Monday, January 21, 2019

BOBBY BEAUSOLEIL POSES FIRST PAROLE TEST FOR NEWSOM


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 8, 2019 OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
“BOBBY BEAUSOLEIL POSES FIRST PAROLE TEST FOR NEWSOM”


          Not many Californians under 60 can recall just who is the 71-year-old Bobby Beausoleil and what evils he did back in his youth.


          But the onetime Charles Manson “Family” member will now provide a first test of how new Gov. Gavin Newsom will treat paroles for the most heinous criminals among California’s prison population.


          It’s almost impossible that Newsom, born in late 1967, could personally remember the Manson Family murder spree of summer 1969. The then-toddler Newsom resided hundreds of miles away at the time, unlike predecessor Jerry Brown, who lived in the Laurel Canyon section of Los Angeles and likely felt the same fears as other Angelenos after the Mansons’ brutal Sharon Tate murders two canyons to the west.


          It’s an open question whether an old crime like this could have the same impact on him that Brown’s memories did on his actions and words.


          Because the state Parole Board only days before Newsom’s inauguration granted Beausoleil’s 19th request for prison release, Newsom now faces a choice that could cost some of the popularity that gave him a 62-38 percent election margin last fall.


          It’s hard to find a killer more brutal than Beausoleil or one more manipulable by another criminal plotter.


          Even though Beausoleil has behaved well in prison and is now almost 50 years older than when he committed at least one of the Manson murders, Newsom would be wise to follow Brown’s reasoning for refusing parole in 2014 to another Manson murderer, Bruce Davis: “In rare circumstances,” Brown wrote, “a murder is so heinous that it provides evidence of dangerousness by itself.”


          Here’s how Beausoleil put himself into that category:


          The killer told a magazine reporter 12 years later that before the Manson gang became notorious, while they were still mere squatters on the Spahn Movie Ranch near the Santa Susanna Pass between Los Angeles and Ventura counties, he unknowingly supplied a batch of bad mescaline to the Straight Satans motorcycle gang which then operated in western Los Angeles County.


          The drugs came from Gary Hinman, a Malibu musician. When the Satans demanded their money back, Beausoleil went to Hinman’s house to get it, along with two fellow Manson acolytes, Mary Brunner and Susan Atkins. They demanded cash to appease the Satans. Hinman said he had none; Beausoleil phoned Manson on the Spahn Ranch. Manson ordered Beausoleil to hold Hinman at his house until Manson could get there.


          Upon arrival, Manson sliced off one of Hinman’s ears with a sword, an incentive to come up with cash he’d said he did not have. Brunner and Atkins, later convicted in other Manson crimes, sewed the ear back on with dental floss. Manson then told Beausoleil to kill Hinman and make it look like part of a race war he would later call “Helter Skelter.” After Manson left, Beausoleil fatally stabbed Hinman, then wrote the words “Political Piggy” on a wall in Hinman’s blood. He also left a bloody cat-like paw print.


          Beausoleil fled. He was arrested after falling asleep while parked in Hinman’s car along U.S. 101 between San Luis Obispo and Atascadero.


          Newsom now has until late May to decide among several choices on Beausoleil: He can uphold the parole, reverse it or send it back to the Parole Board for further review. If he does nothing, the parole moves ahead.


          Few in the early 1970s doubted that Beausoleil, Manson, Atkins and others in their grisly crew deserved the death sentences they first received, later changed to life in prison.


          There are some other geriatric imprisoned killers whose crimes could also fit the Brown “dangerousness” description, including Edmund Kemper, the Santa Cruz area’s “Coed Killer” of the 1970s; Juan Corona, who killed 25 farm workers near the Feather River in the 1970s, or Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris, who raped, kidnapped, tortured and murdered five young women in 1979 in Southern California.


          But Manson Family members remain the most notorious of California killers, so what Newsom does with Beausoleil will symbolize his attitude toward serious crime and possible forgiveness or redemption.


         
    -30-
    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. 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 www.californiafocus.net.

NEWSOM BECOMES A MAIN FACE OF ANTI-TRUMP ‘RESISTANCE’


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 5, 2019 OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “NEWSOM BECOMES A MAIN FACE OF ANTI-TRUMP ‘RESISTANCE’”


          No sooner had Gavin Newsom taken the oath of office as governor than he made it clear he will not fear becoming the new face of the national “resistance” to President Trump.


          Before Newsom took office, plenty of other Democrats were fighting Trump’s policies, which aim to reverse multiple environmental and social policies designed by both Democratic and Republican presidents of the last 50 years.


          In his own state, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris assiduously set herself up to run for president with pointed questioning of Trump appointees for many offices. At the same time, Burbank Congressman Adam Schiff resisted Trump strongly when he was only the minority leader on the House Intelligence Committee; now he’s the chairman. And there’s House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, tweaking the president almost daily.


          On the legal side, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra leads resisters, with more than four dozen surprisingly successful lawsuits against Trump on subjects from birth control to immigration and the environment.


          But as governor of the nation’s largest state, Newsom can command more resistance impact than anyone else in America, far more than he did in his previous job as lieutenant governor and much more than ex-Gov. Jerry Brown ever cared to exert on any issue but climate change.


          Sensing Newsom’s potential, Trump early in last year’s campaign started jabbing him via Twitter, tweeting – among other insults – that Newsom is a “clown.”



          But Trump wasn’t laughing after Newsom’s inaugural speech, where the new governor never mentioned the president by name, but still lambasted him. In just his third paragraph, Newsom called Trump’s administration “hostile to California’s values and interests.” He promised to “ensure a decent standard of living for all,” something Trump never mentions. Newsom described “powerful forces arrayed against us,” another Trump reference.


          Still not mentioning Trump, he said “Washington failed on the epochal challenge of climate change” and declared “kids…shouldn’t be ripped away from their parents at the border.”


          It was an anti-Trump speech covering almost every front where the president has met strong opposition and Trump responded quickly.


Taking Newsom’s cue, the president didn’t mention the governor, whom he last encountered amid the ashes of Paradise after the Camp Fire last November. But within a day of Newsom’s swearing in, he threatened to stop Federal Emergency Management Agency money for fire victims and prevention in California. Days later, detailing which $5 billion he might use to fund the border wall he badly wants, Trump again hit California. If the president declares a national emergency on the border, his administration said, about half that money could come from California dam repair and renewal projects approved by Congress.


          It was likely no accident these threats came just after Newsom’s speech.


          But Newsom showed no signs of being cowed. He quickly tweeted that Trump’s threats were “partisan bickering…Pres. Trump’s go-to is governing by fear and division,” then blasted Trump over the border wall and the partial federal government closure.eHe  A few days later, he defied federal authorities by inviting federal airport security employees going broke in the federal government shutdown to apply for state unemployment benefits.


          Trump also drew fire for his threats from California Republican politicians in areas affected by last fall’s big fires. Said Republican Assemblyman Kevin Kiley of Rocklin, “FEMA funds must not become bargaining chips in political arguments.” Republican Assemblyman James Gallagher, who represents the devastated Paradise, called Trump’s threats “wholly unacceptable.”


          But Trump buddy and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield said nothing, even though his district includes the fragile Lake Isabella dam that would not get needed repairs under Trump’s border wall scenario.

  
          Newsom apparently feels he has little to lose and a lot to gain from Trump threats as he carves out a more and more visible slot at the head of the resisters. He could be setting himself up for a possible run of his own for president. But that can work out only if he also leads successfully and quickly on items like the potential breakup of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and the ongoing Los Angeles teachers strike.


    -30-
    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. 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 www.californiafocus.net

Monday, January 14, 2019

GOP HOPEFULS WOULD UPDATE TACTICS, NOT MESSAGE


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 1, 2019, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “GOP HOPEFULS WOULD UPDATE TACTICS, NOT MESSAGE”


          California Republicans have been predictably disconsolate since their election debacle of last fall, when Democrats swept them from every contested California seat in Congress and won complete control of state government for at least the next two years.


          The GOP gets its first chance to do something about that in its late February state convention in Sacramento, where the main order of business will be to replace the party’s current state chair, the affable former state Sen. Jim Brulte.


          A hotly contested race for this potentially significant slot features one moderate and two ultra-conservatives, all advocating change for their party. But none appears willing to accept the reality that until it changes its message, this state’s Republican Party can hope for little more than recovering one or two of the congressional seats it lost in November and perhaps cutting Democratic majorities in both houses of the Legislature a tad below two-thirds.


          That’s a far cry from the GOP glory days of the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s, when Republicans controlled the governor’s office for 20 years and briefly held a majority in the state Assembly.


          Returning to those kinds of electoral performances will require more than the tactical changes advocated by today’s hopefuls for the chairmanship, the relatively moderate former Torrance Assemblyman David Hadley, the right-leaning ex-Orange County Assemblyman Travis Allen and blogger and campaign manager Steve Frank, a former head of the volunteer California Republican Assembly.


          Hadley, the party’s current No. 2 official, was the early favorite to succeed Brulte, but Allen and Frank are campaigning hard and reportedly cutting into his edge, noting the ineffective performance of the state GOP’s present leadership.


          “Somebody needs to revive this party,” said Frank, who has worked with local candidates from San Diego in the south to Del Norte County on the Oregon border. “In this last election, there really was no Republican message. We need to go after not just Republican voters, but California voters of all kinds. We need to stress quality public education including school choice. We need to stress public safety and everyone’s right to safe streets and homes. And we need to push for lower taxes. Every dollar of tax is a dollar’s less freedom.”


          Allen, who placed fourth in last spring’s primary election run for governor, stresses failures by past GOP managers. “The party has been devastated by 20 years of failure by the Republican establishment, culminating in one of the worst election losses in our state’s history. This short-changes people who deserve a better state.”


          Both challengers to Hadley insist their party is demoralized and, as Allen says, “has not effectively registered voters in many years, while the Democrats have industriously schemed to take over California by giving drivers licenses to illegal immigrants, legalizing ballot harvesting and other practices financed by left-wingers like Tom Steyer, Michael Bloomberg and George Soros.” The three are all billionaire backers of Democrats.


          Hadley, meanwhile, says the fall election was “a forceful reminder of how much work we have to do to change the politics of the Golden State.”


          None of the three mentions anything about distancing the state party from President Trump, whose unpopularity in California was a key election factor.


          Allen and Frank both say Republicans need to adopt some techniques used by Democrats last fall, especially ballot harvesting, in which paid party workers went door-to-door helping voters fill out and sign absentee ballots, then took responsibility for turning them in. This practice, illegal before California law changed in a 2016 party-line legislative vote, was one reason ballots counted after Election Night leaned so strongly Democratic.


          “We need to use that same practice and take it to a new level,” said Frank. “For example, we should be urging evangelical voters to bring absentee ballots to their churches, help them fill them out there and then help them mail in or file those ballots. We could have done it last fall, but we never take advantage of churches where a lot of congregants share our values.”


          And yet…all this will remain in the category of big talk until Republicans create an appealing, positive message and actually take advantage of the new election laws.


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    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. 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 www.californiafocus.net

WHO COULD BENEFIT WHEN BIGGEST UTILITY FALLS APART?


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, JANUARY 29, 2019 OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS

   “WHO COULD BENEFIT WHEN BIGGEST UTILITY FALLS APART?”


          If there’s one classic line in the controversial movie “Vice,” it probably comes early in the film, when then-Vice President Richard Cheney is portrayed thinking about the World Trade Center attacks of 9-11 as “an opportunity,” rather than a tragedy.


          So it might be today in California, where tragedies partly of its own making afflict the state’s largest utility, whose chief executive has left the firm just when it says it will declare bankruptcy.


          Pacific Gas & Electric Co. faces as much as $29 billion in uninsured lawsuit liabilities from homeowners and others harmed by the massive fires of the last two years, at least some of them started by sparks from PG&E electric transmission lines. Previously, the company suffered a criminal conviction and billions of dollars worth of fines and negative publicity over the 2010 natural gas pipeline explosion that killed eight persons in San Bruno.


          But just as the filmic Cheney is shown realizing that in other people’s misery lies potential opportunity for him, so it can also be in real life. That’s the case right now with PG&E’s predicament. As the potential extent of the company’s responsibility emerged in recent weeks, its stock price dropped precipitately, losing more than two-thirds of its previous value.


          Opportunity for others has been expanded both by statements from the state Public Utilities Commission about possibly breaking up PG&E because of both proven and possible misdeeds and by the company’s own public comments. PG&E openly contemplates both bankruptcy and selling off its natural gas operations. Bankruptcy probably would help no one, as fire victims likely would not be paid fully.


          But two major players on the California utility scene could benefit from a PG&E breakup or selloff while keeping customers supplied with the energy they need.


          Those are investor Warren Buffett’s Oregon-based PacifiCorp, owned by Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway investment firm, and San Diego-based Sempra Energy, parent of both the Southern California Gas Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric Co.


          PG&E’s natural gas assets could make excellent synergy for both Buffett and Sempra, bidding rivals last year when Sempra paid more than $9 billion for 80 percent ownership of Oncor Electric Delivery Corp., the largest electric utility in Texas, serving Dallas, Fort Worth, Waco and other large cities.


          Though in expansion mode, Sempra last fall sold off 42 billion cubic feet of natural gas storage in the Deep South for $332 million, demonstrating both the company’s readiness to wheel and deal and the fact it has cash on hand.


          Buffett, meanwhile, has bought up electric and gas utilities in 10 Western states. His PacifiCorp already serves 45,000 customers in several Northern California counties. Berkshire Hathaway also owns the Kern River gas pipeline, a major transporter of Colorado natural gas to California utilities.


          Berkshire Hathaway had no comment on reports it might be a bidder if PG&E’s gas operations, which serve 4.5 million metered customers in a large swath of California including cities like San Francisco, Sacramento, San Jose and Bakersfield, come up for auction.


          Sempra also refused comment. Its SoCalGas and SDG&E units serve 6.5 million metered gas customers across Southern California. Each meter generally serves multiple persons.


          For both Buffett and Sempra, then, the synergies are obvious. Sempra, for one, could gain access to vast new supplies from the natural gas fields of western Canada, from which PG&E imports much of its supply.


          PG&E has said its gas operations might sell for more than $9 billion, but that could prove low if there is active bidding between Sempra and Buffett and especially if a surprise third party should enter the auction.


          A complete natural gas selloff to either large company might be more efficient and cost effective for consumers than selling off PG&E’s gas operation piecemeal, as the state PUC has discussed.


          However this plays out, it’s clear PG&E’s self-inflicted wounds present a major opportunity for others who could make hay with almost half that company. Which might also bring some satisfaction to disgruntled PG&E customers and homeowners harmed by the huge utility’s safety problems.

         
    -30-
    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. 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 www.californiafocus.net


Monday, January 7, 2019

PUC AGAIN TRIES TO HELP UTILITIES FIGHT THEIR BIG FEAR


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, JANUARY 25, 2019, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “PUC AGAIN TRIES TO HELP UTILITIES FIGHT THEIR BIG FEAR”


          Until damages and liabilities from wildfires rose from mere hundreds of millions into the multi-billion-dollar range over the last 18 months, California’s big private utilities had no greater fear than the steady expansion of a phenomenon best known by the initials CCA.


          That’s short for Community Choice Aggregation, a means allowing electricity consumers in some places to opt out of being served by the likes of Pacific Gas & Electric Co., Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric Co. Municipally-owned and-operated CCAs generally charge a little less per kilowatt hour than the private companies and provide more energy from renewable sources like wind and solar. They use existing transmission lines to fetch power for their customers.


          It’s a nightmare for the utilities, which have already lost cities big and small to CCAs, cutting into their profits a bit. San Francisco Clean Power is a CCA. Marin, Sonoma and Mendocino counties also offer CCA service. Starting next month, customers in 31 Southern California cities plus the unincorporated areas of Los Angeles and Ventura counties will join the biggest-ever CCA unless they opt out in favor of sticking with Edison.


          That one will include cities like Ventura and Thousand Oaks, Santa Monica, Manhattan Beach and Calabasas, to name just a few. About one-third of those locales have chosen to give customers 100 percent renewable power unless they deliberately choose dirtier options priced a bit lower. Los Angeles itself won’t join the CCA because it already has the state’s largest municipally-owned utility, the Department of Water and Power.


          The latest significant city wanting a CCA is San Diego, where Republican Mayor Kevin Faulconer the other day announced support for an alternative to SDG&E as the best means to fulfill the city’s pledge of running on 100 percent renewable energy by 2025.


          Not surprisingly, California’s Public Utilities Commission, which regulates the big utilities and has long favored them over their customers, keeps throwing obstacles in the path of CCA expansion. In January 2018, it passed new rules that essentially delayed establishment of new CCAs for a year. As that time expired, the commission adopted new, higher levies on CCA customers as a way to compensate the existing utilities for expenses of previous power plant construction and long-term power purchase contracts they signed during the energy crunch almost 20 years ago. Never mind that consumers actually paid for all that via their monthly bills.


          “We are updating the formula because everyone agrees it is broken,” newly termed-out Commissioner Carla Peterman, a Jerry Brown appointee, said at the time of the vote.


          But not everyone agrees. Some activists, especially in the San Diego area, believe the new, higher charges – significantly more there than what’s paid by consumers leaving PG&E and Edison – are excessive.


          “This is dangerous because it defeats the aim of better prices by CCAs than established utilities,” said Bill Powers, a San Diego energy engineer who helped California fight off utility plans to import high-priced foreign-sourced liquefied natural gas through Ventura County in the early 2000s. “In San Diego, it could set up an almost impossible burden for any new agency.”


          The compensation cost for former customers of PG&E and Edison is somewhat lower because their energy-crunch-era contracts priced lower than what SDG&E agreed to.


          Powers and the consumer groups Protect Our Communities Foundation and United Consumers Action Network maintain SDG&E deliberately paid vastly more than the going rate when it signed those pacts. “The exit fee should be one-quarter of the current level of 4.25 cents per kilowatt hour,” said Powers.


          Before the PUC’s unanimous October fee increase vote, that rate had been 2.5 cents.


          Consumer groups see this as the latest effort by the PUC to protect the utilities from losing thousands more customers than they already have. It’s part of the picture that has also seen commission President Michael Picker (another Brown appointee and a onetime Brown aide) promise the utilities he won’t let them go bankrupt even if their negligence caused at least some of the recent wildfires.


          It’s all part of the longtime pattern of state regulators favoring the utilities over their customers, a practice that new Gov. Gavin Newsom can begin changing if he names a consumer advocate to replace Peterman and demotes Picker from his current powerful post.

         
     -30-       
Elias is author of the current book “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It,” now available in an updated third edition. His email address is tdelias@aol.com

WE’LL FIND OUT IF PROP. 13 IS STILL A SACRED COW


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, JANUARY 22, 2019 OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
          “WE’LL FIND OUT IF PROP. 13 IS STILL A SACRED COW”


          It’s been almost 41 years since Proposition 13 passed in 1978, lowering property taxes for every home, apartment building, commercial structure, farm and parking lot in California.


          Through almost all that time, the initiative sponsored by longtime anti-tax gadflies Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann remained a sacred cow, a third rail that election officials and candidates of every stripe feared to touch for fear of political electrocution.


          But now it’s suddenly open season on Prop. 13, often vilified these days for taking money from schools and other public services and for some of the obvious inequities it brought. Because Jarvis-Gann limits property taxes to 1 percent of the latest purchase price, plus a 2 percent annual increase, neighbors in identical-seeming homes can pay vastly different tax bills each year.


          The landmark measure passed largely because property values rose rapidly through the 1970s, with property taxes also skyrocketing even if homeowners had no intention of selling. Conditions threatened to drive tens of thousands out of their longtime homes.


          Prop. 13 quickly changed that. Together with insurance price limits imposed by the 1988 Proposition 103, it’s a key factor keeping life in California affordable for longtime residents who pay income and sales taxes higher than the national averages.


          But should Prop. 13’s benefits extend to commercial property as they long have? That’s a question often asked by liberal politicians who like the measure’s tax limits on housing, but resent the fact that business also benefits. Many object most strongly to rules passed in 1979 which embellish Prop. 13 and forbid taxes from rising at the time of sale unless a single new owner holds more than a 50 percent interest in a property.


          That’s how, for example, the parking lots surrounding Dodger Stadium, still 50 percent owned by former team owner Frank McCourt, have evaded tens of millions of dollars in property taxes since he sold the team and the ballpark itself.


          Within a few years of Prop. 13’s passage by a margin of almost 2-1, the late Democratic Assemblyman Tom Hannigan of Fairfield began pushing to split off commercial properties from the measure’s tax limits. Unlike homes, Hannigan said, business property should be taxed based on current values.


          Other legislators wouldn’t go near Hannigan’s idea, even though he was for years the state Assembly’s majority leader. But voters will have a chance next year to carry out his plan – best known as the “split roll." Bet on it being a controversial subject right up until that election just over 21 months from now.


          The state’s League of Women Voters has qualified a split roll initiative for that ballot, gathering more than 585,000 voter signatures for its planned constitutional amendment, which leads in very early polling.


          Already the heirs of Jarvis and Gann are working to beat this back. Jon Coupal, the longtime head of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., sees split roll as a first thrust against the entire Prop. 13. He’s right that it has opened the door to other ideas. For example, some state legislators are toying with eliminating Prop. 13 tax limits when properties of any kind are inherited, instead taxing them based on current values rather than the amount paid for them by parents or others who pass ownership down.


          But the often-ambivalent former Gov. Jerry Brown, in one of his last interviews while in office, opined that changing Prop. 13 “isn’t as easy as you think.” Brown, who first opposed the initiative before it passed, but later became a big supporter, noted that “The business community will fight it…we’ll be in a recession by the time (of the 2020 election), so it’s anybody’s guess.”


          Meanwhile, new Gov. Gavin Newsom has said Prop. 13 is “on the table” as he considers ways to make the state tax system more fair.


          Voters will decide if Prop. 13 is no longer the sacred cow it was for decades, but rather open for discussion like any other concept or policy. If they say yes to split roll, it will be open season on one of the longtime basic underpinnings of California lifestyles.

         
    -30-
     Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. 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
www.californiafocus.net

Friday, December 28, 2018

SOLID STANDARDS NEEDED FOR PRE-FIRE POWER CUTOFFS


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, JANUARY 18, 2019, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “SOLID STANDARDS NEEDED FOR PRE-FIRE POWER CUTOFFS”


          Hotel, restaurant and farm losses have not yet been totted up, but probably measure in the millions of dollars. Grocery stores lost tons of frozen goods that spoiled. Some areas went without water. Patients with home dialysis machines, oxygen tanks and other equipment saw their lives endangered.


          These were just some consequences when California’s largest utility began what might be the state’s newest form of “blackout blackmail.” They came as Pacific Gas & Electric Co. in mid-October shut down power supplies to 59,000 business and residential customers across a wide swath of Northern California when weather and humidity created dry conditions the utility deemed likely to further the spread of wildfires.


          PG&E later also inconvenienced other customers in the name of fire prevention, but oddly enough did nothing near Paradise in Butte County, which was destroyed by the Camp Fire.


The shutdown tactic is something PG&E wishes it had used in 2017, when huge fires swept through the Wine County and other large areas. And when more fires struck near Lakeport and other forested areas last fall.


          The state’s other big privately-owned utilities, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric, say they will employ the same tactic whenever they feel it is necessary. Like PG&E, they have been severely burned financially by raging wildfires.


          But to some affected customers, who saw winds during the October closure episode reach speeds no higher than 7 mph (during big fires, winds usually are many times higher), this looked more like revenge than fire prevention.


          “This is blatant terrorism,” complained a reader near Nevada City whose power was cut off by PG&E for more than a day at a time while conditions were dry, but winds low. “Their latest performance shows just how militant (PG&E) can be at the expense of the public.”


          Maybe he’s right and this is a form of blackmail. Until October, “blackout blackmail” was been largely confined to Southern California, where Sempra Energy and its Southern California Gas Co. subsidiary repeatedly used threats of summertime blackouts to convince authorities they should allow it to reopen the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility. An estimated 97,000 tons of methane gas escaped into the atmosphere from Aliso Canyon, just above the San Fernando Valley section of Los Angeles, over four months in 2015-16, and local residents remain unconvinced the causes of that leak have been fixed.


          The possible blackmail by PG&E looked different to its customers. Several readers speculated that the utility’s real message was that if some customers sue it for billions of dollars over damages CalFire says were caused by PG&E equipment and maintenance, many other customers will be made to suffer.


          A $10 million lobbying campaign by the utility last summer caused state legislators and former Gov. Jerry Brown to pass a new law giving the corporate-friendly state Public Utilities Commission the ability to dun all customers when a utility is found to have caused major fire damage. The PUC also will have customers pay for tree cutting and other fire prevention tactics now being carried out by utilities fearing a new onslaught of fire-damage lawsuits. Never mind that the companies’ long-term negligence caused many of the dangerous conditions they are now abating.


          The reasoning behind the new law was much the same as the justification for the Wall Street bailout that rescued large investment houses following their misdeeds in the Great Recession of 2008-10. The companies, elected officials essentially said, are too big to fail.


          They also now have carte blanche to cut off power for awhile to any area they like. For the PUC has set no standards governing when utilities should cut off power in potential fire areas. In October, conditions were dry and humidity low, but the winds needed for wildfires to spread never materialized. CalFire itself only asks utilities to cut off power when a fire is actually burning.


          What’s clearly needed are rules for the big electric companies to follow, both in maintaining their equipment and in cutting off power to prevent fires. Without rules, the utilities can do whatever they like. Past history shows they can’t be trusted when given that kind of freedom.   


         
 -30-
    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. 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 www.californiafocus.net