Friday, February 14, 2020




          It’s beginning to seem as if many leading elected officials in California believe state government knows best about almost everything in virtually every phase of life. That goes on both macro and micro levels.

          Over the last year, this state has threatened city after city with lawsuits for not authorizing enough new housing units to satisfy state officials, even when developers have no great interest in building them. A state commission is demanding other lawsuits if cities and counties don’t do more to reduce homelessness, even where many of the homeless aren’t particularly interested in moving into new shelters, and even while courts in some other states continue issuing bus tickets to California to minor criminals in lieu of sending them to jail.

The Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom reversed voter wishes on rent control, setting up the nation’s toughest regulations on evictions and rent increases less than a year after voters decisively turned down a ballot initiative with the same aims.

Over strong opposition from supposed “beneficiaries,” they passed a law written by San Diego’s Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez called AB 5 that forces contract workers and freelancers to accept full-time employment from their client companies whether they want it or not, ostensibly so they can be unionized even where only one or two persons are involved.

Newsom wants to send every California 4-year-old to preschool whether their parents want it or not, and his proposed budget would pay to enroll at least 10,000 as a first move.

And the state Senate almost passed the newest version of SB 50, the housing density mandate from Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco that threatened to make almost every California city as jammed as the Castro District where he lives, which is filled with older wooden apartment buildings that are potential firetraps.

On the micro level, Wiener, whose influence in Sacramento sometimes appears disproportionate to his status as just one of 40 state senators, also proposed a ban on some surgeries for babies born with ambiguous or conflicting genitalia. That bill was decisively voted down in the Senate’s Business and Professions Committee, but as with SB 50, Wiener pledges to keep hammering at it until resistance softens.

The bill, SB 201, would prevent “medically unnecessary” surgery on so-called “intersex” babies until those children are six years old. It included a ban on correcting hypospadias, a common male malady in which there can be multiple urethral openings on the underside of the penis.

 For Wiener, parents’ choices don’t matter when it comes to turning a mild malformation into a normal opening. That’s on the principle that infants cannot express an opinion on whether they want the procedure or not.

          Never mind that corrective surgery on this condition is far easier and less painful when the patient is very young; children under six, Wiener has said, have not yet developed their sex or gender identity. And six-year-olds have?

          If there’s a condition where parental and medical decisions ought to govern, this is probably it. 

No matter, Wiener believes he and the state know best about the most intimate matters, just as he thinks they do about housing density, where he views single family homes on spacious lots as abominations. Talk about a nanny state.

          Of course, some state mandates and actions are needed. It’s likely no accident that California has seen no epidemic of measles or whooping cough since toughening vaccination laws over loud objections from some parents.

          And Newsom’s plan to provide $1 billion in aid for sheltering the homeless also appears to be proving positive, starting with his rolling out 100 trailers as a temporary palliative measure. While 100 trailers won’t put much of a dent in the state’s homeless populace of more than 150,000, they are providing temporary solutions for some individuals and families.

          The need here is for restraint in enforcing legislators’ personal preferences on everyone, but with Sacramento now essentially a one-party capital governed by a full slate of Democratic statewide officials and supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature, there are few restraints on the majority.

          So there’s a strong need for self-restraint, an awareness that just getting elected makes no one omniscient.

    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




          In an ideal world, there would be no need for this year’s Proposition 13, the only statewide measure voters will decide in the ongoing California primary election, which culminates on the official March 3 Election Day.

          But anyone who has visited a public school or a public charter school in the last few years knows this proposition is a must. Yes, some of the ballot arguments against it are correct, but they don’t override the pressing need for the $15 billion this measure would provide for school and college construction and renovation over the next few years.

          Paint is peeling, plumbing is ancient and roofs are leaking in many, many schools and most local districts don’t have the budget to bring in the workers who could make repairs. Other districts use temporary classrooms – call them trailers – because their real buildings are overcrowded.

          For sure, the ballot argument for a “no” vote is correct in saying this money won’t by itself “achieve a standard of excellence” in education. But voters can be certain of this: Children studying in decrepit buildings generally perform worse than kids in nicer facilities.

The same for students at colleges and universities, which would also get some of this money.

 Give schools and colleges money to build what they need and there will be fewer excuses available for poor performance.

          The nay-sayers, led by the anti-tax Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. and its articulate president Jon Coupal, are also correct that in the best of all worlds, the repairs and buildings to be financed by Proposition 13 would be paid for as the work is done, using some of the state’s current budget surplus of $21 billion or $22 billion (both figures appear in the official ballot pamphlet).

          But school buildings in California are traditionally financed with bonds. While the “no” argument correctly says the total cost of this bond including interest will top $27 billion over 35 years, with annual payments of almost $800 million, those payments won’t be nearly as burdensome in 2055 as they seem today, unless America experiences no inflation in coming decades.

          But Coupal and friends are wrong when they imply that this measure’s backers deliberately tried to confuse voters by applying the same Proposition 13 tag to this measure that’s associated with the landmark property tax cutting 1978 initiative bearing the same number.

          “Don’t be confused by the deceptive title of this spending measure,” they warn. But it’s not deceptive. It’s just counting. Back in the 1990s, when ballot measures began getting numbers well above 200, state officials decided that each time the ballot measure count reached 100, it would automatically recyle back to 1. So it was that when state lawmakers in a bipartisan vote placed this measure on this ballot, the next number up was 13. Did they know this? Probably. Did they create the situation? No.

          Coupal & Co. also claim higher levels of debt inevitably lead to higher taxes. They’re sort-of correct. That’s because the state normally covers about 60 percent of the cost of school projects it funds, with local districts paying the rest. They get that money by going to their own voters for an OK to levy higher property taxes. This will no doubt happen if the current Proposition 13 passes and its new money begins to flow. But no local tax increase can happen without a 55 percent supermajority vote of the locals.

The “no” side also may be literally correct when it says “not one cent…will be spent for direct instruction in school classrooms.” But what instruction does occur will hopefully take place in cleaner, safer, more modern environments where children are proven to learn better.

          But the money most likely will not go into the “wasteful money pits” the “no” side predicts, because of a clause limiting administrative costs to 5 percent of the total pot.

          All of which means this measure deserves to pass, even if it’s not perfect. Voters should heed the old warning about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

    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, February 10, 2020




          The March 3 California primary election that’s actually been underway since early this month almost certainly will not prove decisive, mostly because that’s the way the national Democratic Party wants things.

          This means that despite California’s best efforts, uncertainty about this year’s Democratic candidate for president will continue well into the spring, when the potential existed for it to be pretty much resolved very early on.

          What if, for one example, California’s 490-member delegation to the Democratic convention in Charlotte, NC, were chosen in the same winner-take-all way Republicans pick their delegates?

          It’s a good bet the many Democrats running in their party’s preliminary rounds would have foregone most of their time in early states like Iowa and New Hampshire, with their miniscule convention clout, and concentrated on California.

          But they did not, because all knew they had no chance to win a decisive majority in California and most figured they would get at least some delegates in the Golden State. So why bother to come here?

          The rules that ensure this continued uncertainly are called “proportional representation.” Candidates win delegates in each state in direct proportion to the votes they draw, so long as they manage 15 percent of the vote either in congressional districts or statewide.

          Yes, congressional districts will count for a lot when votes are counted starting on the official Election Night. No matter how early they are cast or mailed, no votes will be counted before then.

          So if former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Indiana’s Pete Buttegieg and one or two more candidates stay about even, as they are in some polls, all could get about 90 delegates here, but no one is likely to leave California with a significant margin over the others.

          Part of the problem is that the only Democrat campaigning in very many California districts has been former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Each of the 53 congressional districts will send between four and seven delegates to the convention, the actual number depending on just how strongly Democratic a district has voted lately.

          This meant that even a candidate getting less than 15 percent of the statewide vote could make hay in districts that have generally gone Republican by campaigning there and demonstrating some popular appeal. It seemed set up for moderate candidates like Biden, Buttegieg, Bloomberg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, but only Bloomberg dipped so much as a toe into those waters.

          Both statewide and in districts with more than four delegates, the leading candidates now appear destined to end up with similar numbers of convention votes.

          And California’s 79 unpledged “superdelegates,” – including big city mayors, statewide officials and members of Congress and the party’s national committee – won’t help anyone much, in contrast to their push for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Resentment of this from the party’s left wing forced a big change in superdelegate status: They can’t vote on the first ballot. This makes them irrelevant unless the convention deadlocks.

          So even though California will provide almost as many delegates as the other 12 states voting on the March 3 “Super Tuesday” combined, it can’t have nearly the influence legislators hoped for when they moved the vote up from June into early March.

          Making things even less decisive is the fact ballots mailed as late as Election Day will be counted if received no more than three days later. So final counts may not be known until weeks later. Shades of the botched Iowa caucuses.

          This system makes Democratic votes cast in usually Republican Texas almost as important as those in this Democratic stronghold. Add in smaller states like Minnesota, Alabama, Massachusetts and Oklahoma, and the Super Tuesday result is likely to be more confusion.

          That could help a late-arriving candidate like Bloomberg, whose seemingly unlimited self-financing has let him set up organizations in every Super Tuesday state, a phenomenon he’s bound to continue into later-voting places like New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania if his March 3 showing is even close to respectable.

          It all means that despite California’s trying to exert the influence its sheer size mandates, Democratic rules will thwart the effort.

     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




          So SB 50 is dead, most likely at least for the rest of this election year. How does California now solve its housing problems without that most ambitious of proposed tactics for doing the job?

          Maybe it’s time for Gov. Gavin Newsom and the labor unions who strongly back him and his policies to revert to a plan he talked up while running for governor back in May 2018: Link a necessarily complex housing fix to the ever-troubled bullet train project.

          One perpetual California problem could help solve another.

          Newsom strongly suggested this during a campaign interview, saying housing projects could be made to dovetail with the bedeviled bullet train project, now abuilding in the Central Valley and nowhere else.

          Doing this would be completely consistent with Newsom’s holistic approach to government, perpetually insisting it’s best to try to tie things together.

          It would also follow logically from Newsom’s late-January admission that the single goal he touted loudest during that 2018 campaign – a demand to build 3.5 million new housing units in the state by 2025 – was grossly exaggerated. While it's real, the need for new housing is not as big as Newsom believed then; his goal was based on incomplete information.

          The pullback in the governor’s goal was perhaps the most under-reported major story of this winter, buried in the flood of news coverage from both the impeachment trial of President Trump and California’s problem with homelessness. His goal had already proved unrealistic: unsold housing inventories in various parts of the state were high enough in 2019 that developers did not press for permits to build more than about one-fifth of what Newsom wanted during his first full year in office.

          The aim of solving the supposedly gigantic housing shortfall was a main justification for SB 50, the failed attempt by Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco to densify housing in almost all areas near light rail stations and major bus routes. The fact so much new housing is not really needed clearly took wind from the sails of SB 50.

          But there nevertheless remains a big shortfall of affordable housing. Fewer than 25 percent of California households can now afford to buy homes – new or pre-existing – in the state. Less than 50 percent can afford so-called affordable units, which now average more than $500,000 apiece to build. Even when their sale price drops to about $350,000, while other prices in the same developments are lifted to compensate for it, many working families aspiring to home ownership still can’t buy.

          That’s where high speed rail can come in. The planned bullet train route runs through some of the least pricey land in California, in both the Central Valley southeast of the San Francisco Bay area and in High Desert areas north and northwest of Los Angeles.

          Building there could bring housing prices down enormously, as land costs remain a huge element in today’s high prices. Even though building in these places has increased, development remains slow because commutes to the state’s biggest job centers simply take too long.

          Add the bullet train to the equation, and everything could change. Commute times between Tracy and the Silicon Valley, or from Bakersfield to Los Angeles, would be under one hour, far less time than many current freeway commutes. So no more 2:30 a.m. bus departures for workers who live in Tracy and work at Tesla’s Fremont plant.

          Since 2018, Newsom has never repeated his observation that “The bullet train project…could be very useful in helping with housing.”

          Instead, the state has heard Wiener and others gripe about the supposed evils of urban sprawl and single-family home zoning. But the prospect of living in a single-family home with breathing room played a big part in attracting millions of today’s Californians to the state during its big growth years. This was one reason for the failure of Wiener’s densification efforts.

          For sure, tying the bullet train to new housing could create immense incentive to build in areas that get relatively little developer attention today.

          It’s probably the most holistic, least controversial way to solve much of the housing problem.

    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, February 3, 2020




          The California primary election officially went to the voters’ hands early this month, when many began receiving mail-in ballots shortly before early-voting centers started opening all around the state.

          No registered voter should lose sight of what this election is about in both major parties: At several levels, the current vote will decide at least for awhile whether moderates are in effect drummed out of the two major parties, leaving extremists on both sides to rule for the next two or four years.

          For Democrats, this choice has been obvious on the presidential level since the party’s first televised debate last summer. The choice there for Democratic moderates is between former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttegieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and, possibly, late entrant Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire ex-mayor of New York City.

So-called progressives among Democrats will for the most part choose between Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

          Democratic Party rules mandating proportional representation likely will see to it that at least four of these folks each wins some California delegates to the national nominating convention, but their specific vote totals will be telling.

If any candidate fails to draw 15 percent of the statewide California Democratic vote, they can most likely kiss their presidential chances goodbye, even if they’ve done well in the primaries and caucuses of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada – where results will be finalized while most Californians are still mulling their votes.

          Republican President Donald Trump, having just survived an impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate, will have only nominal opposition here, but if a significant number of moderate GOP voters cast protest ballots for former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld or one of several lesser-known candidates, it will signal big trouble ahead for Trump.

          The same kind of moderate vs. extremist contest will also occur in a few much more local votes, even though California’s new 12-year legislative term limits give a huge advantage to incumbents both in the primary and the November runoff to follow.

          At least three key contests will shape November runoffs.

          The perpetually challenged Steve Glazer, a state senator from Orinda in the 7th Senate District, faces the labor-backed ultra-liberal Marisol Rubio in one race. In Orange County’s 72nd Assembly District, incumbent and fairly moderate Republican Tyler Diep faces strong intra-party opposition from conservative Janet Nguyen, who lost her former nearby state Senate seat two years ago to Democrat Tom Umberg.

          And in the 25th Congressional District, covering turf from the Simi Valley in Ventura County to Lancaster in Los Angeles County’s high desert area, multiple conservatives and moderates from both parties seek to replace liberal Democrat Katie Hill, forced to resign by a sex scandal after only a few months in office. This field includes conservative former Republican Rep. Steve Knight, unseated by Hill in 2018, and Democratic Assemblywoman Christy Smith, the early-book favorites to make the runoff elections both for the fall election and the special election to fill the seat until then.

          The two hardest fought of these races may come in the East Bay and Orange County. With former county GOP chairman Scott Baugh backing Nguyen in part because of Diep’s voting with Democrats on some housing measures, the ex-state senator has a good shot.

          One mystery here is why Democrats, who saw Hillary Clinton carry this district in 2016 and then lost it to Diep by less than 3 percent two years later, have not run a well-funded candidate with deep local name recognition. The likelihood there is an all-GOP November runoff.

          Rubio, meanwhile, has gotten donations from three large labor unions and endorsements from a few local Democratic clubs in her bid to oust Glazer. “My life represents everything that is wrong about his voting record,” Rubio says. Neither Rubio nor Glazer won support from the state party.

          All of which means that while the California vote will say a lot about the future of both major parties nationally, it may do the same for the two California parties, even if the moderate vs. extreme battlegrounds are less numerous this time than in some past primaries. 

    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’s been clear for several years, that U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff would love to run for the U.S. Senate. So would California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, best known as a constant irritant for President Trump, and several others.

          But Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and the chief prosecutor in Trump’s impeachment trial, has a big leg up on his competition because of his months in the national limelight managing the effort to oust a president for the first time ever.

          If running an impeachment effort should propel Schiff into the Senate, it would be a ironic sign of the massive changes California politics has seen over the last 25 years.

The congressman would likely have run for the Senate two years ago if veteran Sen. Dianne Feinstein, then 84, had opted to retire. His current 28th District covers a swath of Los Angeles County stretching along the Highway 134 Ventura Freeway from Burbank through Glendale into Pasadena, with tentacles reaching south into West Hollywood and sections of Los Angeles.

          But Feinstein stayed on, easily winning reelection in 2018 because the state Republican Party’s bench is so short the GOP could not find a significant candidate to run against her.

          Her term ends in 2024, when Gov. Gavin Newsom, who may be in his second term by then, will more likely be running for president than for the Senate. A Democratic victory this year, however, would change that presumption. Newsom, for one possibility, might conceivably be vice president in that case.

          But so could California’s junior senator, Kamala Harris. Having dropped her presidential bid before this election year even started, Harris might also be vice president. If she were, it would put her Senate seat up for grabs in 2022, no matter who Newsom might appoint to that spot on a temporary basis. Temporary U.S. senators from California have not often done well when running on their own to keep the office: Feinstein, for example, first won her slot in 1992, running against the appointed Republican John Seymour.

          All this says more about what’s befallen the state GOP than it does about the many Democratic possibilities. Among other potential candidates in what could be a crowded field are Becerra, Secretary of State Alex Padilla, Lt. Gov. Elena Kounalakis and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

          Why no Republicans in this early mix? The state’s GOP has virtually no corps of qualified aspiring candidates waiting in the wings for seats to open up. Republicans have managed to elect only one top-of-ticket statewide official in the 22 years since ex-Gov. Pete Wilson left office in 1998.

          That was ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who won his office in the recall election that ousted Democrat Gray Davis. He very likely could not have won a normal Republican primary because of his moderate views. GOP voter registration has fallen below 25 percent and the party can’t even muster one-third of the seats in either house of the Legislature.

          In this mix, Schiff is now the most prominent prospect. Ironically, the former state senator won his seat in Congress – now considered safely Democratic – by ousting former Republican Rep. James Rogan, once a House prosecutor in the impeachment trial of ex-President Bill Clinton. Rogan later became a Los Angeles Superior Court judge.

          If Schiff should emerge as a senator within the next four years, it would mark the end of a totally unprecedented run of San Francisco area politicians controlling the top California electoral offices. Newsom and predecessor Jerry Brown have held the governor’s office the last 10 years, while Feinstein, Harris and retired Sen. Barbara Boxer have controlled the state’s two Senate seats for 28 years.

          All have strong Bay Area roots, especially Feinstein and Newsom as former San Francisco mayors and Harris as a district attorney.

          It’s no coincidence that city’s ultra-liberal politics have become de rigueur in the state Capitol, while more moderate views common in other parts of California wield little influence.

          Schiff could change some of this, but he will first have to sustain the prominence into which impeachment has thrust him.

    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, January 27, 2020




          Diamond lanes for the rich. Lexus lanes. A classic bait-and-switch. Social engineering on a massive scale. Taking the free out of freeways.

          Republican officials working for then-President George W. Bush in 2008 didn’t apply any of those epithets to their plan to charge tolls and allow solo drivers into carpool lanes on freeways in some of the most crowded parts of California.

          Rather, they dangled hundreds of millions of dollars in incentives before state and local officials to get them to adopt this benighted idea – and the locals bit, big time. It started with a grant of more than $200 million about 10 years ago from Bush’s Department of Transportation, which turned existing carpool lanes into toll lanes on the Interstate 10 freeway in eastern Los Angeles County. The idea has spread, even though it does not really work.

          As a result, many thousands of California drivers put transponders in their cars and get charged from 25 cents per mile on up for driving in lanes once occupied by carpoolers only – the result being that carpool lanes in many places are now as crowded as all the others.

          Now an enormous expansion of toll lanes is in its early stages. This idea has three goals: Allow toll lane drivers to move at faster speeds than they do now. Make other lanes so congested that drivers switch to different modes of transport, where available. And convert as many existing carpool lanes to toll ones as possible in order to produce more and more revenue to finance ever more toll lanes.

          The biggest new push is about to come in the 405 Freeway corridor between West Los Angeles and the vast San Fernando Valley portion of Los Angeles, a distance of about 10 miles of almost constant congestion despite California’s recent slow growth, which state officials say cost Los Angeles County about 96,000 residents over the last year.

          More than $5 billion in local sales tax revenue is already available for this project, which would try to find space for two new toll lanes in the existing right-of-way, along with building a new, parallel north-south light-rail line, either on a monorail or in a multi-billion-dollar tunnel. With the Trump Administration not exactly in a giving mood toward California, the extra $4 billion to $9 billion this project would need likely must come from borrowing against future road tolls.

          So drivers would essentially pay tolls to finance a plan aiming to get them out of their cars. All this because city planners – ignoring what happened when Los Angeles hosted the Olympic Games in 1984 – expect vast amounts of traffic during the upcoming 2028 Los Angeles Games.

          Never mind that traffic was at historic lows during the ’84 event, partly because thousands of Angelenos went elsewhere during those Games to avoid massive traffic that never materialized.

          Toll lanes are in the offing in many other places, too. Orange County planners contemplate new ones on four freeways there, with plans for new lanes rather than converting existing carpool ones. Toll lanes are also expected on several San Francisco Bay area freeways, including the 101 and 880 freeways, where carpool lanes would most likely be converted.

          It’s all part of a steady “We know best” approach by city, state and county planners, who have never taken a public vote on toll lanes, first sold to voters as being reserved for carpools only, with tolls not mentioned. That makes all this a classic bait and switch.

          No one knows whether the trend will lead to a public revolt on the scale of what happened in the mid-1970s, when then-Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration converted regular traffic lanes on the I-10 Santa Monica Freeway in West Los Angeles to carpools only. The outcry forced the state’s transportation director to resign and the lanes reverted. There are still no carpool lanes on that stretch of freeway.

          Every time the public speaks on this issue, it opposes new toll lanes or anything else aimed at driving them out of their cars. But so far, there have been no rebellions at the ballot box. Does Gov. Gavin Newsom really want to bet on that passivity continuing?

     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