Monday, December 9, 2019




          The good news last year for many Californians who happen to live near light rail stations and heavily traveled bus routes was that the most controversial legislative proposal of 2019 suffered an early demise in the springtime.

          The bad news for the same folks is that the same proposal, known in 2019 as SB 50, will be back in 2020, probably with a different number. The essence of this proposal is simple: Its backers, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, are convinced that mandating dense high rise construction near rapid transit stops and the busiest bus routes will go far toward solving California’s housing shortage. Exact details of the next version of the densifying plan are not yet known, but it’s clear the basics will be the same.

          One argument by Newsom and the bill’s chief sponsor, Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco, is that it will lead to a healthier California. But a new global study from a Spanish research institute suggests this may be baloney.

          Says Wiener via email, in response to a question: “Housing density…facilitates active transportation, such as walking and biking. People are much healthier when they regularly walk, as opposed to having a sedentary lifestyle and spending hours every day in a car.”

          His comments came after publication in Science magazine of a study from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, which found that “higher residential-surrounding greenspace is related with less severe strokes. Living in high noise areas…can lead to more severe strokes.”

          The implications for SB 50 or its successor measure of those conclusions from a global study of more than 2,700 stroke victims seem clear: Unless Wiener and his allies can somehow create lots of parks and tree-lined streets around the high-rises they seek to require in cities of almost every size, they will increase the possibility of death by stroke for those living in the new housing – and their neighbors.

          For denser housing almost always leads to more noise and less green space, unless government creates countermeasures like road blockades and large parks. That’s exactly what has happened in Barcelona, where many residential city blocks have seen streets converted to pedestrian and bicycle use only and new parks are frequently opened.

          There was nothing like that in the proposals Wiener pushed in the last two legislative sessions.

          Yet, he says, “Urban density can and should include significant green space and noise abatement. Great public spaces and parks, as well as a robust urban forest, are important elements of any great city or town. Building codes can reduce noise issues in people’s homes.”

          But not in the streets, where the new buildings he seeks would rise in the busiest areas of cities large and small. So even if their condominiums and apartments are quiet, there will be plenty of noise whenever residents venture outside.

          The scientists behind the Barcelona study have nothing against dense housing, they said in emails. But, said Payam Dadvand, M.D., co-author of the stroke study, “Denser cities have both pros and cons and it very much depends on how they are designed and planned.”

          Wiener’s ideas, moved in part by frequently expressed hostility toward the urban sprawl and single-family zoning of most California cities, stem from an emotional conviction, not backed by evidence, that residents of new transit-adjacent housing will almost universally use that transit.

          But since most California transit systems don’t cover their cities nearly as completely as those in Europe and some eastern and midwestern U.S. cities, new residents cannot avoid using cars, whether their own or via ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft.

          In short, existing California cities were never planned to offer maximum health prospects for folks who might move into the type of new housing avidly sought by Newsom and Wiener, who often seems to want to make all of California resemble the dense, noisy, concrete-filled Castro District of San Francisco, his longtime home.

          These issues should be part of the new year’s debate over Wiener’s next bill and Newsom’s massive housing proposals. If they’re not included in the discussion, legislators will be disregarding the major warning contained in the Spanish study.


     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




          More than a year ago, beachgoers and surfers in the areas around four aged California natural-gas-burning power plants were promised they would be closed by this time. But they’re all still operating.

          The four power plants – three owned by Virginia-based AES Corp. and one by GenOn Energy, a spinoff from Texas-based NRG Energy – suck billions of gallons of water from the Pacific to cool their turbines, eventually returning hot water to the sea, where it negatively affects marine life that thrives in cool areas.

          The four can produce as much as 5,400 megawatts of power, a small share of the state’s 132,000-plus MW daily capacity, about one-quarter of which now comes from reliable renewables like wind, solar, hydroelectric and geothermal. By comparison, about 7 percent of California’s power now comes from the state’s lone remaining nuclear plant, Diablo Canyon on the Central Coast. These figures do not include power produced by rooftop solar installations.

          One megawatt (1,000 kilowatts) typically is enough power to fuel a typical home for just over 1.25 years.

          The four obsolescent power plants that were to close got a reprieve this fall because of a new form of the “blackout blackmail,” which has previously seen the Southern California Gas Co. – backed by the state Public Utilities Commission – warn that summertime supply shortages and blackouts were inevitable if it could not continue pumping natural gas into notoriously leaky storage fields. Those blackouts never came close to reality.

          This time, the PUC and power companies predict rolling blackouts could occur as early as summer 2021 if the four plants in Huntington Beach, Long Beach, Redondo Beach and Oxnard are shuttered by next summer. Their reasoning is that juice from the plants will be needed on hot summer days when demand soars and remains high after sundown, when large solar farms stop generating electricity.

          The problem: Power from those plants is probably not needed, and even if they don’t operate but are only held in reserve, their owners get anywhere from $40 to $60 per kilowatt year from consumers, billed via an obscure line on most electricity invoices. These are called “resource adequacy” payments, and AES, for one, would pocket at least $150 million in each year its obsolete water-heating plants are kept open, even if they are never used. GenOn would get more than $30 million yearly.

          One problem: The four plants together produce far more than the 2,500 MW that the PUC staff has said might be needed in a pinch.

          “It’s a boondoggle,” says Bill Powers, a San Diego engineer who advises consumer groups and was instrumental early in this century in keeping California from becoming permanently dependent on hyper-expensive imported liquefied natural gas. The LNG turned out to be completely unneeded, with the USA now a major exporter, rather than an importer of sub-freezing liquified gas.

          In fact, the California Independent System Operator, a Folsom-based agency that supervises the state’s electric grid and manages supplies, opposes keeping the plants open. In testimony before the PUC, that agency said that if a supply problem exists – and CalISO doesn’t concede there is such a problem –  it would be due to poorly constructed market rules for imported power. And San Diego Gas & Electric Co., in a rare case of a utility opposing keeping plants open, testified that it “does not believe increasing the levels of imports (which could substitute for the plants’ power if a shortage did occur) poses any reliability problems.”

          Power said market manipulation by electric generators may also be at work, as it was during the energy crunch of almost 20 years ago. “Market manipulation resulting from ineffective market rules cannot be solved by excess procurement of capacity,” he said. The underlying rules must be fixed, instead, he said.

          The bottom line: This is yet another case of the PUC favoring big utility companies – this time AES and GenOn – over consumers, further evidence that despite changes in personnel and rhetoric, the commission continues to use obscure processes and cases to fatten utility profits.

    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,

Monday, December 2, 2019




        Virtually all adult Californians know the kinds of disasters that commonly befall this state by the time they decide to stay here or move to the Golden State from someplace else.

        The usual list most folks consider is fairly short, but can have long-lasting impacts: fires, floods and earthquakes. Those who lack complete faith in technology and human efforts to prevent tragedy see some other potential dangers lurking.

        One is the nuclear waste dump that has taken shape beside the defunct San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station near the border between San Diego and Orange counties.

        About 15 months ago, the Southern California Edison Co., operator and majority owner of the onetime atomic power plant, saw a 50-ton (100,000-pound) canister with a five-eighths-inch-thick shell twist almost completely out of control while being loaded into a niche in the newly-constructed beachfront nuclear waste dump Edison has built because there is no room in existing federal atomic dumps and no immediate prospect of opening a new one.

        Like other nuclear plant operators, Edison must fend for itself both in building and filling its dump. The near-mishap, which could have seen the giant, thin-walled canister fall dozens of feet to a hard concrete floor, was neither reported nor acknowledged publicly by Edison until months later, when a worker mentioned it during a public meeting nearby.

        Because this almost-accident took time to clear and workers plainly needed more instruction and practice in handling the canisters, no more radioactive waste was loaded into the dump – just yards from a popular state beach – until slightly over a year had passed.

        Edison maintains everything there is now hunky-dory, even though a major leak from the dump could theoretically irradiate everything within 50 miles, including most of Orange and San Diego counties, plus one of America’s two largest Marine Corps bases, Camp Pendleton.

        The near-accident “will not repeat itself,” Edison has said. A spokesman told a reporter, “What issues we did see were captured as part of our lessons-learned, continuous education program. That will help us be successful going forward.”

        No one is panicking in surrounding areas. But some consumer activists still worry, especially after a webinar in which the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission admitted it has no backup plan for repairing or safely storing any damaged nuclear waste container. The best way to remove leaking containers is via “hot cells,” portable nuclear containment chambers. But there are no hot cells within 1,000 miles large enough to cope with San Onofre’s storage units and federal law forbids moving high-level nuclear waste across state lines – or even across freeways like the adjacent I-5.

        Said Charles Langley, executive director of the San Diego-based advocacy group Public Watchdogs, “The admission by the NRC that it has no backup plan for handling leaks in these thin containers at San Onofre is terrifying.” He also worries about what a significant earthquake on the known fault offshore from San Onofre might do to the canisters and their storage facility.

        Only about 45 miles northwest along the coast, other folks worry about another fault and another kind of potential disaster.

        A homeowner group in San Pedro, beside the Los Angeles Harbor, which is America’s busiest, worries about the effects of a possible earthquake on the previously unpublicized, blind-thrust Wilmington fault which seismologists only recently rated as active. The fault runs near several oil refineries, but the homeowners group worries it might set off an explosion from a 25-million-gallon liquified petroleum gas storage tank federally authorized under then-President Richard Nixon during the early 1970s.

        The group says this large tank was built without Los Angeles permits and sits on soils which the U.S. Geological Survey defines as prone to “landslides and liquefaction.” A quake under this alleged geological feature could be disastrous, the homeowners fear.

        And yet… life proceeds quite normally for residents who could be affected by either of the potential disasters at the doorsteps of San Diego, Los Angeles and their suburbs. Real estate prices have risen exponentially over the last four decades in both areas, while no one has seriously discussed possible effects on schools and other public facilities.

        Is much of California living in a fool’s paradise?

    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




          It was only a matter of time before the idea of allowing non-citizens to vote in some local elections spread from San Francisco to other locales just as sympathetic to immigrants, legal or not.

          So it was no surprise when the Los Angeles Unified
School District the other day began discussing whether to grant voting rights in school board elections to all parents and legal guardians of the more than 730,000 pupils in the nation’s second largest district.

          Neither San Francisco nor Los Angeles officials appear fazed by President Trump’s years of griping – without any proof – that undocumented immigrants regularly vote in American elections, often in big enough numbers to change the outcomes.

          He has claimed since 2016 that his 3.1 million-vote national deficit came entirely from droves of illegals casting ballots.

          But the commission he appointed to verify this rationalization found hardly any, and he disbanded it in early 2018.

          Still, all Trump had to do last year was look at San Francisco if he really wanted to see non-citizens at the polls. Not many, but some.

          It was possible for more than 1,000 (no one knows the exact number, but that’s a frequent estimate) illegal immigrant parents to register and vote in last year’s school board election there. But only 42 actually registered and even fewer voted.

          This happened because federal law allows noncitizens to vote in state or local elections, even though no state election had seen noncitizens vote legally since Arkansas became the last state to ban the practice in 1926. Before then, many states, cities and counties allowed noncitizens to vote in all elections except federal ones. The thinking was that if you live here, you have a stake in public affairs. Voting was tied to where people lived, not birthplace or nationality.

          Anti-immigrant feeling almost completely ended that practice, and it remained extremely uncommon until San Francisco voters okayed it via the local 2016 Proposition N. Chicago and several small cities in Maryland also allow noncitizens to vote in school board elections.

          For the practice to begin in Los Angeles, voters there would also have to pass a ballot measure – and they might. That city was one of the earliest to declare itself a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants. Local authorities still refuse to assist federal immigration agents in apprehending all but the most violent illegal immigrant criminals.

          For sure, Los Angeles voters could be certain that far more noncitizens would register in their district than San Francisco’s. One reason: The Los Angeles district is 15 times larger than its northerly counterpart.

          In Los Angeles, home to an estimated 3.5 million undocumented immigrants, any measure allowing noncitizen voting would also have to be approved by the city council. That’s not likely to be much of an obstacle, as the council is among the most liberal in America.

          One positive motive behind this move seems simple: By involving more parents in decisions about their schools, officials hope to improve student outcomes, something urgently needed in the academically underperforming district.

          Said Los Angeles school board member Kelly Gomez, who encountered many immigrant parents during her 2017 campaign, “Many of them were very interested and passionate about the issues…but didn’t have the ability to decide for themselves who would represent them on the school board.”

          Still, the district would have to solve one big problem before it could expect large-scale noncitizen participation in future elections: How to keep the identities of noncitizens who register to vote away from federal immigrant agents.

          That problem plagued San Francisco last year, because voting rolls are public. The fact they could be identified as undocumented and perhaps deported was one big reason noncitizens registered in tiny numbers when they got the chance.

          That’s one problem the Los Angeles district will have to solve if it really wants to open things up for noncitizens.

          But officials there and elsewhere ought to think hard before they proceed with this, because it would remove one more distinction between citizens and noncitizens, just five years after illegal immigrants became eligible for California drivers licenses. Removing such distinctions diminishes incentive to work toward citizenship, and citizenship is a necessity for immigrants wanting to advance in society.

    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, November 25, 2019




          For months, the University of California has been beset by the threat of a lawsuit from parents of minority students and others supposedly looking out for their interests, who insist the UC system’s use of national standardized tests in its admission process is discriminatory.

          Really? The claim propounded by lawyers for the Compton Unified School District, several students and five nonprofits is that the SAT and ACT exams taken by millions of high schoolers across the nation are not fair to minorities and children of the poor.

          They assert that test performances closely correlate with family incomes, parent education levels and race. That’s undoubtedly correct: Higher income families often seek classes and other educational opportunities for their children outside school programs and frequently arrange prep courses for their kids before they take the exams.

          Yes, the College Board, which runs the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and the American College Testing (ACT) program have changed their exams, making them less likely to favor the economically privileged and white or Asian-American kids.

          But nothing prevents mostly-minority school districts like
Compton from designing test preparation courses of their own, specially targeted to overcome whatever disadvantages they believe their students might have. These classes could be offered free to everyone expected to take either test within two years of the class’s opening date. So far, only a few such publicly-funded classes exist, but where they do, student performances improved.

          Reality is that public schools cannot force parents to take a greater than normal interest in their kids’ education. Numerous studies show that the more educated parents are, the more they participate in parent-teacher activities at their children’s schools and the more assiduous they are about making sure their children do homework and attend school reliably.

          For sure, kids who form bad study and attendance habits from an early age almost always fare worse than others on the SAT and ACT.

          And what about the claim that use of the tests as a factor in UC admissions amounts to racial and economic discrimination? It’s no more discriminatory than the university system’s concurrent use of grade point averages, essays and class rankings, where parental education and financial standing also usually correlate with better performance.

          None of this will satisfy the anti-test advocates. Their unspoken aim: They would essentially like to see UC dumbed down so that more people can enjoy the prestige and the privileged assumptions that go with a diploma from one of America’s preeminent public universities.

          One official of the Oakland-based Equal Justice Society told a reporter that “The SAT has built-in biases that ultimately derail the college aspirations of thousands of hardworking students of color who would thrive in college and make important contributions to the UC community and beyond. The test serves no purpose other than to act as a barrier to higher education for historically disadvantaged students.”

          If there are some discriminatory aspects, they may include the fact that language dialects some students use at home do not jibe well with word usage on the test. This could be overcome by test-prep courses if they were widely offered by public schools in disadvantaged areas. That could be one very constructive use of the extra money the state has sent to schools with large numbers of poor kids under programs begun by ex-Gov. Jerry Brown six years ago. But few districts have done this.

          And there is ample evidence that the SAT and ACT usually serve their stated purpose: test results usually predict college performance by the test takers.

          At the same time, it does not seem to matter to opponents of standardized exams what the testing companies do to make their exams less sensitive to privilege and parental interest. Both firms have redesigned test questions with this factor in mind, but could not stem the complaints.

          The bottom line: In a climate where several UC chancellors and other top officials say they’re open to abandoning the tests, a UC committee is to report in early spring on what the elite system should do. Whatever it does, UC must take care to avoid anything that might undermine its high standing, which draws top faculty and students from around the world.

    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




All those folks who have been saying for years that California housing and taxes are too expensive for most Americans to move here, take note: The newest survey of Americans aged 45 or more, those who can be expected to retire in the next two decades, show the Golden State has lost little of its retirement allure.

To be sure, California ranks only fifth among the 48 continental states as a desired retirement destination, but it’s well ahead of Texas, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, to name just a few of the popular destinations for Californians cashing out their high-value homes and moving.

The only states ahead of California as desired retirement destinations are Florida, Arizona, Tennessee and South Carolina, with Tennessee the only surprise on the list. Florida, the clear leader as the preferred final home for 24 percent of those surveyed, has far more retirement communities and other facilities catering specifically to seniors than California. The allure of the other three states plainly is their lower housing prices.

       This becomes clear from a look at the savings and other assets held by a stratified random sample of 1,068 Americans over 45 sampled by the New York-based real estate data firm

       The firm, using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk tool, found that three of every five persons in that age category possess less than $100,000 in savings and just 4 percent had more than $1 million available for use in retirement, covering real estate and other expenses. It’s tough to contemplate buying California property with that kind of asset base. So, most likely, California isn’t in the top two in retirement desirability because most near- or middle-term retirees can’t buy into this state’s market. More than one-third of the study’s respondents also said they had experienced some difficulty meeting housing-related expenses in the last year.

And yet, the study shows a significant 56 percent majority of middle-aged and older Americans want to stay put for the rest of their lives. Aging in place, said PropertyShark, remains the gold standard.

That bodes well for California, the state providing the single largest share of respondents. It means most older Californians  do not now plan to cash out and leave, despite the siren call of far lower living expenses in nearby states like Arizona, Nevada and Idaho.

Still, many seniors who would like to stay put have felt a pinch. Among those with yearly incomes between $20,000 and $40,000, fully 42 percent reported struggling with housing costs. There was no breakout for California, but this state’s higher costs probably mean even more seniors had difficulty here.

       This was one reason one-third of those surveyed said they’d consider sharing a home like the women in the constantly rerunning Golden Girls TV comedy. About 40 percent of those 45 or over would consider sharing space with younger housemates, with 35 percent preferring to share with folks about their own age. The better-vetted a potential houseguest is and the more of a financial contribution that person might make, the more popular the idea becomes. Simply helping with chores would not do it in most cases, while being a family member would increase the chance of acceptance for younger housemates.

       Policy makers need to consider these kinds of findings significantly as they plan neighborhoods or begin to make the kind of densifying housing changes now being pushed by Gov. Gavin Newsom and some state legislators.

       Most Americans in the over-45 category, the survey found, currently do not live in neighborhoods they consider senior-friendly. But with Baby Boomers aged 52 to 74 now controlling about 70 percent of all disposable income and 60 percent of those aged 65 or over living mortgage-free, more and more development will have to cater to them if it’s to be profitable.

       It adds up to a picture where California is a favored place, just as it long has been. These facts appear to contradict the pessimists about California that former Gov. Jerry Brown used to call “declinists.” At the same time, PropertyShark makes it clear life is not entirely simple for most of the soon-to-be elderly in California or anywhere else.

    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,

Monday, November 18, 2019




          Something’s wrong here: California will send exponentially more delegates to the national Democratic Party’s nominating convention this summer in Milwaukee than all three of the first caucus and primary election states, Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

          Plus, Californians will begin receiving their ballots for their first-ever overwhelmingly mail-in statewide election on Feb. 4, just one day after the Iowa caucuses and eight days before anyone in New Hampshire can vote in that state’s traditionally first-in-the-nation primary.

          And yet…all candidates for this cycle’s only contested presidential nomination are mostly staying out of California.

          This is very hard to figure. Why, for example, did former Vice President Joe Biden skip the state Democratic Party’s mid-November convention in Long Beach? Why Elizabeth Warren? Why would they ignore a traditional campaign season cattle call, leaving the field to the likes of Pete Buttigieg, Julian Castro, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Andrew Yang and Cory Booker? All but Sanders and Buttegieg are in the second or third tier among Democratic hopefuls.

          The answer is tradition. While they could pick up almost as many delegates and popular votes in just two or three of California’s congressional districts as in any of the early primary states, those states are where candidates always go for momentum – and to drop out when Big Mo ignores them.

          But just as candidates had to adjust to the new digital world, shifting much advertising to social media and away from television commercials, they ought to be adjusting right now to the new primary calendar.

          Yes, for candidates with little or no cash on hand (like Harris, Castro and Booker), it may pay to stay out of California and in tiny states where personal hand-to-hand campaigning can help them if they do it well enough.

          But for candidates like Biden, Warren and the possible soon-to-be-hopeful Michael Bloomberg, the Golden State could be a gold mine. Yet, none wants to risk spending much time here right now, thinking that might lead to humiliation in the early states that have long meant so much.

          Except…by staying away, they lose the exposure they could get in this most vote-rich state of all. By concentrating on just a few California congressional districts and doing Iowa-style campaigning there, an appealing but underfunded hopeful could pick up plenty of delegates.

          The Democratic Party rules in California set up this kind of creative politicking, if anyone wants to try it. The rules give each of our 53 districts between four and six delegates, with another big pot going to the statewide leader. Since Democrats win delegates in proportion to their primary or caucus performances, and New Hampshire has just 24 pledged delegates compared with California’s 495, a candidate who wins only two districts here by big margins could get as many delegates as someone who wins New Hampshire with a 30 percent plurality (no one now has that much support there).

          So traditionalism now hamstrings Democratic candidates. If they allow that during the fall runoff, presumably against President Trump, they will run into big problems. Trump’s campaign, the most cybernetic ever, responds with instant ads attuned to every new political or global development.

          So here’s some advice to those second-tier candidates (are you listening, Kamala Harris?) who seem to have little realistic chance of winning the plurality in Iowa or New Hampshire: Come back to California during December and January, and often.

          Pick a place where concerted campaigning among a relatively few voters can produce delegates. This might mean districts that remained Republican through the 2018 Democratic congressional landslide. For instance, the Eighth District, stretching south from the high desert east of the Sierra Nevada down into parts of the San Bernardino area, could be a big plus for a clever Democrat.

          The district has few Democrats, but still awards four delegates. It may be the easiest place in America for a Democrat to win delegates by contacting small numbers of voters. Stage a town hall or two in this area that rarely sees a presidential candidate and you might just become more prominent.

          But who listens to advice, when tradition is so strong? Only those who really want to win… and so far, the candidates all but ignoring California are showing that’s not them.

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