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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.

The third state that would be created under the Cal 3 plan would be named “Southern California” and would include San Diego and 11 other counties. The California Legislative Analyst said this state “would have below-average income levels compared to the rest of the country.” But it would also have to pay for more welfare recipients and shoulder a more significant share of Medi-Cal healthcare costs than the other two new states.

An opposition group, appropriately named OneCalifornia committee, predicts unmanageable chaos if Cal 3 wins approval if only because of the myriad lawsuits that could result.

Steve Maviglio, a spokesman for OneCalifornia, warned on Twitter that the proposal “will triple the amount of special interests, lobbyists, politicians and bureaucracy.”

Maviglio tweeted that “this measure is a massive distraction that will cause political chaos and greater inequality.”

For instance, Mary-Beth Moylan, a McGeorge School of Law professor, said the very idea of Cal 3 is probably unconstitutional because the California Constitution gives people the power to make laws but it doesn’t grant citizens the authority to bust up the state, much less create three states out of one.

“It would be altering the boundaries of the state and making new political powers and three different jurisdictions. That’s not passing a law,” Moylan told the Lodi News-Sentinel. “I don’t think what the ballot proponent is doing actually fits within the California Constitution.”

Would Congress and then President Trump actually approve this even if California voters want it?

As AP reported, the approval of Cal 3 in November would mean radical changes for not just the state(s) of California, but also for the other 49 states.

The dismantling of California into three parts would mean four new U.S. senators in Washington. There would also have to be a change in the number of representatives in the U.S. House based on how the Cal 3 population numbers break out. And then there’s the Electoral College, which would have to include electors from not just one but three Californias.

Keith Smith, a political science professor at the University of the Pacific, told the News-Sentinel Republicans will never let Cal 3 go through Congress if only because the four new senators would probably all be Democrats.

But no one knows that for sure yet, and Joel Blank, a political science professor at San Joaquin Delta College, said that’s why California Democrats don’t like the proposal either. And because the Democratic establishment doesn't like it, Blank said it will be tough to scrape together enough Democratic voters, the vast majority of Californians, to vote “yes” on Cal 3.

“It’s never going to happen. It’s one of those ideas that keeps coming back,” said Smith. “It’s a bit of a pipe dream is what it is.”