Will California Split Into Three? Voters Could Have Their Say in November

If California were an independent country, its economy would be bigger than all but four countries in the world—but that could all change if one venture capitalist has his way.

Tim Draper said he had gathered more than 600,000 signatures from across the state’s 58 counties backing the question of whether to split the state into three.

This is nearly twice the 365,880 signatures required by state law to appear on a ballot paper and raises the prospect of people choosing whether the state should be sliced into California, Southern California and Northern California.

“This is an unprecedented show of support on behalf of every corner of California to create three state governments that emphasize representation, responsiveness, reliability and regional identity,” the billionaire Draper said in a statement on his campaign website Cal 3.

GettyImages-2576287 The California state Capitol building in Sacramento. Lawmakers have received a petition calling for voters to decide on whether the most populous state in the U.S. should be split into three. David Paul Morris/Getty Images

He said the split would help address “failing” school systems, high taxes, “deteriorating” infrastructure and “strained” government.

“Partitioning California into three states would empower regional communities to make better, fairer and more sensible decisions for their citizens,” he said.

He said that once the signatures are vetted, the proposal could be put to California voters in November.

Predictably, there are some bureaucratic hurdles to overcome. In 2014, Draper spent $5.2 million on a state partition plan only for half of the 1.3 million signatures he collected to be disqualified, although this was for a six-state plan, which caused some confusion.

Any change would also require the state governor to transfer notice of state approval to Congress for a vote on whether to ratify the three-state system. Congress also may not want four more senators.

California has the biggest population of any state in the U.S., with more than 39 million people. The three new states would each have roughly 13 million people.

Last year’s GSP (gross state product) for California as a whole was $2.75 trillion, according to data from the U.S. Department of Commerce, which makes it the world's fifth largest economy, ahead of the U.K.

RTX5NO7M Venture capitalist and CAL 3 Chairman Tim Draper during a press conference in April 2018 said he has gathered enough signatures to put his plan to split California into three to voters. REUTERS/ Stephen Lam

The new California would retain Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Monterey and San Benito counties. Southern California would take in San Diego as well as San Bernardino, Orange, Riverside, Mono, Madera, Inyo, Tulare, Fresno, Kings, Kern and Imperial counties.

Meanwhile, Northern California would include the Bay Area and the 31 remaining counties north of Sacramento, the current state capital. It would be the richest of the three, with a per capita income of around $63,000, followed by $53,000 in California and $45,000 in southern California.

In 2014, the San Francisco Chronicle said splitting up the state would require solving its complicated water network, paying its multibillion-dollar pension obligations and dividing its college systems. 

Steven Maviglio, a Democratic strategist who worked on the campaign to oppose similar measures by Draper in 2014 and 2016, said the effort was a “colossal waste of resources, energy and time.”

“Dividing the state into three random slices doesn’t fix any of our state’s problems,” Maviglio told Reuters.