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Plan proceeds to split California into three states

By CHRIS CHRYSTAL

SACRAMENTO -- A radical plan has emerged in the Legislature to split California into three separate states and break up a 'bloated, totally gridlocked' government, the chief architect announced Tuesday.

The blueprint shows California's 58 counties divided into three new states, North California, Central California and South California. Their budgets and populations would be apportioned unequally, but fairly, Assemblyman Stan Statham said.

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'California has always been divided. All this does is make it legal, ' Statham told a news conference.

He asked Assembly Speaker Willie Brown to name a five-member select committee that would develop a specific plan for splitting the state three ways. If approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor, the proposal would appear on the 1994 state ballot. Once voters agreed to it, the final hurdle is congressional consent.

'This gives us a new start and a chance to do things right. It's a three-way no-fault California divorce,' said Statham, a Republican from Shasta County in the far northern part of the state.

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Brown, a San Francisco Democrat, said he has liked the idea of dividing California since 1971 and intends to appoint the select committee to study it closer.

'It's the only shot I have at (being elected) governor,' Brown quipped.

Statham conceived of the idea after his earlier plan to divide California into two states won voter support in 27 of 31 northern counties where it appeared on the June 2 primary ballot as an advisory measure.

The two-state plan separated the rural northern end of the state from all of the major urban areas, which were placed in the larger southern portion.

Rural voters liked the idea, but San Francisco and three other northern counties rejected the notion. Statham said San Francisco voters did not want their county in the southern 'state' with Los Angeles.

The revised plan puts the northernmost 28 counties, including wealthy Marin County on the west and Tuolumne County on the east, into one state with 2.3 million people.

The central California state would have 10.1 million people in 22 counties, including San Francisco and Sacramento. It would take in San Luis Obispo and Kern counties on the southern end and Mono and Inyo counties to the east.

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The southern state would have only eight counties -- Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, San Bernardino, Riverside and Imperial -- but the largest population, nearly 18 million, and the biggest budget, $27 billion.

Central California would have a budget of $15 billion, and North California's would be $3.6 billion.

California, the most populous state with 31 million people and a diverse geography, population and economy, is nearly paralyzed by political infighting and is too unwieldy to solve its problems, Statham said.

'Please don't suggest to me that three new state governments with the same number of people will be as inefficient as the bloated, totally gridlocked embarrassment that California's government is today,' he said.

Each 'state' would set up its own constitution, Legislature and state government, using existing laws until they could be changed. Sacramento might remain the state capital for Central California, if voters agreed, but the northern and southern states would have to designate their own capitals.

The plan calls for public hearings and includes a 'bill of rights' with safeguards against raising taxes, cutting education funding, charging out-of-state university tuition for students from the other two states, or changing state retirement and pension plans.

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Water also is a major issue to be reckoned with in any state split. Statham said there would be provisions to protect Southern California's water supply, which comes primarily from the north. But he acknowledged he has no control over the proposed federal transfer to the state of the huge Central Valley Project that supplies farms with irrigation.

Dividing California is an old idea, first proposed in 1851, the year after statehood. The Legislature approved a plan in 1859 that won voter consent, but died in Congress when the Civil War broke out and diverted attention.

It was revived in the 1870s and has come up off and on ever since.

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