Continuing our tour of the six new Californias proposed by Tim Draper, this new state would be the only one with no Pacific coastline. Nonetheless, it has tremendous potential that is currently being hamstrung by Sacramento (or rather, the coastal voters who dominate the legislature). It would have a population of a little over four million, equivalent to Kentucky, and about a million fewer than Colorado. But as I’ll explain, its red depiction on the map below is appropriate, because it could be viewed as another Colorado in the making, except one only a couple-hour drive from the ocean.
It consists of those counties of the southern Sierra, much of the San Joaquin Valley, the Owens Valley on the east side of the mountains, and the eastern deserts to the Nevada border, including Death Valley. The vast majority of the water supply for the rest of the current state’s population is gathered and much of it stored there, in the form of reservoirs and snow pack in the high Sierra. It also has the iconic national park of Yosemite, and the equally beautiful but less known Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks, as well as the popular recreation and ski area of Mammoth Lakes. Its inhabitants range from ranchers on the east side of the mountains and in western Kern, Kings, Fresno and Merced counties, to descendants of the original 49ers in southern Gold Country, farmers and Hispanic farm workers in the central valley, and descendants of the Okies who fled the Dust Bowl eight decades ago to create (among other things) the western center of country music in Bakersfield.
In better times, it was the nation’s fruit basket, with agriculture in the San Joaquin, fed by the Sierra streams before they got to the cities via the canals and aqueducts. Lodi in San Juaquin County is wine country. But the combination of drought and national policy has cut off a lot of the water needed. California’s own senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, both of the Bay area, are indifferent to the plight of the Central Valley farmers, preferring instead to satisfy their green constituencies by diverting the water to the Sacramento Delta to preserve a species of smelt. But if the new state could regain control over its natural bounty of water, it could green the deserts once again. It might even be able to refill Mono Lake in the desert east of Yosemite, and restore the Owens Valley to the riparian paradise it reportedly was before William Mulholland took the water to Los Angeles a century ago. However, it would have to pay the other drier states somehow to compensate them.
Fortunately, in addition to the famous alpine beauty and the ranching, one other way Central California could be comparable to Colorado is energy. The region already has many oil wells to the south. Silicon Valley would sit on some of the untapped Monterey Shale; Central California would own the rest. If it decided to allow fracking of it (which in itself would require water), it could generate the wealth it needs to buy the water back from what would become Silicon Valley, West California, and South California, perhaps paying for coastal desalinization plants, which could use the natural gas to operate.
Another source of revenue for the new state could be its penitentiaries. As previously noted, Silicon Valley will almost certainly produce far more prisoners than it can house in Soledad. As we’ll see in the next of this series, West California will have a similar problem. Valley State Prison in Chowchilla, the euphemistically named Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga, the California State Prison in Corcoran, and facilities in Avenal, Wasko, Delano and Tehachapi, could probably handle the load, as they currently do.
In addition to desalinization plants, the new funds would also have to go into higher education. The only major state universities in the region are the University of California, Merced (which might become the University of Central California), and Cal State Fresno and Cal State Bakersfield, which might become Central California State campuses.
There is not a lot of high-tech industry in the region currently, with one interesting exception. The town and airport of Mojave, in south-central Kern County (a few miles north of Los Angeles County, in the high desert) have become the center of a revolution in space technology, with reusable spaceships of several varieties being developed and tested there, due to its large available airspace and good year-round flying conditions. One of the companies that started there, XCOR Aerospace, recently started a major expansion to Midland, Texas, partly because they were given financial incentives by the people there, but also because California taxes and regulations have become overburdensome. Pleas to Governor Jerry Brown’s people during a visit a couple years ago on the need for relief were listened to politely, and then ignored. A new state government for Kern County, in Bakersfield or Fresno, with reduced taxes and regulations, could prevent such emigration in the future, and perhaps even attract some of those businesses back. Beyond that, if Silicon Valley and West California continue the terrible policies that they are currently imposing on all of the rest of the state, such an action would allow Central California to poach companies from there, instead of states further away doing so. For instance, they might have been able to get the Tesla battery factory instead of it going to Reno, Nevada to the north.
What are the chances that such a government could be formed? Pretty good, actually. Democrat/Republican registration is currently pretty evenly split with a slight Republican edge (38.7% to 39.6%) and about 3% American Independent Party, with 17% unaffiliated. The new electorate will recognize the need for new revenue for the new state, and the Democrats are likely somewhat more conservative, relative to their coastal party affiliates. Also, because the new state would be so evenly split, it would be likely to attract newcomers from Silicon Valley and West California seeking relief from the current state burden, and unlikely to bring those regions’ voting patterns with them. So if you start hearing about Central California as the new purple, or even red Colorado, you heard it here first.
Next up, the welfare state of West California.