Do you know what time it is, California?
It’s time for new thinking about time, and time zones. By putting Proposition 7 on the Nov. 6 ballot, the Legislature has granted us this opportunity.
The measure would undo a 1949 ballot initiative that locked daylight saving time in place in California. If approved, it would present the state with three options. The first is leaving the current daylight saving in place. The other two choices would give California its own time zone, either ending daylight saving and returning to standard time year-round, or making daylight saving permanent, which would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature and federal legislation.
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The debate about daylight saving is global, with many competing arguments I don’t want to spend precious time on. Instead, I wish to convince you of something grander: California could now settle the question of what time is best, for the state and the world.
How? By choosing all three time options, at the same time. I propose that California conduct a time experiment: For five years, let’s divide the state into three time zones – one for each option.
Multiple time zones fit our geography. While Californians think of our state as running on a north-south axis, look at a map and you’ll see the state tilts west and east. San Francisco is more than five degrees’ longitude west of San Diego. Blythe, on the Colorado River, is 10 degrees east of Cape Mendocino on our northern coast.
The best tool for creating time zones is the 120th meridian (120 degrees west), which serves as our border with Nevada from Lake Tahoe up to Oregon. To form time zones, divide the state along this line south from Tahoe to the Pacific, just north of Santa Barbara. West of the 120th meridian would be Redwood Time, with standard time year-round. East of the 120th meridian would be Cactus Time, with daylight saving time year-round.
There is one problem: the 120th meridian splits the San Joaquin Valley in half, and no region should labor under two different times. So the eight San Joaquin Valley counties – Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced, San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Tulare – would be a third zone, the status quo option running on the current seasonal daylight system. Call it Almond Time.
Instituting multiple time zones would have virtues beyond the experiment. It could be a force for unity in the West; Cactus Time California would be on the same time as neighboring Arizona, which is on standard time year-round, and on Mountain Time with Utah and Colorado during the winter.
Is it too much to hope that more time synchronization could inspire greater collaboration between Western states on trade and energy?
Multiple time zones might well prevent electricity brownouts during late-afternoon peak hours. By staggering the hour that people come home and turn on the AC, you’d make California’s power grid more stable.
Three time zones could also encourage an experiment in starting the school day later, which researchers suggest would make kids less tired and more ready to learn. With sunrise coming after 7:30 a.m. in Cactus Time, Southern California would be the place to try a 9 a.m. school start.
Multiple time zones might even encourage engagement with state government since Californians flying to Sacramento from Los Angeles or San Diego would gain an hour as they travel, arriving at the state capital at the time they left, making it easier to attend morning hearings. Time is money; when’s the last time Sacramento saved you any of either?
Such an experiment might seem out there, but it would be quintessentially Californian. In the process, we’d produce up-to-date data that could help the state and the world determine what time would make us wealthiest, healthiest and wisest.
Or perhaps Californians will find we like the experiment, and decide that our state is timelessly diverse that it can run on different times.
Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.