In some ways, this isn't surprising. I'm a native Californian who grew up in Los Angeles when it was a small town. And I returned to Lodi after years in New York and Seattle as a middle-aged man to make a career change from banking to teaching that I found professionally rewarding and personally enriching.
Nevertheless, the underlying reasons that I left California in mid-2008 have become more obvious in my absence.
California, ungovernable, is no longer a functioning entity. The state's condition has been deteriorating for years.
In 1990 Pete Wilson, then a U.S. Senator, decided to resign during his second term to run for California governor. Before Wilson took his final plunge, he commissioned a study to determine the advisability of leaving his cushy Senate job for the thankless task of governing an increasing diverse, conflicted, money-thirsty state.
Concluded the report: Don't do it! California is too huge to manage effectively.
For reasons known only to him, Wilson paid no attention. Wilson ran, won and served as governor for two election cycles until 1999 when term limits, which he had endorsed, kept him from a third term.
Little did anyone know at the time realize just what good counsel Wilson's report provided.
Only two decades later California as I view it from Pittsburgh is locked in an irreversible monetary and demographic crisis.
Things are so tough that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, elected in a special election largely on his promise to restore fiscal sanity, is reduced to selling used cars and rickety office furniture to raise petty cash.
The garage sale is clever. But it netted only $1 million, not even chump change in the grand scheme of a $20 billion deficit. [Cash in Cali Schwarzenegger Holds Garage Sale, Marianne Russ, NPR, August 28, 2009]
Despite the doom and gloom, one possible if radical solution exists: divide California into different states determined by economic and geographic considerations. [Read also Brenda Walker's column The California Crisis: Divide and Prosper.]
This too is an age-old concept that has been kicked around hundreds of times since 1850. The original idea was to split California off at Bakersfield to make it into two separate states.
As the secessionists see it, California's multiple problems require varied solutions. For example, the San Joaquin Valley's problems that include the farmer's plight, the foreclosure crisis and some of the country's highest unemployment rates are so different from the rest of California that no comprehensive legislation, assuming Sacramento could ever agree on anything, would solve them all of them.
One of those farmers, Virgil Rogers a dairyman from Visalia, recently embarked on a mission to save California by splitting it. Rogers is the co-founder and Chairman of Citizens for Saving California Farming Industry. His group has a website, DownsizeCA.org that has attracted about 150 new members daily since mid-February.
Rogers and the other members of his movement propose splitting off 13 counties on the state's coast, leaving the remaining 45, mostly inland, counties as the "real" California. [Farmers Lead a Bid to Create 2 Californias, by Malia Wollan, New York Times, March 13, 2009]
Others favor three Californias that would include Coastal, Northern and Southern California.
As the debate about how to save California mounts, three things are certain. First, that California as it is currently governed cannot sustain itself. Second, that the solutions are not token cuts in spending and services or personnel layoffs. Third, that while dividing the state into two or three entities may be the most effective long term answer, it will be impossible to implement.
Here's what would have to be done: after jumping though various hoops, the new California states if authorized by the state legislature would need the U.S. Congress' final approval.
In the unlikely event that it passed, other states would follow. Already underway are movements to create North and South Florida, to convert Alaska into three parts, to make Texas into five states and to join Southern Oregon and Northern California into a state called "Jefferson"
While the case for California is the most urgent because of its terminal condition, don't look for any solutions that require Congressional action.
Joe Guzzardi [email him] is a California native who recently fled the state because of over-immigration, over-population and a rapidly deteriorating quality of life. He has moved to Pittsburgh, PA where the air is clean and the growth rate stable. A long-time instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, Guzzardi has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.