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Dreaming of Three Californias: Is Ballot Proposition Even Possible?

california los angeles mountains skyline

Billionaire venture capitalist Tim Draper’s California dream has almost come true. He pumped a million dollars of his own money into the Cal 3 campaign, which was actually his second try at breaking up California into pieces. His first would have divided California into six separate states. It failed.

However, Draper’s vision of breaking California into three states — Southern California, Northern California and California — will be on the state’s November ballot.

Even though hundreds of thousands of people signed petitions to put the proposal before voters, reaction from those who think they know better has been anything but congratulatory. For instance, journalist Nicole Karlis believes rather than solving California’s challenges, the success of the initiative highlights the state’s most critical problem.

“Indeed, the Three Californias proposal seems symptomatic of the sense of entitlement innate to many high-profile Silicon Valley leaders…” Karlis wrote for Salon.

“What this shows is that with relatively low signature requirements and a few million dollars, virtually any proposal can get onto the ballot -- especially if it's symbolic and taps into general public disgruntlement with government,” Renée Van Vechten, a political scientist at the University of Redlands, told Salon in an email. “How such a break-up would proceed is anyone's guess, so imagining who would benefit specifically is a fair bit of fiction.”

But Draper told the Los Angeles Times that kind of “arrogant dismissiveness represents the current state of corruption rampant in the halls of the bureaucracy in the Sacramento status quo.”

“We have failing school systems, broken infrastructure with bad waterways and highways, and we have the highest taxes in the nation,” Draper said.

Draper also stressed he’s not doing this only so the idea of fixing California can be brought up for discussion. He seriously thinks the only way to fix California is to break it.

He also pointed out that if Californians didn’t like the Cal 3 concept, he never would have been able to collect more than 400,000 petition signatures to put the proposal on the November ballot.

“To be clear: The vote this November is just the first step toward greatness,” Draper said.

However, the Los Angeles Times reported the proposal’s “greatness” would not be divided in equal measures. One of the states would be greater than the other two.

The new “Northern California,” encompassing Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay area, would be second only to Connecticut regarding per capita personal income. The California Legislative Analyst’s Office estimated it would be $63,000 based on 2015 data. That would be $9,000 higher than the per capita personal income for the entire state, according to the 2015 data.

The new state of “California,” though, would be stuck with Los Angeles and the thousands of homeless people who wander its streets and L.A.’s monumental traffic problems – all without the tax money from the Bay Area.