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Voters will decide whether to break California into three states in November

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If ballot measure passes, LA would be part of a much smaller California

California coast
If the ballot measure passes, Los Angeles would be part of a new—smaller—state of California.
Rolf_52 | Shutterstock

It’s official: California voters will decide later this year whether to divide the state into three new states, tentatively called Northern California, Southern California, and California.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla confirmed Tuesday that supporters of the Cal 3 ballot measure had gathered enough signatures to qualify the dramatic proposal for the November ballot.

Under the boundaries drawn by the measure’s authors, Los Angeles County would be part of the new state of California. The smallest of the three states in terms of both area and population, it would also include Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, San Benito, and Monterey counties.

Other parts of the Southland, including the counties of Orange, San Bernardino, and Riverside, would be part of the new state of Southern California. Northern California would include the Bay Area, Sacramento, and the rural counties in the northernmost part of the state.

Congress would still have to approve the plan; if it does, each state would have its own government, laws, and budget.

That could further complicate a long list of issues affecting multiple parts of the state—from water rights to disaster preparedness. California’s much-delayed high-speed rail project would suddenly need to cross through three states.

On a local level, it would further isolate Los Angeles County from its southern and inland neighbors. Many residents would find themselves traveling to another state for work, and new or significantly overhauled agencies would oversee maintenance and construction of freeways and commuter rail lines.

Three Californias map California Legislative Analyst’s Office

Key state funding for transit projects, affordable housing, and infrastructure would also have to be replaced or re-approved.

Venture capitalist Tim Draper, who is the primary backer of the Cal 3 measure, argues those headaches would be worthwhile. In an April announcement, Draper said that dividing the state into three parts would allow for greater “representation, responsiveness, reliability, and regional identity” across California.

This isn’t the first time Draper has backed a plan to break up the state. The wealthy investor also proposed a similar ballot measure in 2014, which would have divided California into six states. Supporters were unable to gather enough signatures to qualify it for the ballot.

As the state’s legislative analyst points out in a review of the new measure, the state nearly broke apart in 1859, when the California legislature agreed to allow Southern California (including Los Angeles) to separate from the northern part of the state. The plan never gained approval from Congress.