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There have been 220 proposals to divide California since it became a state in 1850, but none more ambitious (for want of a better adjective) than the current one. A techie investor with billions to play with is offering an initiative that would split the old Golden State six ways from Sunday.

Tim Draper filed papers with the attorney general this week, the first step to putting his plan before the voters in November. The Six Californias initiative, should the puzzled people of California agree, would provide the nation with the 51st, 52nd, 53rd, 54th and 55th states of the union.

This bold move recalls another, more straightforward plan of the early 1940s. The proposed State of Jefferson is one of the good old stories of the Far West -#8212; one that won Chronicle writer Stanton Delaplane a Pulitzer Prize.

Jefferson, composed of the mineral-rich, transportation-challenged border counties of California and Oregon, actually seceded and appointed a governor and his cabinet. Officials were prepared to make a formal petition to form a separate state on Dec. 8, 1941. What happened in Hawaii on Dec. 7 put it right out of their minds.

In Six Californias, Jefferson would rise again. It is the proposed name of one of the six, which includes Mendocino and Lake counties.

Sonoma, Napa, Marin, Solano and counties on eastward to the Nevada line would be North California. The Bay Area becomes Silicon Valley (wouldn't you know) and the others are Central, West and South California.

Just think of it. Six governors. Twelve U.S. senators. Interstate commutes. Bug stations -#8212; pardon me, Agricultural Inspection Stations -#8212; every hundred miles or so.

Disgruntled voters (more in the north than the south) are always attempting to secede. Another dot-com wizard just recently proposed that Silicon Valley secede, not from California, but from the United States. He would like to see a tech state not governed by federal regulations. What a good idea THAT is!

This penchant for fragmentation (Can we call it political mitosis?) is not just a statewide phenomenon. California counties have pretty much shattered, with the original 27 from 1850 now numbering 58.

Sonoma County itself has a busy history of attempted division, most of it based on the old rivalry between Santa Rosa and Petaluma.

It began, of course, with the election that brought the county seat to Santa Rosa from Sonoma, which was literally the only town in the county when the boundaries were drawn in 1850.

With 1854 state legislation permitting public votes on moving seats of government in counties where they were not centrally located, Santa Rosa saw the opportunity and called for an election.

Petalumans were astonished the "shanty town" of Santa Rosa could pull it off and, in 1861, they managed to call a new election, asking voters to transfer the county seat to Petaluma. Voters declined 1,632 to 314. It was a surprising loss since Petaluma, the "big town" and the early commercial center from its position on a waterway, had some 2,000 residents to Santa Rosa's 500 or fewer. Obviously, not everyone in Petaluma wanted the county seat.

But the loss continued to rankle, particularly as Civil War "differences" between the Union Republican merchants of Petaluma and the Confederate Democrats of the Santa Rosa and Russian River valleys became more pronounced.

By 1865, the river city merchants got up a petition asking that Petaluma and everything south and east of Santa Rosa Creek be allowed to join Marin County. Sonoma County would die and its shriveled remains, including Santa Rosa, would be renamed Sotoyome County.

When this failed due to lack of legislative interest, Petalumans waited more than 15 years before the next try. In the early 1880s, when the supervisors were deciding to build a new courthouse in the Santa Rosa Plaza, another south county attempt was made to move the county seat to Petaluma. This was, according to Santa Rosans, just another veiled attempt to split the county. The Petaluma petition was declared invalid -#8212; not enough signatures -#8212; and no vote was ever taken, despite an investigation by the state attorney general and a lawsuit.

There was only one more attempt to move the county seat. After the 1906 earthquake destroyed the courthouse and much of downtown Santa Rosa, Petaluma generously offered its Hill Plaza as a site, but was rebuffed.

The idea that there should be a change in county boundaries, however, would not go away. In 1919, the natural affinity between north and west Marin and southern Sonoma -#8212; still very evident to this day -#8212; prompted Homer Wood, editor of the Petaluma Argus, to propose a brand new county. Adair Lara, in her history of Petaluma, offers a list of the suggested names for this new entity, including Marisoma, Marinoma or Tomales County or, of course, Petaluma County.

This was a serious political movement that stretched into 1920 with town meetings and petitions and an official "Committee of Fifteen" to make the plans. The name Petaluma was approved and the official petitions were readied for the legislature when someone figured out that there was a big discrepancy between the tax rates in Sonoma and Marin (Marin was lower) and that proved the sticking point. West Marin was out and so was the impetus for an election.

On the southern Sonoma coast, where ranchers and merchants felt neglected by what they generally referred to as the "Santa Rosa Gang," there was one more effort.

It was led by Bodega rancher A.L. Tomasi, Camp Meeker lumberman A.H. Meeker, Howard McCaughey, the keeper of Bodega's general store and the acknowledged arbitrator of issues for the coast area, and Valley Ford banker C.A. LeBaron (Full disclosure: he was my father-in-law.).

This was a whole new look. Petaluma, of course, would be the name. But the new county lines went west and north to take in Valley Ford, Bodega, Occidental, Camp Meeker and Monte Rio -#8212; the entirety of both the Bodega and Redwood townships in addition to Petaluma.

This last gasp of the "divisionists," as The Press Democrat called them, got as far as the California Supreme Court, which ruled against them in 1921, disallowing any election.

While I keep expecting that the population explosion of the 1970s will produce a west county-led movement any minute now, realistically we must admit that it is no easy task to divide and conquer.

Mr. Draper's Six Californias -#8212; as cockamamie a scheme as we have yet seen -#8212; will be interesting to watch.