The Battle for Inland Empire

Blog: 07.15.11

Friday, July 15, 2011 - 12:00 PM

There's a beef heating up in California, and I'm not talking about San Francisco hippies vs. Los Angeles Valley girls. The state's struggling economy threatens to divide Southern California's coastal and inland cities. Earlier this week, Riverside County's board of supervisors unanimously approved a plan to officially consider breaking off from the rest of the state.

"We have businesses leaving all the time, and we’re just driving down a cliff to become a third-world economy," says Jeff Stone, the Republican supervisor of Riverside County spearheading the campaign.  Under his proposal, around a dozen counties in eastern and southern California would formally secede from the rest of the state. The stretch of cities 50 miles east of Los Angeles -- the so-called Inland Empire -- plus San Diego would form a new state to be called South California.  During the council meeting on Tuesday, the board confirmed plans for a conference at which California's municipal leaders from the region would consider the measure, while also discussing less drastic strategies for tackling the budget crisis.

This cry for secession is by no means unprecedented in the country's third most populous state. Since its formation in 1850, more than 200 proposals have threatened to break up California.

And it's an ongoing dispute that has inspired artists as well.  In 2000, LA-based visual artist Sandow Birk imagined a war between his city and San Francisco for In Smog and Thunder: The Great War of the Californias, a sort of Goya-meets-Apocalypse Now art series. First shown at the Laguna Art Museum, the exhibit included more than 120 works, including paintings, drawings, and a video documentary complete with mock-historical commentary.  Birk, who also spent time working in the Bay Area, explained to Studio 360 that his show was "based on San Francisco's worst nightmare, which would be Los Angeles invading San Francisco and just taking over the whole place."

Listen to the full story here:

Could Stone's cry for secession be the one to finally break up the Golden State? If life imitates art, we might be bracing for The Great War of the Inland Empire.


Slideshow: Sandow Birk's In Smog and Thunder

Sandow Birk, © Smart Art Films

Detail from "The Battle of San Francisco" from the series In Smog and Thunder.

Sandow Birk, © Smart Art Films

"Casual Words" from the series In Smog and Thunder.

Sandow Birk, © Smart Art Films

"Lt. Commander Rebecca Jordan" from the series In Smog and Thunder.

Sandow Birk, © Smart Art Films

"Join Now" from the series In Smog and Thunder.


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Comments [2]


Riverside can take Inland Empire with it. But not San Diego.

Jul. 19 2011 12:37 PM
eva from San Francisco

Growing up in NorCal in the '70's and '80's, there were two places adults described as so hellish that they took on a kind of illicit appeal: New York and, deliciously worse, Los Angeles.

So I was surprised to learn, in my late teens, that both places were nothing like they'd been described as being. New York was chock full of friendly people, and Los Angeles had more than its share of brilliant and creative minds. It's really only San Francisco, oddly, that fits the negative stereotypes ascribed by San Franciscans to New York and Los Angeles. And San Francisco, despite the "hippie" sterotype referenced in this blog, is one Of the most conservative places I've ever lived.
A big part of that has to do with how quickly San Francisco's remaining working and middle class were given the shiv. In LA and NY the wage-to-rent salary remained high enough to sustain a creative class. You might have to move to the boroughs, or Silver Lake, but for a long time, there was space and housing to spill into.
The dot-com boom really killed San Francisco. But let's face it, for as long as any of us can remember, SF has been a small town largely controlled by a few wealthy families. Pretty suffocating. Silicon Valley hasn't changed that dynamic much, oddly.
NY and LA are entirely beyond control, so it's a far more creative place.
As for Sandow Birk's work, it's great. And, I note, it was painted in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA.

Jul. 17 2011 02:16 AM

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