A proposal to divide California into three separate states will appear on the ballot in November, after an idiosyncratic, years-long quest by a venture capitalist.
The measure, pushed by billionaire Tim Draper, received hundreds of thousands of signatures as required to be placed on the ballot. If it's approved by voters, the proposal would still require a congressional OK — and would very likely face legal challenges on both the state and federal levels, according to experts.
The ballot initiative calls for three new states, broken along existing county lines:
- Northern California, stretching across the entire width of what is currently California, including Sacramento and the Bay Area;
- Southern California, including a small stretch along the coast near San Diego and inland regions spanning the Mojave Desert and most of the San Joaquin Valley;
- California, a narrow, densely populated stretch of coastal counties, starting from Los Angeles and stretching north to Monterey.
Draper was an early investor in Skype, Hotmail and Tesla, and he is a major advocate of bitcoin. He has spent years arguing that California should be divided up.
The ballot initiative describes the state of California as so enormous and diverse as to be "nearly ungovernable."
"The citizens of the whole state would be better served by three smaller state governments," the proposal says.
Draper used to advocate for creating six separate states from California — including one just for Silicon Valley and one state that would be entirely inland.
In 2014, Draper told Venture Beat his plan would allow for "more local, better representation."
"If some people feel that their government isn't working for them – and I know a lot of people in very poor regions feel that the status quo is not working for them – this would be an opportunity for them to easily move to another state without leaving the beautiful weather we get here," he said.
That earlier proposal would also have reworked the U.S. electoral map, splitting one solidly blue state into three Democratic states and three swing states, as The Washington Post wrote in 2014.
Draper's Six Californias proposal failed twice — although it seemed to come close in 2014, when Draper collected hundreds of thousands of signatures, only to see the state reject many of them as invalid. Then Draper switched to a three-state vision instead, and this time, his signature drive was successful.
The new ballot measure would create states with roughly equal populations and, compared with the six-state proposal, more comparable income levels. Those changes address many of the concerns that were raised about the fate of less prosperous states in the six-state model.
In the political sphere, the measure would create two reliably blue states and one swing state, analysts say. And by creating more Senate seats, it would also increase the influence of current-day California in Congress.
The Los Angeles Times writes that there is a long history of similar proposals in the large and populous state:
"The history of California, admitted to the Union on Sept. 9, 1850, has been marked by more than 200 attempts to either reconfigure its boundaries, split it into pieces or even have the state secede and become an independent country. The last three-state proposal, crafted by a Butte County legislator, failed in the state Capitol in 1993.
"A publicized effort by activists to have California secede from the United States, branded the 'Calexit' proposal, continues to be bandied about for the ballot in 2020."
The measure, like every other initiative eligible for the ballot, comes with a short summary of its estimated fiscal impact. While other ballot proposals have estimated costs — "around $1 million annually," "$1 billion or more per year" — the analysis of this measure is, well, a little different.
"Assuming this measure is approved by voters and the federal government and allowed by the courts," the state writes, "all tax collections and spending by the existing State of California would end."