The Doomsday Committee

In the late 1950s, as the Cold War began to escalate, the California Legislature began to work on finding a way to allow the civil government to continue after the impending nuclear war.

 To read the reports by the California Assembly’s Subcommittee on Impact of Enemy Attack, visit our Legislative Committees Reports section.

From 1956 to 1959, the Assembly’s Subcommittee on Impact of Enemy Attack on Economy and Constitutional Government of the State of California discussed a number of steps that could be taken to preserve a civilian government (and avoid martial law) after the attack.

Although the attacks never came, many of the laws written by the committee remain in effect today, waiting to be dusted off for the day after the end o f the world;

Situation II
The scenario deemed most likely (and therefore most important to prepare for) by the Committee was named Situation II. Situation II was a four-pronged attack on California targeting Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, and San Diego. With only fifteen minutes warning, the attack was expected to leave 5 million Californians dead and 4 million homeless (California’s population was only 14 million at the time). The strike on Sacramento would likely destroy all government records stored there and leave most of the legislators and constitutional officers dead.

The Atomic Vault at Felton
A preemptive action taken by Secretary of State Frank M. Jordan was to protect what he thought were California’s most vital records. The documents; the original laws of the State of California, original journals of the Legislature, the State Constitution and Spanish Archives were microfilmed and stored in an atomic bunker near Felton (in the Santa Cruz Mountains). This bunker, was created as “Zayante Tunnel” by the Southern Pacific Railroad to carry train tracks through the mountains. The tunnel was purchased by the Western States Atomic Vault Company in 1954. It is now owned by a company named Filesafe and is used to store corporate records.

An Alternate Seat of Government
As of 1959,”the campus of Chico State College in Chico, Butte County, is designated as the alternate seat of State Government and the emergency control center for disaster relief.” The Committee looked into alternate sites before settling on a promising option; an abandoned limestone quarry near Sonora, owned by the United States Lime Products Co., could be prepared for an emergency for as little as $25,000. Rather than spend the money to convert the mine into a command center, the legislature passed AB 69 (1958) which requires that “the Governor shall designate by written proclamation an alternative temporary seat of government”. This law remains in effect today as Government Code section 450.

The Disaster Acting Governors
Prior to the committee, the line of succession for California’s Governor included just the Lieutenant Governor and Senate President pro Tem. The chairman of the committee, Assemblyman Vernon Kilpatrick, authored ACA 1X5 (1958) to allow the legislature to add other offices to the line of succession, including the statewide offices of Assembly Speaker, Secretary of State, Attorney General, Treasurer, and Controller (SB 1530 of 2008, by Senator Dennis Hollingsworth, added the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Insurance Commissioner, and Chair of the Board of Equalization to the list.) This law remains in effect today as Government Code sections 12058-59.
Additionally, the committee also authored AB 1714 (1959), which permits the Governor to appoint up to seven “Disaster Acting Governors” to take assume the office of Governor in the event that the Governor (and the rest of the line of succession) is “killed, missing or so seriously injured as to be unable to perform his duties.” This law remains in effect today as Government Code section 12050-53.

Legislators Pro Tem
In order to provide an adequate filing period for candidates and for officials to conduct an election, California law states that  special elections must be timed between “112 and 126 days after the Governor calls the election.” In order to restore a functioning civil government in the aftermath of a nuclear war, the committee wrote a law which allows for the emergency restocking of the legislature in the event that an enemy attack kills more than one-fifth of either house (8 Senators or 16 Assemblymembers).
AB 1×68 (1958) permits the Governor (or acting Governor) to appoint “legislators pro tem” to temporarily fill vacancies until a special election can take place. This law remains in effect today as Government Code section 9004.

Special Elections Timing in 2013

The 2011 Redistricting has led to a significant number of legislators who will be changing district numbers in the 2012 election. One interesting impact is in the State Senate, where the four year terms are likely to cause a number of vacancies as members jockey for their new districts. Although it’s still early to figure out exactly which legislators will end up running for which districts, one thing that we can figure out is when the special elections will be.

California’s election code says that Special General Elections (run-offs) are to be scheduled for a Tuesday between 112 and 126 days after the Governor calls the election. An extra two weeks of flex time is available because the Governor is given two weeks from the time of a vacancy to call the election.

Because Senators are unlikely to resign from their current Senate seats until after they’ve actually won the election to their new seats, the earliest that vacancies are likely to occur is the day after the 2012 General Election (which would be November 7th). The latest that a Senator is likely to resign their previous Senate seat is December 3rd, which is the first day of the new legislative session (the day they would be sworn into their new office).

If a Senator waits until December 3rd to resign their current Senate seat, and the Governor waits two weeks to call the special election, and then schedules it out as far as he can, the Special General would fall on April 16th and the Special Primary (which is 8 weeks before the General) would fall on March 12th .

If the Senator resigns on the first day after the general election (which would be November 7th), and the Governor called the election the same day, and scheduled it for as soon as possible, the Special General Election would fall on February 27th (and the primary would fall on New Years Day or Christmas). Therefore, the earliest we’re likely to see a Special Elections scheduled are March 5th (with a January 8th Special Primary).

2013 “First Round” Special Election Date Ranges
Vacancy: November 7th to December 3, 2012
Primary: January 8* to March 12, 2013
General (Run-off): March 5 to April 16, 2013

“Follow-up Special Elections” (resulting from Assemblymembers being elected to the Senate in Special Elections in the January to April range above would fall somewhere between March and September

2013 “Follow-up” Special Election Date Ranges
Vacancy: January 9th to April 30, 2013
Primary: March 12 to July 9, 2013
General (Run-off): May 7 to September 3, 2013


New One Voter now online.

Today, on the centennial of California’s initiative and referendum, we are relaunching the One Voter website. Among the new information that we’ve added are;

* A new blog covering our research of California’s political history and commentaries on current political trends

* Links to some of the most interesting legislative committee reports in California’s history

Now, one thing we would caution you about; because this website is primarily written by someone who currently works for the California Legislature, we will be trying to cut a wide berth around current events.