Monday, July 3, 2017

Little acknowledged in the nation or even the state, far northern California gets a day in the NYT spotlight

Near Plymouth, California, Amador County, July, 2017
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2017
Thomas Fuller reports in today's New York Times about disgruntlement among folks in far northern California--and we're not talking the Bay Area here, folks--where a majority are white, conservative, and voted for Trump (see post about California's rural vote in the 2016 presidential election here).  The headline is "California's Far North Deplores the 'Tyranny' of the Urban Majority." Fuller doesn't lead with the State of Jefferson movement/phenomenon, but he ultimately gets there because secession is one possible "solution" to what ails many in this far flung region of the Golden State.  Read more State of Jefferson coverage here, here, here, here and here.

This key excerpt from Fuller's story provides critical background, especially for non-Californians who think that the greater "Bay Area" is "northern California" (Hint: It's actually central California):
California’s Great Red North is the opposite [of common images/stereotypes of the state], a vast, rural, mountainous tract of pine forests with a political ethos that bears more resemblance to Texas than to Los Angeles. Two-thirds of the north is white, the population is shrinking and the region struggles economically, with median household incomes at $45,000, less than half that of San Francisco.
Fuller acknowledges the "red' and partly rural Central Valley region, too, and then continues with his tale of this little known area:
But perhaps nowhere else in California is the alienation felt more keenly than in the far north, an arresting panorama of fields filled with wildflowers and depopulated one-street towns that have never recovered from the gold rush.
The story features some now-familiar (familiar post-election, that is) information about how rural folks don't feel seen, heard and appreciated.  Many are farmers, and many have been economically displaced by the decline of the timber industry, a phenomenon partly driven by environmentalist concerns.  Fuller quotes James Gallagher, the 3d District Assemblyman:
People up here for a very long time have felt a sense that we don’t matter.  We run this state like it’s one size fits all. You can’t do that.
* * *
In the rural parts of the state we drive more miles, we drive older cars, our economy is an agriculture- and resource-based economy that relies on tractors and trucks.  You can’t move an 80,000-pound load in an electric truck.
Accordingly, a recent rise in the state's gasoline tax will disproportionately hurt rural voters.  

Many point out that if these rural California counties seceded--along with counterparts in Oregon--to form the State of Jefferson, they would only be worse off, however. 
Because incomes are significantly lower than the state average and the region is so thinly populated, tax revenue from the far north is a fraction of what urban areas contribute. In 2014, the 13 northern counties had a combined state income tax assessment of $1 billion, compared with $4 billion from San Francisco County.
Spatial inequality as a function of uneven development is something I've written about here and here.   

Fuller also provides some really useful information I've not seen from another journalist:  he compares the number of folks represented by each Senator and Assemblyperson in the California legislature with the number represented by legislators in other states.  In California, each State Senator represents a million residents, while each North Dakota state senator represents just 16,105, each Wyoming State Senator represents just under 20,000.  Each California Assembly member represents nearly half a million residents, whereas in Vermont it's just 4,174, in New Hampshire, just 3,327.

One of the problems, at least from the perspective of agitators in northern California, is that the number of California legislators has been capped at 120 since 1862.  The legislature has not been able to grow as the state's population has boomed, which has led to a lawsuit by what Fuller calls a "loose coalition of northern activists and residents, including an Indian tribe and the small northern city of Fort Jones," which is asserting a constitutional claim.

A second possible solution is to amend California’s Constitution to change the way state Senate district are drawn.  Rather than base the Senate districts on population, as the current scheme does, "Senate seats would be tied to regions, giving a larger voice to rural areas in the same way the federal Senate does."

I am not very optimistic about the likelihood that either proposal will be adopted, either due to successful lawsuit or constitutional amendment.    

The story closes with some colorful quotes from U.S. Congressman Doug LaMalfa who represents California's 1st District.  LaMalfa is a "farmer/businessman" who lives in Richvale, in Butte County.  LaMalfa decries urban denizens' treatment of rural California as their "park," as well as their desire to save trophy "species."  
You have idealists from the cities who say, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to reintroduce wolves to rural California?’
He counters with a tongue in cheek proposal:
Let’s introduce some wolves into Golden Gate Park and the Santa Monica Pier.
As it happens, I passed the sign in the photo above as I drove through Amador County's wine country yesterday.  That's just about an hour southwest of Sacramento.  State of Jefferson flags and signs are not uncommon in Amador and neighboring El Dorado Counties--though these places are in central California, not the typical State of Jefferson territory.  Yet the State of Jefferson ethos is alive and well here, even amidst pockets of rural gentrification like the Shenandoah Valley wine loop.  Someone put a lot of work into this sign, so I stopped for a photo.  Especially glad now that I did because it's a terrific illustration of just the phenomenon that is the focus of Fuller's story:  the numbers game in relation to how Californians are represented in the state legislature.

1 comment:

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