If you were looking forward to casting a vote this fall to split California into three states, hold that thought. You may not get the chance after all.
An environmental group has petitioned the state’s highest court to strike Proposition 9, the division of California into three states initiative, from the Nov. 6 ballot.
“Proposition 9, which would make sweeping changes in our state’s basic constitutional framework, constitutes a patent misuse of California’s initiative process,” said the petition to the California Supreme Court filed on behalf of the Planning and Conservation League, a Sacramento-based nonprofit that had a hand in creating the California Environmental Quality Act.
The initiative was proposed and bankrolled by Bay Area venture capitalist Tim Draper. He argues California’s government has become too big and beholden to special interests to effectively run the Golden State, saddling residents with high taxes, home and energy costs and delivering poor roads, schools and other services.
Draper had no immediate response to the petition filing, and a spokeswoman for the Three Californias campaign said they wanted to review it before commenting.
The secretary of state certified Draper’s initiative for the November ballot on June 28, after concluding he had gathered more than 402,468 valid signatures. It needed 365,880 to qualify.
The Planning and Conservation League sees the state-splitting initiative as a threat to the regulations it fought to enact.
“Splitting up the state into three individual states would be a massive impact to the land and environmental policies we have here,” Howard Penn, the league’s executive director, said in an interview. “These are all things we worked on diligently over the past 50 years and we don’t want to have it all tossed out. From an environmental point of view, we feel it’s a huge impact.”
It’s hard to say how much appetite Californians have for dividing into smaller states. An online poll in the spring gave it long odds for approval, though it proved off the mark in gauging some primary election results.
Should voters approve, the initiative would require the governor to ask Congress to approve the split. That may prove a tall order politically, given it would triple California’s representation in the U.S. Senate while dividing its Electoral College haul in presidential elections.
California tried this once before — in 1859. With approval from voters in southern California, the Legislature asked Congress to approve their separation from their northern neighbors. Congress declined to act.
The state’s legislative analyst predicted the initiative would “almost surely be challenged in the courts” even before going to a vote. Among the legal issues raised were whether a public vote would provide legislative authority for Congress to approve the split, whether a split would impair bondholder and public employee contracts, and whether state voters could enact such a change by initiative.
The league’s petition centers on the latter question. California law allows constitutional amendments by ballot initiative, but not “revisions” that the state’s high court says would “substantially alter the basic governmental framework set forth in our constitution.”
The conservation league argues a California break-up would constitute a revision of its constitution that is beyond voters’ power to approve through an initiative.
“No initiative could properly attempt such complete dismantling of our constitutional structures,” the petition states.
The petition names Secretary of State Alex Padilla as a respondent and asks the state Supreme Court to step in and order that the initiative not appear on the ballot. Carlyle Hall, the lawyer handling the case for the conservation league, said the court could decide whether to consider the request as early as next week. If the court decides not to intervene before the election, he said, it could take up the matter later if voters approve Proposition 9.
But Penn said the conservation league hopes to keep it from getting that far. He considers the initiative “a big waste of time and money” that will divert attention from other “very important propositions on the November ballot.”
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