Monday, June 17, 2019




          As president, Donald Trump has spurred many actions that could eventually threaten the health of this planet and his own American people.

          He has cut down the size of national monuments and opened new lands to oil drilling, he’s trying to eliminate California’s longstanding authority to regulate its own air quality, he’s encouraged more coal-fired power, while pulling this nation out of the Paris climate change accords, to name only a few moves.

          But the harm from all those things will likely be long term, measured in rising sea levels, thicker smog pollution and more radical shifts in weather patterns.

          Now comes a move that could directly threaten the health – even the survival – of millions of Americans at completely unpredictable times, including a goodly share of California’s populace.

          This takes the form of a proposed plan by Trump’s federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to cut back on inspections at atomic power plants, including the shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station near San Clemente and the Diablo Canyon Power Plant on a bluff near San Luis Obispo, which now produces about 9 percent of California electricity.

          Trump has filled four seats on the NRC with choices including former lobbyists for the nuclear industry and other backers of atomic deregulation.

          So it came as no surprise when the commission proposed a plan to let nuclear power plant operators like Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and the Southern California Edison Co. essentially police themselves.

          The recent history of natural gas explosions and wildfires in California demonstrates just how well these utilities have done in taking care of business safely while virtually unsupervised. Not very.

          Just now, NRC inspections seem most vital at San Onofre, where 45-ton canisters of spent fuel with atomic half-lives in the eon-length category are being stored on shelves in a facility 108 feet from a state beach popular with surfers.

          Edison, the plant operator, tried to keep a lid on news of one canister almost falling off a shelf and plummeting 18 feet to the floor of the utility’s “temporary” waste storage facility. The 2018 incident only came to light when a plant worker mentioned it in a public meeting.

          Essentially, the nuclear industry backs that secretive approach by Edison. Scaling back disclosure of problems at nuclear plants, top executives say, is “more responsible than to put out a headline on the web to the world.”

          Maybe some residents near nuclear plants agree, even if they live in the 50-mile-range that radioactive fallout could conceivably cover in a power plant accident on the scale of Russia’s failed Chernobyl plant.

          Consumer groups demur. “The deregulatory agenda at (the Trump administration) is a significant concern,” said Geoffrey Fettus of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “For an industry that is increasingly under financial decline to take regulatory authority away from the NRC puts us on a collision course with a nuclear accident,” adds the anti-nuclear group Beyond Nuclear.

          In short, the industry and its advocates in today’s government recommend a see-no-evil, speak-no-evil attitude toward possible radiation dangers.

          But the history of California’s atomic plant operators – from the “mirror-image” problem that saw Diablo Canyon initially built backwards to the Edison blunder that led to San Onofre’s 2012 shutdown – indicates they need all the supervision they can get.

          Yet, the industry worries that when the NRC makes problems public, they “get pretty rapid calls from the press…” and rate increase requests can also be adversely affected, said Greg Halnon, an executive of Ohio-based FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Co.

          Certainly the reputations of Edison and PG&E have been affected by their responsibility for wildfires, a multi-fatal explosion, gas leaks and other accidents. So far, their rates have not suffered for any of this.

          But there is no way Congress or Americans in general should tolerate deregulating nuclear power plants and their potential dangers just so the companies can make more money and enjoy better public images.

          That would without doubt make public policy, as a rookie congresswoman infamously put it recently while discussing another subject, “all about the Benjamins.”
    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit




          Build 3.5 million new dwelling units by 2025 and California’s housing shortage will be solved, Gov. Gavin Newsom prescribed during his campaign last year and several times since.

Dense building near transit lines and light rail stations is the best way to reach that goal, others contend, claiming that will also cut gridlock on many streets and freeways.

Californians have been told all this for more than two years by vocal officials like San Francisco’s Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener, author of the proposed zoning-override law known as SB 50, who rails against single-family residences and the local zoning that protects them.

No one doubts this state has a severe housing crisis, with at least 100,000 homeless individuals living on the streets and millions more unable to buy homes even at “affordable” prices.

          But the simple formulae peddled by many state politicians may not hold water.

          That’s the startling upshot of statistics reported the other day by the Irvine real estate information firm MetroStudy. First-quarter data from the usually accurate company showed 3,750 newly-built homes went unsold in Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties during the first quarter of this year.

          That left unsold housing inventory up 22 percent from last year and 37 percent above the five-year average. It is causing a slowdown in construction, with new home development down 18 percent from last year.

          This will hardly let California achieve any rise from last year’s level of 77,000 new housing units, let alone get to the annual level of 350,000 or more so eagerly anticipated by Newsom and others.

          The reasons for this are varied, but clear. One is economics. When it costs more than $425,000 to build an average apartment or condominium in a 100-unit project (the 2016 cost), most units must be sold for more than $600,000 apiece in order to push the price of so-called “affordable” units within each project down to $350,000 or less, if developers are to make any profit. That’s simple math. And if developers don’t profit, they won’t build anything, no matter what Newsom urges.

          The current surplus of new housing shows there may not be enough qualified potential buyers and renters today who can afford the desired new units, even “affordable” ones. The obvious question: without buyers and renters, who’s going to build all that expensive new housing?

          It might have to be government, if things continue as they are. But government would need about $200 billion to reach Newsom’s long-term housing goals if development costs remain steady. How likely are voters to okay that much in new bonds or taxes?

          Then there’s the steady increase in the number of existing homes listed for sale, up this spring by about 23 percent from last year as owners try to cash in on boomtime real estate prices. Older homes often draw more potential buyers than new housing because they generally cost a bit less than comparable new ones with ultra-modern appliances and solar panels.

          All this leads to questions about who would put up the four- and eight-story buildings in Wiener’s stalled plan for dense housing.

          With today’s inventory levels, why would developers help that effort, especially if denser, smaller new urban units begin competing for buyers and renters with new housing in the far suburbs?

          Then there’s the Newsom/Wiener theory that denser housing can lessen traffic because virtually all new residents will ride mass transit.

          This has never happened in California, but the idea nevertheless persists. It will soon get a major test in both Northern and Southern California, where big new apartment and condo developments are nearing the sales and rental stage very near Bay Area Rapid Transit stations in Oakland and Metro Rail stops in Los Angeles.

          Will buyers and renters for most of those new units appear quickly? With parking-space requirements reduced from prior levels, will the new units take traffic off the streets and freeways, or will things just get more crowded?

          And if things don’t work out according to the Wiener/Newsom theories, will they change their approach and look for something that might really work?
Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

Monday, June 10, 2019




          Suddenly, California has gone from irrelevant, ignored and unvisited to vitally important, thoroughly analyzed and swamped with tourists dressed up like presidential candidates and their aides.

          Nowhere was that more obvious than at the state Democratic Party convention early this month, a gathering that has lately seen nothing bigger than in-house fights over who would be the next state party chairman, a job with little influence over public policy.

          But this year, 14 presidential candidates staged a cattle call in San Francisco. But not until they’d already campaigned everywhere from San Diego and Los Angeles to Oakland, Fresno and the Silicon Valley.

          This shift can be traced solely to a date change – with a little boost along the way from California’s uniquely open elections. The change was completely predictable when state legislators two years ago switched the 2020 California primary from early June to the first Tuesday in March.

          The move potentially puts California into the most influential spot it has held since George McGovern and Hubert Humphrey fought here for the 1972 Democratic nomination, crisscrossing California for weeks in an era when few other states had primaries. Back then, it was mostly party officials who decided the presidential nominations.

          As more and more states created primaries and caucuses, California left its vote in early June. So presidential candidates ignored this state except when they needed to refill their money bags. Then they came here hat in hand, but engaged almost exclusively with the wealthiest Californians, with big-dollar fund-raisers in the Silicon Valley and West Los Angeles their most frequent venues.

          Things are very different now. For one thing, California Democrats will not simply hold one large vote. Yes, dozens of Democratic National Convention delegates will be awarded based on the statewide tally. But there will also be 53 smaller primaries, between four and six delegates at stake in every congressional district.

          Little-known and poorly-financed candidates thus can practice retail politics here, in contrast to the TV commercials, Internet and social media employed in other statewide California elections. Rural and suburban Northern California districts dominated by Republican voters can now play significant roles in Democratic politics, if candidates go there. Chances are, any Democrat spending significant time and energy in those areas can pick up more delegates than they could with a marginal performance in the Iowa caucuses.

          The moved-up primary also means Californians can start voting by mail and in early-voting centers around the same time Iowans are negotiating January snowstorms en route to rowdy caucuses in high school gyms and junior high multi-purpose rooms. Knowing this, expect major TV and Internet activity to begin here around the middle of the fall football season.

          The new timing will bring a sea change in Californians’ political experiences, just when the state’s switch to a mostly-mail voting system makes another type of change.

          Into this brave new California world come a score of Democrats who think they’d make fine presidents. Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders has been here several times already and will be back more often as the year goes on, a big change from 2016, when he didn’t get here until after his second-place primary fate was settled.

          Former Vice President Joseph Biden, who didn’t attend the state Democratic convention, will be here plenty.

          California Sen. Kamala Harris figures to meet far more voters and venture into places she never went while running twice for state attorney general and once for the Senate. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who wants to break up Silicon Valley’s near monopolies like Google and Facebook and others like will come face to face with some of their employees, whose fate she wants to change dramatically.

          Current second-tier candidates like former Texas Congressman Robert (Beto) O’Rourke and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg will get plenty of chances to move up into the first tier.

          So will many others now pulling 1 percent or less in the polls.

          Which means moving up the primary sees California moving on up in many ways, from gaining political clout to drawing hundreds of millions of campaign dollars. All of it can do nothing but good for this state.


    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit




Until now, the California Public Utilities Commission has appeared to work responsibly at minimizing future wildfire risks in this thoroughly singed state, certifying new safety plans from electric companies it regulates and imposing a few fines where the big utilities have been found negligent.

          But those moves and a unanimous PUC vote in 2017 to hold one company financially responsible for helping cause one of the huge fires that plague this state might be no more than a smokescreen. The aim, it appears, has been to make the commission and the utilities whose wishes it usually carries out look like responsible public servants, when that may not be true.

          This was the upshot of a waiver filed quietly with the U.S. Supreme Court late last month by PUC lawyer Christine Jun Hammond and an follow-up from another PUC attorney three weeks later. The first document was Hammond’s response to an attempt by the San Diego Gas & Electric Co. to get the high court to hear its appeal of the 2017 decision. The ruling held the company liable for losses in the 2007 Witch, Guejito and Rice fires. “I do not intend to file a response,” Hammond’s form letter said. Without PUC opposition, it’s much more likely the Supreme Court will eventually give SDG&E its way.

          The second PUC letter asks the court for another month to respond, apparently contradicting Hammond. Suddenly there’s confusion about what this commission really wants.

          Here’s the background to the legal maneuvering, which has huge implications for how damages will be apportioned from many subsequent fires. These include the Camp, Thomas, Carr, Woolsey, Mendocino Complex and Wine Country fires of 2017 and 2018. Companies like Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison have accepted some blame for most of those.

          At a moment when high winds propelled wildfires across California early in December 2017, the PUC unanimously held SDG&E would have to pay more than $379 million in uninsured costs from the fires that devastated large parts of San Diego County ten years earlier. The blazes destroyed more than 1,300 homes and killed two persons. SDG&E has tried ever since to fob much of the cost onto all its customers, including people whose homes burned.

          State investigators found SDG&E failed to properly maintain equipment or trim tree branches and chaparral growing near power lines before the infernos began. The company and its insurers paid more than $2 billion in claims, but it wants customers to foot almost all other bills.

          No, said the PUC in a uniquely (for it) consumer-oriented decision. This was utility negligence. That’s essentially what state authorities also found about utility conduct before several of the later blazes, so the SDG&E decision bore huge implications for other utilities. If the decision stands, it could cost them many billions of dollars. Like SDG&E, they want to make all their customers into financial fire victims.

          So PG&E and Edison filed court briefs as SDG&E appealed the ruling. All the companies falsely claimed the assessment against SDG&E was due to “inverse condemnation,” a concept in state law that holds utilities responsible for fire damage even when they don’t cause it.

          But the SDG&E decision was about corporate negligence, not inverse condemnation. The PUC could have defeated the utility argument by simply pointing this out and urging the high court to uphold the PUC ruling by not taking the case.

          It might not do this, the Hammond waiver makes clear. The PUC also initially claimed to represent all victims of the 2007 fires, another untruth. But before San Diego lawyer Michael Aguirre, who has long represented some fire victims, knew about that claim, the false statement had been circulated to all Supreme Court justices, who will decide this summer whether to take the case.

           “The utilities are trying to make other people pay the bills for damage they caused,” Aguirre said.  “If they win this case, it will be a precedent for all the other fires.”

          This could be yet another case of the PUC carrying water for companies it’s supposed to regulate. “It’s a backdoor effort by the PUC to get the customers to pay all the bills,” Aguirre said. He might be dead-on right.

    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

Monday, June 3, 2019




          If there’s one California hero during this year of America’s most virulent measles outbreak in several decades, it is state Sen. Richard Pan, a Sacramento Democrat and the only pediatrician in the state Legislature. He’s a doctor bent on saving lives.

          A Pan-inspired law that already aims to make vaccinations against diseases like measles, whooping cough and polio nearly universal in this state has likely saved California from a far worse measles epidemic than it otherwise might have had.

          But a potential obstacle has now emerged to Pan’s newest effort: Gov. Gavin Newsom implied this month he might veto Pan’s current attempt to close a loophole in his previous bill. “I don’t want someone that the governor… appointed to make a decision for me and my family,” Newsom said. “I back immunizations, however, I do have concerns about a bureaucrat making a decision that is very personal.”

          Newsom seemed to imply it’s OK for parents to deal with crooked doctors writing medical waivers willy-nilly, often for $300 or so. He sounded a bit like ex-Gov. Jerry Brown once did in vetoing an early effort to eliminate parents’ right to say their religions forbid vaccinations – even when they had no religion. Brown later recanted after a large measles outbreak, signing Pan’s current ban on religious exemptions.

          At one point this spring, more than 950 measles cases were reported nationally, 40 in California. The state number is the highest since the 1990s, with the year only half gone, but it’s far less than the 10 percent or so of cases nationwide that California’s populace would expect without Pan’s 2015 law, eventually signed by Brown.

          Under that law, only medical reasons can exempt public school pupils from meeting vaccination requirements before they register at various grade levels.

          This law has held down the measles outbreak, but the pesky medical exemption loophole remains. A network of anti-vaccination activists now informs parents about doctors willing to sign medical waivers, some not even examining the children involved.

          Such signatures are concentrated among relatively few physicians, some of whom believe the widespread, unproven calumny that vaccinations will cause autism and other negative consequences for children.

          Never mind the deaths and brain damage that measles and other preventable diseases definitely do cause. Back in 1963, among 50,000 measles patients in this country, more than 400 died, with about 1,000 suffering brain damage.

          This means parents who try to exempt their kids from vaccinations are not merely making personal choices, but put at serious risk other kids who legitimately cannot be vaccinated safely, as with organ transplant patients.

          Pan seeks to close the existing loophole by requiring the state health department – the bureaucrats Newsom deplores – to vet all medical exemptions signed by doctors. This would create a database revealing which doctors grant large numbers of exemptions. The Voice of San Diego news website reported this year that one physician signed almost one-third of all waivers in the 130,000-student San Diego Unified district.

          Critics of Pan’s new bill, SB 276, worry that breaches of state computers could result in wide publication of children’s medical histories. And it’s true that California hospitals have suffered data burglaries, some with loss of patient privacy.

          That risk, though, is vastly outweighed by the possibility of a far more serious epidemic than California has recently experienced. And there have been other outbreaks in recent years. As recently as 2010, California saw 9,120 cases of whooping cough, also known as pertussis. Ten infants too young to be vaccinated died, with the disease spreading mainly in places where relatively low percentages of kids were inoculated.

          Should a similar number of measles cases break out here, consequences could be even more deadly, and much more long-lasting because of brain damage caused by that disease.

          What happens where laws are not as tight as California’s now are, and far less stringent than what Pan seeks? In Europe last year, 83,000 persons caught measles and 72 died.

          No one can quarrel with the massively pernicious potential of the diseases involved. So parents who continue defying vaccination rules are committing one of the ultimate acts of selfishness. Newsom should overcome his qualms and help rid California of the current loophole.

    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit




          Listening to the pro-housing passion of Scott Wiener, the Democratic state senator from San Francisco sponsoring what was arguably the most important bill before the state Legislature this year, you become more convinced than ever of the reality of California’s housing problem.

          “One of every 20 of our schoolchildren is homeless today because of high rents,” he cries. “People are moving out of state because they can’t afford either to buy or rent anywhere near their jobs. These are among the many human costs of our lack of enough housing.”

          He’s right. There is a crisis when the average California family can’t come close to affording to buy a house and vast numbers can’t afford to rent near their jobs.

          Wiener uses numbers to illustrate the problem: “When California had 15 million people in the 1950s, we built 250,000 housing units every year. Now we are almost three times as big, but last year we built just 77,000 new units.” That just won’t cut it, he says.

One political consequence: California will almost certainly lose at least one, maybe two congressional seats and electoral votes after the 2020 Census, even if all undocumented immigrants get counted. Housing costs and unavailability are keeping population growth so low this is assured.

          Sadly, though Wiener clearly understands the problem well, the solution he offered via his stalled SB 50 zoning nullification bill is the wrong answer. That’s partly because as much as Wiener wants to solve the housing shortage, he wants to end most single-family residential zoning just as badly.

          SB50, which cleared two state Senate committees with ease before its delay, would do that. “We have to legalize apartment buildings, condominiums and affordable housing everywhere, not have 80 percent of all our buildable land zoned for only single family housing,” he said the other day.

          SB 50 would do that if it returns in its latest form. It allows high-rise building within half a mile of light rail stations and within a quarter mile of frequently-used bus routes. That could make virtually all of Fresno, Clovis, Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego County look a lot like the Castro District of San Francisco, where Wiener has lived more than 20 years, filled with three-, four- and five-story walkups.

          Trouble is, many millions of Californians have invested their life savings in single family homes, which lose much of their value when high rises overlook their backyards, as Wiener’s bill would mandate. Even if an area is not now classed as near a frequent bus route, political pressure on transit executives could add one or two new busses per hour to unqualifying routes, enough to make them eligible for unlimited dense development.

          Virtually all California cities outside counties with 600,000 or fewer residents (exempted from SB50 because Wiener needed committee votes from some of their state senators) opposed this measure. Meanwhile, it’s clear why building trades unions, the state chamber of commerce and developers dearly love the proposal. It’s all about the bucks for both sides of this issue, homeowners and cities want to preserve their investments, the others seek to create thousands of high-paying new jobs and high-rent apartments.

          As destructive as SB 50 would be to the sprawling single-family neighborhoods that attracted vast numbers of today’s Californians to the state, something still needs to be done about the housing shortage.

          It turns out other solutions would not be nearly as disruptive:

n  Build out the high speed rail project, thus reducing commute times from remote locations where housing is much cheaper than in job centers along the coast.

n  Infill building, where dense housing could be permitted on empty land within urban areas.

n  Compel developers of currently-planned high rise buildings to include more below-market-rate affordable units, both apartment rentals and condos.

n  Offer incentives to companies that move jobs now located in the hyper-expensive Silicon Valley and other coastal counties inland, where land and homes are relatively cheap.

      Other creative ideas also exist. Wiener and SB 50 have no monopoly on ideas. Give the measure credit for spurring needed movement and creativity, but making it law would be a whole different, destructive thing.

     Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, go to

Friday, May 24, 2019




          The days when oil companies could credibly deny they gouge California drivers in fairly regular cycles should now be over.

          Just three years ago, reports from the Consumer Watchdog advocacy group thoroughly documented how record profits for gasoline refiners like Chevron and Valero coincided with record-high pump prices throughout this state.

          The quarterly profit statements for this spring are not in for the same firms and other, smaller refiners, but it’s almost certain they will once again be near or above past records. That’s because gas pump prices jumped this spring into ranges well above $4 per gallon for unleaded regular, without much visible causation.

          Even after prices subsided slightly in late May and early June, money continued to roll into oil company coffers.

          All this still remains a mystery to some. Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered the state Energy Commission to investigate why California gas prices rose to levels more than $1 dollar a gallon higher than averages elsewhere in America except isolated Hawaii, where oil and gas arrives by ocean-going tankers rather than pipelines. The preliminary conclusion: market manipulation may have played a role. You don’t say.

          Some politicians regularly blame the state’s high gas taxes, which rose almost two years ago by 12 cents per gallon to help pay for highway, environmental and greenhouse-gas-related improvements.

          But that 12 cents doesn’t even begin to account for the far larger differential between California prices and those almost everywhere else.

          Newsom’s complaint somehow makes this seem like a new problem. It’s not, but the fact of a governor investigating is new.

          In fact, two years ago, the state’s Petroleum Market Advisory Committee found California has had a “continuous and significant unexplained differential compared to the rest of the country.” Oh, but it’s not unexplained at all. Reality is this is purely the result of price gouging by an industry that has long had California in a difficult spot.

          Never mind that some so-called experts at UC Berkeley have called the entire scene a “mystery,” noting that California’s higher taxes account for no more than 70 percent of its gas price differential.

          Consolidation of the refining industry into essentially three corporate hands – Chevron, Valero and Phillips 66 – has allowed the companies to keep this state’s reserve stocks lower than anywhere else in the lower 48 states.

          As far back as six years ago, Consumer Watchdog reported that the rest of the continental U.S. has about 24 days supply of gasoline on hand at any given time, while California averages between 10 days and 13 days.

          Shorter reserves mean that anytime there’s even a slight glitch, the refiners can claim an impending shortage and raise their prices. A refinery fire that’s put out quickly, with repairs made within a few days, can therefore cause price increases to reverberate for months.

          Said Consumer Watchdog, “It’s happened before and will happen again and again because the California refinery owners can make more money by making less gasoline.”

          How long do these things last? In 2015, a refinery blaze in a Torrance refinery sent prices upward. They never reverted to pre-fire levels, despite reconstruction and repairs.

          Now Newsom has ordered the Energy Commission to investigate possible “inappropriate industry practices.” That’s a very appropriate demand of that commission. The question: Will Newsom let his order be either ignored or procrastinated on, with inaction the result?

          Yes, whenever gas prices skyrocket, the Western States Petroleum Association invariably says it’s a one-off event and that “dynamics of supply and demand are responsible…”

          That last part is certainly true… but it leaves out the fact that the refiners control gasoline supply, while demand is very predictable, seasonal travel habits a major part of the picture.

          At UC Berkeley, they call the extra money collected during gasoline price surges an “unexplained surcharge.”

          But the explanation has been clear for years, even if state authorities are just beginning to realize it: This is the result of oil company manipulation and profiteering.

          One thing California plainly needs: a new law forcing disclosure of all California refiners’ profits, with complete transparency the goal. If the Legislature won’t create such a law, the people should, via a ballot initiative.

    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit