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Attempts to divide California have multiplied over the years

Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone's proposal to create South California is the latest attempt in efforts dating back to the Yreka Rebellion and the 51st State Movement.

July 16, 2011|By Steve Harvey, Los Angeles Times
  • Supervisor Jeff Stone, a Republican pharmacist from Temecula, called California an "ungovernable'' financial catastrophe and proposed that 13 conservative counties break away to form a separate state of "South California.''
Supervisor Jeff Stone, a Republican pharmacist from Temecula, called… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)

If California State Assemblyman Andres Pico had gotten his way more than a century ago, the college football team that plays its home games in downtown Los Angeles would be known as the University of Southern Colorado Trojans.

It was Pico who introduced an 1859 bill to create the state of Colorado out of the counties of California south of Big Sur.

He complained that Southern Californians — what few of them there were — were overtaxed and underrepresented.

The state Legislature actually bade Southern California goodbye but before Congress could give final approval, a bigger secession problem cropped up — the Civil War.

Pico's bill was shelved, then forgotten.

A different Colorado, situated somewhat further inland, achieved statehood in 1876.

Since Pico's proposal, there have been more than 200 campaigns to change the boundaries of California, inspiring the Wall Street Journal to quip at one point: "Forget the San Andreas fault. California may split without it."

Just the other day, Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone proposed the formation of the state of South California out of 13 mostly inland and conservative counties, including Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Orange counties.

Los Angeles County, which Stone accused of having "the same liberal policies that Sacramento does," was not invited to be part of South California.

But oddly enough, South California would include Mono County, whose county seat of Bridgeport is farther north than San Francisco.

The problem with a state as large and as diverse as California is that some part of it is always upset about something, be it taxation, water distribution or immigration.

Secession — an American tradition dating back to the break with England — seems a promising option when residents of "one section of a state feel overwhelmed by the other section," said historian Stan Mottaz, who made a study of secession movements.

Seven decades ago, motorists on both sides of the California-Oregon border were surprised to encounter roadblocks where they were handed copies of a proclamation for a new state called Jefferson.

Five northern California counties had united with parts of southern Oregon in what was called the Yreka Rebellion.

The insurgents complained that the north's roads "were, in Gold Rush parlance, 'not passable, hardly jackass-able,' " The Times' Tom Cameron wrote.

They felt, Cameron continued, that Los Angeles "had a surplus of paved, dead-end streets and alleys which the north had had to help pay for."

The Jefferson statehood drive encountered misfortune, however. A rally for supporters was scheduled Dec. 4, 1941. A few days before, the governor-designate died suddenly. Then came Pearl Harbor. War had once again foiled the separatists.

Yreka remained restless, however. In 1971, state Sen. Randolph Collier, a Democrat from that city, proposed two states: West California, consisting of all the coastal counties from Marin County to the Mexican border, and East California, consisting of everything else.

In 1991, Shasta County Assemblyman Stan Statham, a former television news anchor, led the 51st State Movement, proposing that several counties north of San Francisco and Sacramento secede.

Bay Area residents were upset.

"Wait a minute," groused the Marin County Independent Journal. "They put Marin in the same state as water-guzzling Los Angeles (and) the white-belt, white shoe-wearing, GOP stronghold of Orange County? That's totally ridiculous."

By 1993, a new plan by Statham would have separated San Francisco and Los Angeles by dividing the state into three parts — North California, Central California and South California.

The Times' S.J. Diamond predicted other names would be suggested.

"We could have (reading from the top down) Logland, Fogland and Smogland," she wrote. "Or Insolvent, Impoverished and Indigent."

The Sacramento Bee wondered if "Good Vibrations" would become the official state song of South California.

Perhaps the most unusual secession demand was made in the 1970s, when Anaheim's baseball team called itself the California Angels and suffered one losing season after another.

A San Francisco sports columnist demanded that the state be divided in half so that his region would no longer be linked with the Angels. To show his good faith, the writer offered to take Fresno.

The Angels eventually became a winning franchise but now another team in the region is stumbling.

Perhaps the reason Riverside County Supervisor Stone doesn't want Los Angeles County in his proposed state of South California is he doesn't want to be associated with the Dodgers.

steveharvey9@gmail.com

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