Six, More Equal, Californias

Much like the seventh-inning stretch and the post-Thanksgiving nap, secession ranks high among American pastimes. Alongside the more well known – the South from the North, the United States from Britain – there have been more than fifty proposals calling for municipalities to secede and form new states since the nation’s founding. The most recent of these, Six Californias, just met its defeat last month, failing to garner enough signatures to make it onto the 2016 ballot.

Six Californias, founded by Silicon Valley venture capitalist and billionaire Tim Draper, was motivated by a desire to improve the function of California’s government. The initiative’s website describes the unified state as “the worst managed state in the nation,” deeming it “ungovernable” due to its immense population, and the diverse “interests” and “values” of its people. It proposed borders to split up California into six new states – North California, Central California, West California, South California, Jefferson, and Silicon Valley – each with “more local and responsive governments.”

Click on a county in the map for more details.

The partition borders put forth by the Six Californias initiative

Putting aside the incredible cost of creating six new complete, functioning governments and the impractically high Constitutional barriers to admitting new states to the Union, the actual borders put forth by Six Californias, the heart of the proposal, are wrought with problems. Under these borders, which were drawn with consideration for “population, demographics, value systems, prominent industries, income levels, water issues, geography, and other concerns”, Central California would be the poorest state in the Union. West California would be cut off from adequate water supply. Jefferson would be left without an in-state public four-year university.

But these problems are not inevitable. The Six Californias map can be redrawn to alleviate each of these problems, creating a partition with more equal, well-functioning states. This article aims to demonstrate the ways in which the proposal could be tweaked to adjust for the concerns that were featured most prominently in anti-Six Californias campaigns. The original borders were used as a baseline; counties were manually1 switched between states to better allocate the resource at hand and maintain contiguity. The map was finalized when there was no clear further redistricting that would improve allocation.



Measured by the U.S. Census Bureau’s estimate of 2014 income per capita, California is currently the 14th richest state, but this wealth is by no means evenly distributed throughout the state. In a unified California, the wealth of Silicon Valley moguls averages out with the poorer agricultural areas, leaving California with a healthy $29,511 income per capita.

But as proposed, the Six Californias plan would create a hugely unequal partition, generating both the richest and the poorest states in the country. It’s a common concern among citizens that this inequality, with Central California’s average income less than half that of Silicon Valley, would be too stark, leaving the poorer states unable to serve citizens’ needs.

Hover over a bar in the chart for more details.
2014 Income per Capita by State, with original Six Californias

Roger Salazar, the press liaison for the Six Californias project, told the HPR this disparity was intentional. He said, “The entire idea was that there’s a need to allow these states to make the tax structures that meet the needs of their respective regions.”

If the initiative were to abandon this principle and lessen the egregious wealth disparities among the newly formed states, Silicon Valley and neighboring wealthy counties in North California can be split between the state’s eastern and northern neighbors, as follows:

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Altered borders to decrease income inequality

Under this new map, the richest state, still Silicon Valley, would have an average income of $32,641, down from $40,285 by the original borders. And the poorest state wouldn’t be far behind: West California at $28,079, up from $19,957, the lowest income per capita under the original partition. Nationally, these states would rank between 8th and 26th richest, out of 55.

Hover over a bar in the chart for more details.
2014 Income per Capita by State, with altered Six Californias


Water access in California has long been a complex situation. To connect the majority of the population on the southern west coast of the state with the majority of the freshwater in the northeast, the California Water Project’s aqueduct and reservoir system spans the length of the state, ensuring water access throughout.

As drawn in the original proposal, however, the Six Californias can’t guarantee this universal water access. The plan forces states to share the major water sources and aqueducts, meaning the states in the south (generally at the end of the aqueducts and rivers) are subjected to the water policies of states in the north (at the beginning of the water sources).

Salazar told the HPR that the new states would form a “Board of Commissioners who would negotiate water access, and the liabilities would be shared among the new states.” This negotiation is certainly possible, as California already does with other states along the Colorado River, but is politically complex, so should be avoided if possible.

To limit the necessity of these negotiations, the borders below have been redrawn to give every state sole control over its primary water source, and limit the number of major water sources that cross state boundaries. As the borders stand in the original proposal, only two of California’s ten major water sources (as enumerated by its Department of Water Resources) are controlled by a single state, and two counties are not even in the same state as their primary water source.

Click on a county in the map for more details.

Altered borders to increase water access

This new map, however, allows the aqueducts coming from the northeast to get far into central California, and the Colorado River to feed much of eastern and southern California without crossing state lines, limiting interstate water deals that would ultimately harm southwest California. This leaves each state with sole control over its primary water source, none of California’s ten major water sources crossing state boundaries, and every county in the same state as its primary water source.

Higher Education

As the Six Californias borders are drawn originally, Jefferson, the northernmost of the new states, would contain none of the University of California’s nine existing undergraduate campuses. This would leave Jefferson residents with only private or out-of-state four-year higher education options, neither of which are affordable to low or middle-income students.

While there are systems in place for interstate water supply negotiations (like with the states along the Colorado River) and interstate income redistribution (via the federal government), there is little precedent for the large-scale interstate tuition subsidies necessary to provide Jefferson students with access to higher education. Salazar, again, leaves these negotiations to the Board of Commissioners: “There’s no reason the new states couldn’t compact with each other to allow students to attend others’ universities.” Given the lack of precedent, however, it is very possible that the negotiations would not work out and this access would not be achieved.

Unlike income and water, universities can be simply redistributed with a small change to the original borders. Extending Jefferson southwest to include UC Davis, formerly in North California, and North California south to take UC Berkeley from Silicon Valley leaves every state with a public four-year university.

Click on a county in the map for more details.

Altered borders to increase higher education access


Even if redrawn to create more equitable distributions of the resources considered above, the Six Californias’ borders aren’t even optimized to solve the problem the initiative was created to address: a government looking after people whose interests were too “diverse”, and therefore could not “share [the people’s] values”.

“Diversity” of “interests” and “values”, the meaning of which could not be clarified by the Six Californias press team, is not easily captured in a statistic. Although obviously imperfect (as a Silicon Valley startup CEO and an impoverished cow rancher may both identify as Democrats), one way to quantify “values” is political ideology, represented by 2012 voting patterns2. If a state’s constituency is more uniformly Democratic or Republican leaning, the elected officials will likely share that disposition. Consequently, the government will share values with a greater proportion of its people.

In California, dark blue counties line the populous west coast, the northeast is solid red, and the rest of the state has more moderate leanings, as measured by their 2012 presidential election results. As it stands, Six California’s largely draws its borders along these leanings. Silicon Valley and West California are both exclusively made up of blue counties. And the swing state, South California (in which the 2012 election was decided by less than .02% of the vote), consists primarily of “swing counties”, those with minor leanings towards Obama or Romney.

That being said, the map can still be tweaked to increase homogeneity. In the northern and central parts of the state, ideology reflects an east/west divide. State borders can be adjusted to reflect this, rather than the original borders’ north/south divides between Jefferson, North California, and Central California. Southern California’s counties are almost all “swing counties”, meaning not much homogeneity can be created.

Click on a county in the map for more details.

Altered borders to increase ideological homogeneity

In this new configuration, 7 percent of counties (with 14 percent of state residents) have the opposite political leaning of their state, as opposed to 29 percent of counties (with 21 percent of state residents) with the original borders. Therefore, with this map, there is certainly more ideological homogeneity.

This results in 3 blue states (West California, Silicon Valley, and North California), 2 red states- (Central California and Jefferson), and 1 purple state (South California), the same breakdown as in the original map, but with each state more strongly leaning in its ideological direction.

* * *

Each of these four maps solves one of four distinct problems: allocating income, water, and higher education, and homogenizing ideology. However, there can only be one map of California, a map that must work towards solving all of these problems simultaneously. Despite income distribution and political homogeneity being somewhat competing goals (as California’s richer areas tend to be more left-leaning), it is possible to create borders that improve upon all four goals. One example of such a map is below:

Click on a county in the map for more details.

Altered borders to increase income equality, water access, higher education access, and ideological homogeneity

In this map, state incomes range from $23,377 to $33,746, as opposed to $19,957 to $40,285 with Six Californias’ original borders. Six, rather than two, of the ten major water sources do not cross state boundaries, and five states have sole control over their primary water source, versus three under the original partition. With the new borders, every state has at least one University of California campus, and twelve, rather than seventeen, counties are in a state with their opposite political leaning.

It is important to note that there are myriad other maps that could improve upon all four measures, and this is by no means the best. But this map demonstrates that it is possible to split California into six new states in a way that alleviates Six Californias’ main problems: income distribution, water access, and higher education access, as well as increases ideological homogeneity. A better partition could have been created, and the Californian people may have been more apt to support it.

1. All the below proposed partitions are improved versions of the original proposal, yet are not optimal. Doing such an optimization would require looking at the variable in question with all possible partitions of California. Finding all such partitions is an NPhard problem (ie: one which cannot be solved deterministically in polynomial time), so it is not possible to compute in a reasonable amount of time.

2. Voting patterns are not, of course, a perfect indicator of ideology. However, its use is appropriate here. The relationship between ideology and voting, although imperfect, is strong, and there are few other ideology proxies that have data at the county level.

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Copyright 2018