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Proposal to divide California into 6 states moves step closer to voter consideration

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LOS ANGELES, Calif. - California has reached the breaking point, says Tim Draper. The Silicon Valley venture capitalist is pushing a proposal to crack the nation's most populous state into smaller pieces — six of them.

California has grown so big, so inefficient, it's essentially ungovernable, according to a ballot initiative that could reach voters as early as November.

It has to go, he says.

"Vast parts of our state are poorly served by a representative government," according to Draper's plan, which cleared a key government hurdle this week, part of the process to qualify for the ballot. California residents "would be better served by six smaller state governments."

In an interview Thursday, Draper said he has seen a state once regarded as a model slide into decline — many public schools are troubled, transportation, water and other infrastructure systems are overmatched and outdated, spending on prisons has soared.

A group of states could change that, he said, competing and co-operating with each other.

Without change "it will get worse," he warned. "California is not working."

No one would dispute that California, home to 38 million people, is full of rivalries and squabbling. Dodgers or Giants. Tacos or sushi. Where water goes, and how much of it.

But the state has proven reliably resilient against attempts to split it apart, dating to the era of its founding in 1850. Over the years, proposals have suggested California should be two states, or three, or four.

"It's certainly fun to talk about," said Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles. But "its prospects are nil."

Even if it were to be approved by voters, Congress would have to endorse the idea of creating six new states — and adding 10 senators to the chamber's political mix (as with all states, California currently has two). Congress, under the U.S. Constitution, must approve the creation or division of any states.

"I don't think anyone is going to give California 12 Senate seats," Sonenshein said.

Draper, in documents he submitted to the Secretary of State's Office, recommends dividing California regionally, including establishing a state called Silicon Valley, which would include San Francisco and nearby counties that are home to technology giants like Facebook and Apple.

Los Angeles would become part of the new state of West California, which also would include the coastal cities of Santa Barbara and Ventura. The state's farming heartland would become Central California. San Diego would be the largest city in the new South California.

Earlier this week, he received approval from the state to begin collecting petition signatures to qualify the proposal for the ballot — he needs about 808,000 by mid-July to make the cut.

It's also possible the proposal could be delayed until 2016. Facing a tight deadline to gather signatures and build political momentum, "I want to make sure there is enough time," Draper said.

The complexities of dividing a state the size of California, by itself among the world's top 10 economies, would be daunting.

What would become of the California State Water Project, which uses aqueducts and pumping stations to disperse water across the state? If the federal government approves the idea, tax collections and spending by the state would end, and its assets and debts would have to be divided.

Draper said the smaller governments would be more responsive to the needs of residents and communities, compared to Sacramento. There would be vigorous competition for residents among them, he predicted, again driving change.

Campaign veteran Matt David doubted the proposal would get far.

"California is as diverse geographically as it demographically, but ultimately we all take pride in the fact that we are Californians," said David, a Republican consultant based in Los Angeles. "Diluting that identity between six states will never happen."

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