Three Californias? Billionaire's fantasy world is on the ballot

California to vote on splitting into 3 states
California to vote on splitting into 3 states

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Jeff Yang is a frequent contributor to CNN Opinion, a featured writer for Quartz and other publications, and the co-host of the podcast "They Call Us Bruce." He co-wrote Jackie Chan's best-selling autobiography, "I Am Jackie Chan," and is the editor of three graphic novels: "Secret Identities," "Shattered" and the forthcoming "New Frontiers." The opinions expressed here are his own.

(CNN)Some billionaires want to go to Mars. Others are just desperate to redraw the everyday realities of people right here on Earth.

Tim Draper, the wealthy venture capitalist whose name comes first in the storied investment fund Draper Fisher Jurvetson, falls into the latter category. He's been trying for half a decade to carve up California, the state in which he was born and has made his fortune, into a cluster of smaller states, under the theory that more compact electoral territories are more efficient and more likely to serve the interests of local populations.
Or, at least that's the rhetoric he's relied on since his first attempt back in 2013, when he failed in his efforts to get a referendum on the ballot that would divide California into a half dozen Calittles: "Six Californias means creating six smaller states with more local and more responsive government. Six states that are more representative and accountable. Six states that embrace innovation and strive to improve the lives of residents."
What Draper glossed over? The plan would also have created a patchwork quilt of economically segregated territories that would explode the region's rich/poor divide by creating several wealthy states and several desperately poor ones.
    Fortunately, Six Californias proved to be an untenable goal, even after he spent an estimated $5 million on the quixotic campaign. And so he did what every good Silicon Valley capitalist does after failing: Pivot and try again. After cutting the number of target sub-Cals to three, he's now managed to actually get his measure, Cal 3, onto the November ballot -- albeit with a doubtful future, given that an April SurveyUSA poll found that 72% of Californians would vote against it, and just 17% would vote yes.
    And those opposing the measure have many good reasons to do so. There's the political problem: Who's going to run these three new states of Northern, Southern and Plain Ol' Vanilla California, and which party will own their new congressional and electoral representatives?
    There's the jurisdictional one: How can the state's shared resources, from public universities to water supply, be fairly allocated? What would be the impact on people who own businesses, work or attend schools in one state, but reside in another?
    And there's the one that's ultimately the most fundamental -- the problem of equity: Why should Californians outside of the Silicon Valley bubble vote to divide the state into three separate but wildly unequal slices?
    Others have noted that the Northern, Southern and POV Californias would have very different median incomes -- NorCal would have, on average, a 17% higher median income than present-day California, at $63,000 (versus $54,000 for today's version of the state). SoCal would have a 17% lower median income than current California. POV California would be about the same.
    What hasn't been discussed is the impact of the partition on the state's racial and ethnic demographics. A detailed calculation based on 2010 county-level census information (courtesy of Statistical Atlas) reveals that Northern California would be disproportionately white and Asian -- 21% more white, and over a third more Asian than present-day California, with whites making up half of the population and Asians nearly a fifth. Blacks and Hispanics would reside in POV and Southern California, both of which would be white-minority (POV California would be less than a third white, but 23% more Hispanic, 22% more black and 7% less Asian than the current state; Southern California would be about 40% white, as California is today, but 11% more Hispanic).
    In short, Draper's plan takes one pluralist, multicultural economic powerhouse of a state and slices it into a wealthy white/Asian homeland (for himself and his fellow Silicon Valley moguls to rule), alongside two brown ones -- one of which would also be among the poorer states in the nation.
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    It's not exactly a surprise, coming from a man who founded a self-named university for entrepreneurs where the works of Donald Trump and Ayn Rand are textbooks: Draper's Northern California would be a real-world Galt's Gulch from Rand's Atlas Shrugged, a secluded hideaway for his self-imagined Great Minds and Heroic Innovators, set apart from the turmoiled dark-skinned masses of the Southern reaches. It would also house the present-day state's premier private and public universities, its biggest and fastest-growing enterprises -- including Apple and Google parent Alphabet Inc., the number one and number three most valuable companies in the world -- and the bulk of its banking and investment infrastructure, and it would control the flow of water to the other two offspring.
    Draper's vanity plan may not be racist in its intent, but it amounts to a structural apartheid proposal in reality. And that, after all, is what links the dreams of the white male billionaires who want to rocket to other planets and those who want to change the maps of Earth. At the end of the day, they're secretly (and sometimes not so secretly) looking for a private world with control of valuable resources that they can remake in their own image -- free of the annoying demands for equality that women, people of color and the poor make on them in the world today.