We present a method for summing moment tensors derived from first-motion focal mechanisms to study temporal dependence in features of the subsurface regional strain field. Time-dependent processes are inferred by comparing mechanisms summed over differing time periods. We apply this methodology to seismogenic zones in central and southern California using focal mechanisms produced by the Northern and Southern California Seismograph Networks for events during 1980-1999. We find a consistent pattern in both the style of deformation (strike-slip versus compressional) and seismicity rate across the entire region. If these temporal variations are causally related, it suggests a temporal change in the regional-scale stress field. One change consistent with the observations is a rotation in the regional maximum horizontal compressive stress direction, followed by a reversal to the original direction. Depending upon the dominant style of deformation locally, this change in orientation of the regional stress will tend to either enhance or hinder deformation. The mode of enhanced deformation can range from increased microseismicity and creep to major earthquakes. We hypothesize that these temporal changes in the regional stress field are the result of subtle changes in apparent relative plate motion between the Pacific and North American plates, perhaps due to long-range postseismic stress diffusion. Others have hypothesized that small changes in plate motion over thousands of years, and/or over decades, are responsible for changes in the style of deformation in southern California. We propose that such changes, over the course of just a few years, also affect the style of deformation.