I would bet against the possibility of anyone actually riding that train in the lifetime of most people reading this.
So where is the dividing line between the “two Californias”? There isn’t one! San Francisco is clearly in Northern California, Los Angeles and San Diego are clearly in Southern California. But that distinction gets very blurry in the central part of the state. Travel authors draw the boundary arbitrarily and inconsistently, based on what they consider most convenient for organizing or dividing up their books. So I’ve arbitrarily bisected the state along a rather fuzzy imaginary line that runs from the north end of the Monterey Peninsula on the coast to the northern boundary of Death Valley on the Nevada border.