National

Most California residents polled say no to a split state

California is among the states looking for financial help.
California is among the states looking for financial help. Gregory Urquiaga / Contra Costa Times

They don't care how you slice it: Californians think the idea of splitting up the state is still baloney.

In fact, they are less in favor of bisecting the Golden State than at any time since 1981. And it doesn't matter much whether the proposal to make two states out of one is proposed along longitudinal or latitudinal lines.

At least that's what today's Field Poll results say. A survey taken during the last week of February found that a whopping 82 percent of those polled disapproved of splitting the state into Eastern California and Western California.

A hefty 71 percent didn't like the idea of formally dividing Northern California from Southern California.

"It's a crazy idea," said Terry Nguyen, a 38-year-old Santa Ana resident who was standing just outside the state Capitol, where the occupants are intimately familiar with crazy ideas.

"How would you divide up the water or the roads? How would you decide where the borders would be? It's just crazy."

Maybe so, but not if you raise chickens, or are concerned that those who do raise chickens should be allowed to raise those chickens as they see fit.

See, this former Assembly member named Bill Maze has come up with the idea of splitting the state roughly along the lines of those who raise chickens and those who just eat them.

Maze proposes spinning off 13 coastal counties from Los Angeles to Marin into one state, while the remaining 45 counties would, well, remain.

According to Maze's "Downsize California" Web site (www.downsizeca.org), the split is necessary because the state has become ungovernable. Apparently, this became apparent to Central Valley farming interests after voters approved Proposition 2 last November.

The measure established new rules on the treatment of farm animals, particularly chickens.

"We cannot allow 'agriculturally uneducated city dwellers' to dictate farm policies," the Web site says. "We must not allow the short-sightedness of sheer voting numbers to destroy an irreplaceable industry."

Rosalie Grassi concurred with that sentiment, if not the chicken-based reasoning.

"I believe people that live in cities have a different thought pattern," said Grassi, a 66-year-old homemaker who lives in the Butte County hamlet of Berry Creek, between Oroville and Quincy. "I think they tolerate more crime, they oppose the death penalty. I'd definitely like to see a split."

Grassi also said she would like to live in a California without San Francisco in it and that she thought California was just "about average" as a place to live.

This demonstrates a differing thought pattern than 61 percent of those in the San Francisco Bay Area, who rated California as "one of the best places to live," presumably in the whole universe of places to live.

In Grassi's neck of the woods, the Central Valley, just 30 percent thought the state was great. (As a whole, 41 percent of the respondents gave California top marks as a place to live.)

Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll, said he thought Bay Area people were so happy with California because their part of it was grandly located, diverse in population and lifestyles, and "was much more upscale in terms of education."

(DiCamillo, it should be noted, comes from upstate New York, graduated from Harvard and has been a Bay Area resident for 31 years.)

Whatever their thoughts on California's liveability, the poll's respondents were down on the idea of splitting the state.

"We just don't see any spikes anywhere in sentiment for splitting up the state," said DiCamillo. "No one wants to be cut off from the wealthier areas of the state, or the ones with water."

In 1993, the last time the Field Poll asked the split-state question, 60 percent disapproved the north-south split. In 1992, it was 67 percent, and in 1981, it was 72 percent.

This is the first time the Field Poll has asked about an east-west split.

Crazy or not, the idea of multiple Californias has been around almost as long as the state itself. In 1850, the gold-mining burg of Rough and Ready split from the brand-new state for three months, over a mining tax dispute. The Nevada County town reportedly came back after bartenders in surrounding communities refused to serve beverages to "foreigners."

In 1941, Gilbert Gable, the mayor of the small town of Gold Beach in southern Oregon stirred up the idea of "Jefferson," a new state to be composed of Oregon's Curry County and California's Del Norte, Siskiyou, Trinity, Modoc and Lassen counties.

The whole thing turned out to be a lavish publicity stunt by Gable to get a road and port built for the area's mining operations.

The "movement" sputtered out in the first week of December, when Gable died suddenly of "acute indigestion," and the rest of California got distracted by the entry of the United States into World War II.

In 1993, an Assembly member from Shasta County named Stan Statham proposed trisecting California into north, south and central sections.

Statham, a moderate Republican who at one point wanted to be lieutenant governor, made some pretty sensible arguments for cutting up the state, such as that it was "dysfunctional." He won some support before it finally died, as did his campaign for lieutenant governor.

Statham, who is now president of the California Broadcasters Association, said Wednesday that splitting the state was still an idea worth exploring.

"This gets proposed every 17 years on the average," he said, "and the reaction is 'that's crazy, we all love California.' … But if you put some time and effort into studying it, you find it is a solution" to the state's problems.

"Obviously it's a little radical … but it's not crazy."

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