Three Californias? California Independence? How about Simply: California Classic!

Joel Fox

Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily


Venture capitalist Tim Draper’s new quest to break up California into smaller states will face legal challenges, political obstacles and even the hindrance of confusing names.

Recall that Draper proposed an initiative in 2013 to re-stitch the Golden State into a six multi-faceted diamond. He never got enough signatures to qualify the measure so Draper is back with a new initiative, now cleared to gather signatures, to create three states.

Northern California would include the Bay Area and Sacramento up to the Oregon border and contain about 13.3 million residents. The state of Southern California would hold 13.9 million residents from Orange and San Diego Counties and areas due east and up into the Central Valley to Fresno and beyond.

Then there is the State of California. That’s right the current name of the Golden State would be applied to the third state of 12.3 million people that includes Los Angeles and runs up the coastline to Monterey.

Couldn’t Mr. Draper come up with a new name like Coastal California or Middle California over even New California? Just calling California … California will probably make it hard on historians and textbook writers not to mention other Americans who will try to make a distinction between the old California and the new California.

The name problem of California is just the beginning of obstacles facing this initiative. In fact, I doubt the names assigned by the initiative will stick in the minds of the voters. Oh, Southern California may apply all right, but when you consider the proposed State of California (that’s the new, improved version) is made up 80-percent of Los Angeles area residents the name State of Los Angeles would be more appropriate.

Likewise, the Bay Area makes up 60% of the population of the proposed Northern California. Residents may come to think of this state as the Bay Area State (as opposed to the Bay State across the continent—the nickname for Massachusetts for those who are unaware.)

Residents within the new states but outside Los Angeles and outside the Bay Area might have a problem with their state being so dominated by one geographical area.

If Draper is successful this time in gathering enough signatures the measure certainly will face legal challenges. The initiative is a statute, not a constitutional amendment. I suppose there are reasons for this since the constitution of California (old style) would be no more if the state explodes into three parts. However, re-fashioning one state into three could be considered by courts a revision to the constitution, something that cannot be done by initiative. (Although, I suppose it can be argued the new constitution would not be revised but simply put out of existence.)

The United States Constitution allows for state boundary change if a state legislature agrees. The initiative demands if the voters pass the initiative that the legislature agree and send the request to congress. However, the question of whether the people by ballot can act as a legislature is uncertain. In the case of redistricting reform, the U.S. Supreme Court said that was okay but the court might take a different view of Section 3, Article IV of the U.S. Constitution that states in part: “no new state shall be formed or erected in the Jurisdiction of any other state…without the consent of the Legislatures of the states concerned as well as of the congress.”

Some argue, given the punctuation of the section, that new states cannot be created within the boundaries of existing states.

More of the legal challenges facing this initiative are outlined by the Legislative Analyst’s Office analysis of the measure. The analysis includes some interesting history on the question of state creation (including how West Virginia was able to break away from Virginia when the Virginia legislature did not approve.) The analysis can be found here.

Finally, there is the political problem. Even if the measure is passed and the California legislature signs off, Congress must approve. Republicans currently control Congress and the Senate. The congressional numbers might shift when the state is divided but one thing is certain, four more senators will be going to Washington from the Californias. Given that the State of Los Angeles and the State of the Bay Area are likely to send Democrats to Washington, even if there is competition in the Southern California State, Democrats are bound to gain. Don’t expect a Republican Congress to vote for such a result.

Given all the potential problems with dividing California into three states maybe we should just leave everything as is. We could then still use the name California, which fits like an old shoe. Or perhaps, given all the turmoil produced around efforts to divide the state or even create an independent nation out of the Golden State, we should just all our home California Classic.

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