Skip to content

From Califorina Northern: The (New) Bay State?

July 20, 2011

Bay Area counties.California Northern is an interesting, well-presented new magazine focused on the culture, broadly conceived, of Northern California. In its first two issues, it discussed where to draw the line between Northern and Southern California and what to make of Jerry Browns’ first term as governor. It also includes art – fiction, poetry, (truly beautiful) photography. It’s published biannually so there’s nothing too immediate or fresh about it but that seems to be the goal, to allow and encourage readers to stop and think a bit about what makes Northern California unique, the idiosyncrasies and achievements that make it a wonderful place to live, to discover whether Northern California really is its own community and, if so, what binds that community together.

In the most recent issue, the editors excerpted a speech by Professor Paul Saffo of the Stanford Engineering School, contending that the Bay Area should become a city-state – or, more pragmatically, that it’d be nice if the Bay Area could form its own state, even though history demonstrates that prospect to be highly unlikely. Saffo’s main reasons for a Bay Area state (Chrysopylae?) are globalization and urbanization. Globalization – especially the IT revolution – has lessened the communals bonds that make nation-states possible while urbanization has made metroplitan and regional government increasingly important. More and more, Saffo argues, those levels of government are most appropriate for addressing the challenges confronting modern citizens and communities, and yet they are currently either ineffectual or nonexistent.

Saffo makes strong points about the importance of regional governance strategies that improve the quality of Bay Area residents and the cooperation necessary to implement those strategies. And, even though I said California Northern isn’t fresh, the piece is somewhat timely in light of the recent proposal by a Riverside County Supervisor to create a new state of South California.

There are significant political differences between different parts of California, both north-south and east-west, which make partition proposals appealing. The Bay Area would be able to raise sufficient revenues to maintain world-class public universities, K-12 education and a robust social safety net (and not subsidize schools and services in other parts of the state) while more conservative parts of the state would be able to keep Prop. 13 and the minimal government services that go along with it.

However, since any partition plan is so unlikely, the Bay Area (and California as a whole) should focus on improving the governance structures that are already in place. Increasing the number of representatives in the State Legislature would allow legislators to be more responsive to their constituents. Measures to depoliticize redistricting and reform term limits could decrease polarization in the Legislature. Strengthening regional cooperation for transit and development would allow the formulation of plans to reduce sprawl, congestion and pollution while also eliminating redundancies to deliver services more efficiently. Of course, it’s easier said than done, and I don’t know enough about the different issues to understand how it could work, but the potential benefits are there.

I’d also just saying that dividing the state up would hurt California’s mystique, the sense of opportunity and destiny that’s known around the world. There’s a yin and yang relationship between Southern and Northern California and a beauty in the way California combines so many different but wonderful places. I’d like it to stay that way.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: