Tag Archives: cartographic fictions

On the Proposed Balkanization of California

Timothy C. Draper fondly reminisced that “I grew up in the state that was number one in education, the number one place to do business and the best place to live.”  The venture capitalist who brought the nation hotmail, Skype, and Tesla was savoring the new mental landscape that he argues would be recaptured by remapping California as six separate states. That simple cartographic intervention, and the “autonomy” it would serve to return each region–or all of its six new states to be carved from it–would fulfill the ideals of a rapidly receding past, and allow each to independnetly confront the problems of a crumbling infrastructure, poorly performing public schools, and pension obligations for state workers, and taxation practices that he judges unfriendly to business.  The “start-up guy” sought to restart the project of California in 2014, spending $5.2 million to liberate each of the state’s six parts, which failed to make the ballot, if it gained the national spotlight thanks to Stephen Colbert. The self-defined “start-up guy” returned to the table to reparse the largest state in the union in 2018, when the notion of national division gained traction in the national news, with hopes to give a greater tax franchise to at least two of the regions–the rump “California” around Los Angeles and Orange County; “North California;” and “South California”–as if to allow citizens to self-sort themselves into their own “like-minded” communities and unique styles of governing, to reboot the largest state that had just become too populous into three.

The insistence of these aspirations to cartographic self-definition suggests, in other words, the fiction of independence that Silicon Valley has been selling the nation for some time. As Draper has argued American would be best by adopting Bitcoin as its national currency, cutting out the Federal Reserve as so much excess baggage, the big stakes questions as land maintenance, coastal commissions, and Fish & Wildlife would be deferred, as would many questions of ecological conservation and fire management that are currently on the front burners of most Californians. By persuading us to see the state as a set of discrete regions, however, bushy-eyebrowed Draper hopes to urge voters to realize his political strategy to divide California into six cantons of different hues.  And when he rolled out the project for dividing the state–and its resources and economy–once again into three states,  one named simply “California” on the coast below San Jose to Los Angeles, bounded by the “Northern” and “Southern” California, as if in an attempt to make the map look clearer, Draper seeks to persuade voters to overlook the complex web of natural resources (like water), but huge discrepancies in public education, pension plans, transportation needs, and water management that demand resolution in coming decades–and in effect heighten the levels of inequality already permeating the state, as well as diluting its political voice.

A six-color map of the state offered the rallying call to generate support for his map to renewed economic prosperity–a spectrum intent to underscore inherent differences between each region.  The cartographic division of the state became a logo for a movement, found a nice logo in six colors, designed to strike a key in reflect the parched nature of the more arid (purple; red; orange) and waterless or irrigated areas of the state, and to suggest they were best left to fend for themselves, especially, perhaps, the orange Southern California and the Imperial Valley and bright red Central California’s desert. The coastal communities would have their liberties, and the tax franchises that went with them.

New Map of California

Draper’s initiative to “divide” California into six California’s–six separate states–picks up the inventive cartographies of division that partition the United States into more “rational” or “reasonable” mega-regions, macro-states, or mini-countries, and betrays what little sense he has of the environmental or ecological status of the state.  His proposal stands at odds to how, back in 1837, the German-American jurist Franz Lieber famously doubted that merely altering hues of any map could affect its political economy. He doubted that “the face of our country would change” as a result, and saw little impact for changing a map’s color-scheme, and hoped that “if the engravers were able to sell their maps less boisterously painted and not as they are now, each county of each state in flaming red, bright yellow, or a flagrant orange dye arrayed, like the cover produced by the united efforts of a quilting match.”  Lieber had studied topographic mapping in Dresden before coming to America, and meant to contrast realities of political economy with the coloration of maps–probably contrasting the four-color maps of the United States to those of Prussia with his Berlin-trained mind’s eye; the flagrant color-scheme of a map, however, becomes a device for Draper to urge that we remake California into six “political entities” that most of those living in them wouldn’t actually recognize.

In treating California as a landmass whose extent is able to be parceled into six–or three–blocks, the iconic visualization presumes “California” is not a landscape bound by coastal rivers, streams, glacial ice-pack, or viaducts, but might be parsed as the graphic designer wishes, in what seems the utter alienation of map from place.  By converting California to six cantons, the hope is to remake the state as six more manageable mega-regions to bridge perceived distances between government and Californians.  Draper represents the remapping of the state as a means to reconnect its residents to a model of good government in something of an extension of the argument of states’ rights.  The graphical division of the Golden State into six entities, maxi-regions or mini-states, each emptied of local meaning and purged of cities, provides the rallying cry of the venture capitalist’s movement for the May 2016 ballot, having gained over 1.3 million signatories of in-state residents–at the time of its submission in mid-July–and of a charge that Draper hopes would open up the possibility that other states follow the lead of his movement to break into separate states as well.

The return to the map as an iconic form of taking self-consciousness as Draper urges is a bit odd, to be sure, for a libertarian. For the image of the map as an icon of national destiny–the pentagon of France; the “lebensraum” of Germany; the unity of China–has a distinctly nationalist heritage, as does the call for a Red-State America with disturbing similarities in its contours to the Confederate States of America. The map indeed conceals, by a nice slight of hand, how much of California is “open space” managed by the U.S. Forest Service, Department of Defense, or Bureau of Land Management, in its attempt to carve up neat bundles of California in the hopes that these would align–or soon come to align–with independent interests. Fearing the administration of wilderness areas of the National Park Service or Forest Service during the Trump regime, Governor Jerry Brown had indeed not only filed a spate of twenty-four law suits against the Trump administration in 2017, the first year of the Trump Presidency, but questioned the validity of any attempt by the chief executive to sell or exchange land rights in the state, by pronouncing them void ab initio, without review by the State Land Commission, fearing the dismantling of hard-won environmental protections across the state.

The defense of undeveloped land that Brown holds dear and near was a pre-emptive strike that provoked a quick legal response from Jeff Sessions’ DOJ: “California was admitted to the Union upon the express condition that it would never interfere with the disposal of federal land,” he cautioned, defending the “rightful prerogatives” of the Interior Department, U.S. Military, and Bureau of Land Management “to buy, sell, exchange or donate federal properties in a lawful manner in the national interest” that should rightly make Californians fear the actual intent of the U.S. Government. While the admission of California to the United States in 1850 indeed stipulated that “the people of the said State, through their legislature or otherwise, shall never interfere with the primary disposal of the public lands within its limits,” the mandate for the state’s defense over those public lands may well be, in an era of accentuated climate change and fire danger, the rationale for rationale for administering public lands had so dramatically changed since the expropriation of public lands from indigenous tribes and mandates of public land management that the threat of their misadministration or maladministration by the rapacious Interior Dept. of the Trump era had grown pronounced–and fears of the placement of lands of the Bureau of Land Management and National Parks had been warranted, given the stunning removal of public lands protections in the first year of Trump’s administration, mostly directed to review the protections of federally owned lands from oil and gas drilling, groundwater mining, logging, and offshore drilling–all triggers for immediate protection–as well as removing responses to climate change from the administration of Park Service lands. The real fears of leasing lands for oil and gas extraction had led to the leasing of 223,200 acres of public lands to private individuals in FY 2014 alone, and the expansion of such leases would render the potential influx of cash as music to Draper’s libertarian ears.

While Draper’s initiative of the “Three Californias” was not openly framed by the tussle over land management over open spaces or wilderness areas, the fact of the federal management of 45% of California’s territory provoked fear of a slippage of protection of grazing rights, timber and forest management, and development of extractive industry that were cleverly concealed by the Three Californias, and which render California a fairly unique target of free market forces. The anger DOJ barely concealed in sniping at the “extreme state law attempting to frustrate federal policy” that Attorney General Sessions may have been born from venting about the state’s resistance to policies of border protection, and the incarceration of “illegal” migrants, with the pretense of drug enforcement, but created a unique opening for Draper’s initiative, an economic bottom-line of as limited ethical scope and compass one might associate with Don Draper, the fictional composite protagonist of “Mad Men,” but aligns closely with the brutal calculus of Tim Draper’s broad-strokes vision of governmental reform. Perhaps the true base-map, if often hidden, that lies beneath the busting up of California as a state are the network of environmental protections and protection of public lands and coasts, enforced by state regulations and commissions, that would be removed by the division of the state into cantons that would be open to the free market, pried from a vision of environmental stewardship.

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Filed under California, data visualizations, environmental stewardship, Six Californias, Timothy Draper