There have been several efforts in the past 30 years to split up the state of California into smaller parcels. Despite having one of the largest economies in the world today, there are distinctive political and geographical differences that create three different personalities in the region.
Cal 3 was one of the latest proposals offered for consideration. The effort launched in August 2017 because of the efforts of Silicon Valley venture capitalist Time Draper. His effort was to qualify the idea as Proposition 9 for the November 2018 ballot. The Supreme Court in California pulled it from consideration for further constitutional review in July of that year. Then in September, the court removed the measure from all future ballots permanently.
One of the key differences in the Cal 3 plan was that California would not have split into three parts immediately. It would only happen if and when Congress decided to admit the new states into the union under the guidelines offered by the Constitution.
There are several pros and cons to consider when splitting California into three separate states.
List of the Pros of Splitting California into 3 States
1. Splitting the states would give the region more influence in Washington, D.C.
If California were to split into three states, then it would give the region more political influence in the nation’s capital. There would be six Senators available for votes instead of the current two. Estimates on electoral representation suggest that the figure would rise from 55 under the 2010-2020 format to 59 for the purpose of electing Presidents and representation in the House. This action would also split the Ninth Circuit, which currently represents most of California only.
If there were three states available, then there could be a circuit court for Hawaii and coastal California, another for NoCal, and a third for SoCal if wanted.
2. It would allow for better local governing in all three regions.
Splitting California into three states would let each one have more influence over local governing issues. That means each population center would receive a better response from their elected officials. Since all of the regions currently share a single government instead, that one entity must try to satisfy the needs of all three instead. New borders would let each group create better schools, manage water resources better, and create a friendlier climate for new businesses.
It might also be possible to lower taxes in all three of the new states because there would be less bureaucracy to manage in this format.
3. This idea changes the equity in voting and representation.
Splitting the states would reduce the ratio of elected representatives for the overall population to something more manageable. California, in its current state, would be large enough as an independent country to send its governor to the G7/G8 summits each year. Breaking the state into three new chunks would reduce this influence, but it would also create more equity per vote for the population and its representatives.
Large state vs. small state debates have been going on in the U.S. for more than a century. When Wyoming was granted permission for entry in 1890, there were only 62,000 people living there according to figures from the U.S. Census. There were 1.2 million people living in California at the time, and New York at 6 million people.
4. It could stop the disparity in the Electoral College vote.
There have been five elections in the United States where the winner of the popular vote didn’t win the Electoral College. As the population of the country continues to grow and shift toward urban lifestyles, this outcome could happen more often. There is merit to the idea of ensuring that the majority cannot trample on the rights of the minority, but that benefit should not come at the expense of the minority doing the same to the majority. By shifting the way California votes as a region, it would help to break up the most significant contributor of electoral votes so that a more accurate representation of the vote tally could occur each year.
List of the Cons of Splitting California into 3 States
1. The United States government is not likely to approve any change to California.
California represents one of the largest economies in the world. This influence is one of the primary reasons that the United States can wield its influence around the world. Splitting the state into three new ones would lessen that benefit, which is why Congress is unlikely to approve any plan like this. Two of the new states would be consistently Democratic as well, while SoCal would become a swing state that leans liberal.
Republicans might be persuaded if there could be two Senators from the region to offset the four expected Democrats. The expected ratio is 5-to-1; however, so there is no upside from a conservative perspective to take these actions.
2. Splitting California into three states is not necessary.
There is nothing that stands in the way of letting California split up its governing approach into three separate categories. It wouldn’t need to become three states to provide better support to each region. A change to the constitution would allow this outcome to happen. The state could even create a system where three governors could be in charge of each region, with three legislatures working to support local needs.
We’ve already seen this approach work globally with the Commonwealth Realm and the self-rule options handed out. It would be a similar outcome in California if it were to happen.
3. It would split up some of the major cities in the state from each other.
Under the Cal 3 plan, the decision to split California into three states would separate Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco from each other. This idea would also take Orange Country away from Los Angeles by putting it into a different state, forcing commuters to change their tax profile if they lived across the border from where they worked. It would also take San Benito away from San Jose.
Another issue to consider with this plan is that it wouldn’t split the rural interior from the urban coast. Anyone wanting to avoid the interference from the coastal community by living further inland would be out of luck with this plan.
4. The Cal 3 proposal was incomplete with its submission.
As Newsweek pointed out at the time of the idea’s submittal to be on the ballot, the Cal 3 proposal was “sloppily written.” One of the unintentional mistakes in the plan was that Tulare County, which is in the Central Valley, was left out of the proposal entirely. Imperial County was mentioned twice in the document instead. That meant there wouldn’t have been any place for the residents of that country, even if the intent was to place them with the SoCal group. As with most ideas that are like this one in recent years, there is a rush to get the structure of the plan into place without really thinking about the quality of its structure.
5. It would require a significant government investment into new infrastructure.
California might be large and unwieldy, but it also has the infrastructure in place to support the entire population already. If the state were to be broken into three parts, then the two new states that don’t include Sacramento would need to develop new buildings and structures to support local residents. One of the benefits might be lower taxes in the future with the Cal 3 idea, but it wouldn’t happen right away. There would be complex problems to solve to ensure that everyone could still receive all of the services they require.
This issue would apply to the U.S. Postal Service and all other shipping providers. Deeds and titles would require updating. The minutia of the administrative responsibilities after making the split would have a significant cost associated with it.
6. Ideas to split the state into 3 would require a constitutional revision.
It is easier to pass constitutional amendments in California because the people can vote on propositions that take such an action. Since 1962, only constitutional conventions for the state allow for the proposal of a revision to change the document. Revisions must start and run through the legislature, but amendments can bypass everything since it operates on signature collection.
Since the outcome of this idea would create three states in total, the changes necessary to the original constitution of California makes it an unlikely outcome to consider.
7. The different regions experience unique economic conditions.
During the last cycle of recession in the United States, SoCal proved to be more resilient than the other areas of the state. The housing boom did an excellent job of providing protection to the area. At the same time, the economy in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley tanked dramatically. Even when looking at the history of economic cycles, the recession in LA during the early 1990s caused the city to decline faster and more significantly because of heavy reliance on defense-sector positions.
If California were to split into three states, the region would no longer have the same ability to reinforce lagging sectors like it can today. The adverse impacts on the economy would become more profound, while the benefits of growth would not be as profound.
8. It is a split that doesn’t make sense from an infrastructure standpoint.
The Cal 3 idea, along with most other plans that would split California into 3 or more states, look at the concept from a north/south concept. When you look at the current state of its infrastructure, you’ll see that it is more of an east/west split that would become necessary. You have Highway 101/1 running down the coast from the Oregon border into SoCal. Then there is I-5, which cuts through mountain country in the central part of the state before routing through Sacramento. Then the northeastern portion as its own structure for smaller towns like Alturas and Susanville that require unique supports.
When the physical and economic realities of splitting California into 3 states are fully analyzed, the SoCal portion should be smaller, the coastal portion should go further north, and new supports for the NoCal segment would be necessary to make this plan work.
9. The state would still be under-represented in Washington.
The current population of California is approximately 39 million people. If the Cal 3 plan were to be implemented, then the new California, NoCal, and SoCal would have 6.2 million, 6.7 million, and 7 million people respectively. Although this plan would increase representation in Washington for the region, it still wouldn’t create the same equity in a vote because of the structure of the U.S. constitution. The three new states would receive the same number of Senators as Wyoming, a place where less than 600,000 people live according to U.S. Census projections.
The transformation would shift the voice in Congress to something closer to Pennsylvania or Illinois because of how the ratio of representation to votes would work out.
10. It would hit the reset button on the state’s economy.
California has worked for the past five decades to create a system of statewide policies that make the state a healthy and happy place to live. Splitting the state into three parts would undo almost all of the work of previous generations, forcing the legislatures of each new state to hit the reset button to create their own policies. That’s why the justices agreed unanimously that the Cal 3 idea shouldn’t be on the ballot. Critics suggested that this ruling was funded by unions, Sacramento politicians, and lobbyists, but even passage would require the approval of Washington – which would be a long shot.
The reality of the Cal 3 idea is that polls before the removal of the idea from the ballot showed 70% opposition to the concept of splitting up the state. Even if the vote were allowed to proceed, the likelihood of its passage was slim at best.
The reality of California becoming three states or more instead of one is an outcome that will not happen any time soon. Since the Supreme Court of the state has already ruled that propositions to take such an action cannot appear on future ballots, the only way to create this result would be to host a constitutional convention.
From a political standpoint, conservatives don’t have much equity in this idea. It would create more liberal influences in Washington while reinforcing the progressive perspective throughout most of the region. It would create some Republican strongholds that would have more influence than today, but this structure wouldn’t offset the additional gains from Democrats.
The pros and cons of splitting California into 3 states are intriguing to think about because of how big the region has become. There are other ways to accomplish many of the benefits listed here at the state level, which is likely where the bulk of any reformation will take place.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.