In a welcome bit of relief, California will avoid a convoluted, messy and completely unnecessary battle this November over breaking up the Golden State.
The California Supreme Court decided Wednesday to pull Proposition 9 — the initiative to break California into three states — off the November ballot. At least for now, state residents will be spared from having to consider this crackpot idea from a magnate with enough money to put his pet project before the voters.
The justices said their unusual intervention was necessary “because significant questions have been raised regarding the proposition’s validity and because we conclude that the potential harm in permitting the measure to remain on the ballot outweighs the potential harm in delaying the proposition to a future election.”
The court will decide later whether the measure is constitutional. If it is, the three Californias question will go on a future ballot. If it isn’t — as several legal scholars have argued — then hopefully this will be the end of Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper’s efforts to slice up the state.
Three Californias is actually Draper’s second self-funded attempt to divide the state, which he says has become too big to govern. Two years ago he proposed an amendment to the state Constitution dividing the state into six parts but failed to gather enough signatures. In neither case has he offered any data showing that smaller states are better governed, or that splitting California would lead, as he promises it will, to lower taxes or higher-quality public education.
Under the latest proposal, the new states — which would need congressional approval — would take over the public assets within their boundaries and inherit equal shares of the current state’s debt.
Three Californias was a proposed statutory change, which required significantly fewer signatures to qualify than a constitutional amendment. But critics say that’s where Draper went awry. They argue the measure was a significant enough change to the state’s governance structure that it amounted to a proposed revision of the state Constitution, which can be placed on the ballot only if two-thirds of both houses of the Legislature approve. That didn’t happen.
Nor should it happen. Californians have real issues to confront — a housing crisis, increasing economic inequality, the state’s contribution to global climate change. Voters and their representatives have far better ways to use their time than debating a facile and potentially unfulfillable proposal to carve California into three states.