Monday, May 16, 2022

NEWSOM RUNNING FOR PREZ DURING PRIMARY

 CALIFORNIA FOCUS

FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, JUNE 3, 2022, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS

     “NEWSOM RUNNING FOR PREZ DURING PRIMARY”

 

        Just watching him, you might think that after he secures a November ballot slot in the California primary election ending June 7, Gov. Gavin Newsom would hop a quick flight to Iowa or New Hampshire and press the flesh with voters who will decide early on the next Democratic presidential nominee.

 

        From the moment the news service Politico released a draft U.S. Supreme Court decision likely to remove women’s right to abortion on demand, Newsom has focused laser-like on that issue, criticizing his own party almost as much as rival Republicans who rubber-stamped the three Donald Trump high court choices behind the proposed ruling.

 

        Although he still has to take care of the little matter of getting reelected governor of the nation’s largest state, Newsom looks very much the presidential candidate.

 

        Why not? Current President Joseph Biden looks frail and vulnerable in a 2024 reelection run. Onetime prominent contenders Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are now secondhand merchandise. Vice President Kamala Harris, the former California senator who has long been Newsom’s stablemate and friend, has never gotten past the first two presidential primaries and would not be a strong candidate.

 

        Newsom might be all the Democrats have if they want to avoid a second term of Trump or a Trumpist figure like Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis, whom Newsom loves to lambaste.

 

Newsom plainly figures he may soon tower over the Democratic field, and he’s apparently decided the way to assure that is to seize on the likely demise of the Roe v. Wade doctrine of privacy that enables abortion.

 

So he's gone after anyone not vocally opposing that probable decision, early and often.

 

DeSantis, who promoted and signed a bill severely limiting abortion rights in Florida, is a frequent target. Newsom began attacking DeSantis in response to the Floridian’s blasting California policy on COVID-19. “We see students denied an education, workers denied employment and Americans denied freedoms…” DeSantis said.

 

Newsom’s quick response: We also see 40,000 live people who would have been dead had California followed Florida’s non-closure policies. He added, “I do not look for inspiration to that particular governor.”

 

But once the demise of Roe v. Wade became likely, Newsom hit harder, even flailing against Democrats he thinks have been too passive.

 

 About Republicans, he said in a campaign funding pitch that they are not pro-life, but pro-birth. “Many of those celebrating the draft opinion oppose funding for pre-natal care,” he said. “Many of those celebrating oppose paid family leave. Many of those celebrating tried to take away health care under the Affordable Care Act. These people don’t even believe in climate science, and that is to say nothing of their handling of the pandemic.”

 

Of DeSantis, he said, “Anyone been paying attention to what that guy…is doing in Florida? The attacks on the LGBTQ community? They’re going after social-emotional learning in schools…I mean, they make their stuff up out of whole cloth.”

 

        It’s clear Newsom’s pitch this fall and in any presidential run will that be abortion opponents are unwilling to help care for the children they want to see born – or almost anyone else. he said, “They’re pro-birth, and then you’re on your own”  (regardless of your financial status).

 

        “We have to beat…every far-right radical running for office in California.” And by implication, everywhere else, too.

 

        But he also attacked Democrats for passivity in the face of determined Republicans pushing abortion bans and other policies, like forbidding the mere mention of gays in Florida elementary schools.

 

        “I can’t take any more (Joe) Manchins,” he said of the West Virginia Democratic senator who has stymied many Biden proposals. “And where is the Democratic Party? Why aren’t we standing up more firmly, calling this out. We need to stand up, where’s the counteroffensive?”

 

        That infuriated Newsom’s fellow San Francisco Democrat, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who went on national television to wonder how he could miss her Democratic majority’s efforts to preserve Roe v. Wade.

 

        “I have no idea why anyone would make that statement,..” the offended Pelosi said.

 

        Here’s why: Newsom wasn’t merely campaigning for abortion rights, he was aiming to become the de facto national party leader, and its next presidential candidate, no matter how hard he might deny it now.

 

-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

DOUBT REMOVED: OIL REFINERS GOUGING US

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, MAY 31, 2022 OR THEREAFTER

 

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS

     “DOUBT REMOVED: OIL REFINERS GOUGING US”

 

        There was some room for doubt back in February, when gasoline prices rose precipitously: Until the oil companies who refine most California gas unveiled their first-quarter profits, it would be impossible to be sure the spike stemmed from price gouging.

 

        That was because the pump price increase from about $4.30 per gallon to nearly $6 (and more in some places) came just as the United States announced a boycott on Russian oil as a punishment for the invasion of Ukraine.

 

        Price gouging seemed the logical explanation for the hike. Russian oil amounted to less than 3 percent of California’s supply; why should its sudden disappearance cause a price hike of 12 times that much?

 

        Doubt about this should now disappear from the minds of consumers. They were taken advantage of by oil companies in a systematic, cartel-like manner as every gasoline refiner raised prices at the same moment.

 

        That is now clear from the very eagerly-awaited quarterly financial reports. They show profits of the five major firms making 96 percent of this state’s gasoline all rose dramatically in the first quarter. Because the price gouging did not begin until mid-February, it had no effect for fully half the first-quarter time period.

 

        The five companies include Chevron, Marathon, Valero, PBF Energy and Phillips 66. Their results, says Jamie Court, head of the Consumer Watchdog advocacy group, “show that the Golden State Gouge is real. Oil refiners exploited the crisis in Ukraine to make a mint from California drivers.” Yes, they also profiteered in the rest of America, but not like they did here.

 

        One difficulty in measuring this stems from the fact that most big California refiners do not break out their California profits from what they make worldwide.

 

        An exception is PBF Energy, owner of refineries in New Jersey, Delaware, Louisiana, plus those in Martinez and Torrance that formerly belonged to Shell and Exxon Mobil. PBF's profits from its Torrance facility grew from $15.75 per barrel in 2021 to $32.84 this year, returning more than twice the previous take. That meant PBF, which markets to name brands, smaller chains and unbranded gas stations, made about 78 cents per gallon in profit this year compared with 42 cents last year.

 

        While other refiners here don’t break things down by state or individual refinery, Chevron made a $480 million profit in the U.S. in this year’s first three months, compared with a loss of $130 million last year.

 

        The other big refiners reported similar huge increases in profitability, the obvious result of their price gouging. When he announced the ban on Russian oil, President Biden warned them not to gouge, but they did it anyway, with no penalty.

 

        Partly, that’s because most refiners effectively hide their per-gallon profit margin. This could end in California if the Legislature this summer passes a bill known as SB 1322, sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Ben Allen of Santa Monica. Allen’s measure would force the Big Five refiners in this state to report how much gas they make and sell here and the margins they net from each gallon sold to drivers.

 

        Many Californians habitually blame the fact that pump prices here are nearly the highest in the nation on California’s higher-than-usual fuel taxes. But those levies only account for about 60 cents per gallon, and the difference between the average price in California and elsewhere is about $1.30. For sure, drivers here deserve to know why they pay an unexplained 70 cents more per gallon than folks just across state lines.

 

        Says Court, “California has been an ATM for oil refiners for too long.” He suggests that if oil companies had to report their per-gallon profits on a regular basis, they would feel some pressure to hold the line on prices better than they have.

 

        So a lot of money hangs on the fate of Allen’s bill, which passed its first Senate committee test unanimously. That’s money which could help a lot of families now forced to choose between buying gas or food or shoes.

       

           -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

 

Suggested pull-out quote: “Refiners effectively hide their profit margin on each gallon.”

Monday, May 9, 2022

WHO CONTROLS LAW OFFICERS? L.A. SHERIFF’S ELECTION MAY TELL

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS

FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, MAY 27, 2022, OR THEREAFTER

 

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS

     “WHO CONTROLS LAW OFFICERS? L.A. SHERIFF’S ELECTION MAY TELL”

 

        For the last three years, it’s been plain that some California sheriffs are de facto beyond the control of the county supervisors who are their nominal bosses.

 

        Some sheriffs won’t discipline deputies for out-of-control brutality, many still refuse to require deputies to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in places where that is demanded of all other county employees, most don’t discipline deputies who become involved in paramilitary or ideologically extreme groups like the Proud Boys and virtually all openly resent any efforts to cut their budgets, even a little.

 

        In some ways, the conflict between civilians and sworn officers mimics the constant push and pull between national military leaders and civilians who are their supposed bosses, but often act like sycophants and wanna-be generals or admirals.

 

        If there’s a leader among the scofflaw sheriffs in California, who run departments as disparate in size and geography as Riverside and Del Norte counties, it is Alex Villanueva, the first Latino sheriff of Los Angeles County and the prime example for defiant colleagues.

 

        Villanueva ran for office four years ago as a reformer who would reverse policies of his predecessors that let deputies get away with far more brutality and other irregularities than they could if they were officers in most local police departments, which often are closely watched by city governments.

 

        He evolved into something nearly the opposite of what he indicated he would be. Most recently, he displayed apparent ignorance of the California reporters’ shield law, which forbids arresting or otherwise legally harassing news reporters for refusing to divulge sources of information they publish.

 

        In that case, Villanueva threatened a criminal investigation of a Los Angeles Times reporter for possibly accepting stolen property after she publicized a leaked video showing a deputy kneeling for several minutes on the head (a la George Floyd) of a handcuffed prisoner who had just violently resisted that deputy.

 

        When every major press organization in the state decried his threat as a violation of the shield law and constitutional free press guarantees, Villanueva backed off, declaring there had been an “incredible frenzy of misinformation.”

 

        The Times and several witnesses alleged Villanueva first saw the months-old tape just days after the incident occurred, then covered it up. The sheriff denied that, saying he didn’t know of the incident until eight months after it occurred and then took swift action.

 

        Villanueva claimed the reporter illegally got the tape from a former top aide, Eli Vera, who is now one of four credible primary election candidates to replace him. The sheriff called the tape stolen property.

 

        But the furor over the kneeling deputy tape is only one item bedeviling Villanueva’s reelection attempt. Another: despite his Latino heritage, his department is often accused of treating immigrants unfairly. A state audit this spring claimed Los Angeles County is among several sheriff’s offices displaying bias against immigrants, women and LGBTQ+ persons, saying it is one of the agencies lacking safeguards against discriminatory attitudes. This, the audit said, puts the departments at “higher risk of…being unable to effectively address the ways in which their officers exhibit bias.”

 

        Latina Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, frequently at odds with Villanueva, in late April asked state Attorney General Rob Bonta to investigate the sheriff’s “pattern of unconscionable and dangerous actions.”

 

        Bonta already had an ongoing active civil rights investigation of Villanueva’s office, with no visible consequences.

 

        That pretty much leaves it to voters in the primary to decide whether Villanueva’s behavior in office – and by extension that of many other California sheriffs – is OK.

 

        He has substantial opposition, with not only Vera, who was a sheriff’s chief deputy before being demoted when he declared his candidacy, but also Sheriff’s Lt. Eric Strong, Los Angeles Airport Police Chief Cecil Rhambo and former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna in the running.

 

        Chances are Villanueva, as an incumbent, will make it at least to the November runoff election. But if he doesn’t, or if he loses then, it will be a strong statement that voters – the ultimate bosses of all sheriffs – want them subjected to much more civilian control than many have accepted for the last few years.

       

        -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

EXPECTED ANTI-ABORTION RULING COULD BOOST CALIFORNIA

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, MAY 24, 2022, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS

     “EXPECTED ANTI-ABORTION RULING COULD BOOST CALIFORNIA”

 

Looking for leading beneficiaries of the draft U.S. Supreme Court abortion opinion leaked in early May, if it becomes reality? Try California and its current political leadership.

 

For anyone who missed reports on the decision draft, it essentially would uphold a Mississippi law all but banning abortions and revoke the federal protections of the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that made privacy a right, thus legalizing abortion everywhere in America. This leaves California an abortion haven and women barred from the procedure in other states are already coming here to ensure their safety.

 

For some, it's "abortion tourism," for others permanent moves. And there will be many more if and when the draft ruling becomes official.

 

A few other states also will become abortion destinations, helping women not ready for motherhood. But no place else offers as many choices and price points as California.

 

        Among items the draft ruling did not consider: For millenia, whenever and wherever abortions have been banned, illicit ones proliferated, with women from 13 to 40-plus often using coat hangers, botanical potions and untrained, fly-by-night abortionists to get relief they desperately seek – and sometimes dying or being rendered infertile for life.

 

        By coincidence, the leaked ruling – later confirmed by Chief Justice John Roberts as authentic but not binding or necessarily permanent – came at the same moment new state figures showed a California population loss of 117,552 persons during 2021. That was half as many as in 2020, and did not measure the influx of immigrants, both domestic and foreign, last December and early this year. Still, it was not a happy number for this state.

 

        But the very likely decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, could be one antidote for California’s population losses, helping return the state to its accustomed position as a fast growing place that attracts many of the persecuted from elsewhere.

 

        The California tradition of welcoming people in dire straits dates from before the Civil War, when hundreds of escaped slaves made their way here to get as far as possible from bondage. The trend continued after the Civil War, as many defeated former Confederate officers arrived. Still later, California became a haven for Jewish intellectuals persecuted by Nazi Germany, hosting the likes of Thomas Mann and Berthold Brecht.

 

        Immigrants once persecuted in Czarist Russia and later by the Soviet Union founded movie studios and high tech companies. Undocumented arrivals escaping a variety of injustices in Latin America began coming in the last century. All these groups pushed California’s long era of massive growth.

 

        The next persecuted group seeking shelter in the Golden State may well be women desperately wanting abortions but unable to obtain them safely in the 26 states considered certain to ban the procedure if the Supreme Court decides as expected. Many will bring husbands and children.

 

        For sure, California’s current leaders will welcome them with open arms and, very likely, financial aid.

 

        Immediately after the draft decision leaked, Gov. Gavin Newsom, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and state Senate President Toni Atkins proposed amending the state Constitution to protect abortion rights even beyond the current state law, signed in 1967 by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan.

 

        That measure protects privacy rights, but Atkins told a reporter she wants “to be very clear that the right to abortion is what we’re talking about.”

 

        Any such amendment must clear the Legislature by June 30 to appear on the November ballot, where it could form a centerpiece for Democratic campaigns.

 

        National Democrats also seized on the issue. Scores of Democratic-oriented PACs sent fund-raising emails within hours, plainly hoping suburban women who support abortion rights will stave off what has looked like a midterm Republican victory and takeover of the House of Representatives.

 

        For sure, many women of fertility age in states like Texas and Florida, which adopted strict anti-abortion laws in the last few months, have eyed moving here, even though housing costs are a common problem.

 

        Some have told hometown reporters their rights and safety trump high rents.

 

The bottom line: This is are the newest demonstration that real life and the courts can both intrude on politics and create change, sometimes very suddenly.

  

-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, May 2, 2022

THREE LETTERS EXPLAIN PROBLEMS OF SINGLE PAYER INSURANCE: EDD

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, MAY 20, 2022 OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS

    “THREE LETTERS EXPLAIN PROBLEMS OF SINGLE PAYER INSURANCE: EDD”

 

        It takes only three letters to explain why the idea of single payer health insurance keeps getting shot down quickly in the California Legislature: EDD.

 

        No program in state, city or local government has shown itself less competent over the last few years than the state Employment Development Department’s unemployment insurance system, which lost a reported $20 billion to fraudulent claims during the first 18 months or so of the coronavirus pandemic.

 

        Yes, the EDD was flooded with claims in that time of massive layoffs. But it was woefully unprepared for the many fraud schemes brought to bear against its funds during that most fraught of times.

 

        Yes, the EDD has clawed back a few billion of the dollars that went to fake claimants all over the world.

 

        But its demonstrable incompetence under three different department directors causes millions of Californians to wonder why anyone should entrust massive sums of money to the state for distribution to legitimate claimants.

 

        And make no mistake about single payer: It would involve sums far larger even than the approximately $180 billion passed out by EDD over the first year and a half of the pandemic.

 

        This year’s proposal, carried by Democratic Assemblyman Ash Kalra of San Jose, would have entailed an annual expense of close to $400 billion, well in excess of California’s general fund budget.

 

        Some of that money would have come from redirected health insurance premiums, both for private insurance and for Medicare – if the federal Medicare system would agree to giving up more than 10 percent of its cash flow. Some would have come from money given California by the federal Medicaid system, known here as Medi-Cal. But that still would have left many billions to be raised, presumably by the largest tax increase in state history.

 

        Just how difficult this financing would have been to acquire was demonstrated when Kalra’s AB 1400 spelled out what single payer would do and what it would be – essentially Medicare for all, with no more insurance company involvement and no more distinction between Medi-Cal patients and everyone else. It did not say where the money for this would come from.

 

        Kalra's bill went nowhere despite the fact that the extreme liberal Democratic politicians who now run Sacramento, from Gov. Gavin Newsom through Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and state Senate President Toni Atkins of San Diego, all have long backed the single payer idea.

 

        That was largely because many Assembly Democrats didn’t want to be forced to go on the record for or against single payer, especially in an election year when some will face new constituents during the June and November votes.

 

        So Kalra’s bill died, at least for this year, without any vote taken, and without many politicians forced to take positions for which they could be held responsible.

 

        No one said so, but one of the main reasons was the EDD debacle. If the state could not safeguard unemployment insurance dollars paid in by many thousands of employers, why would anyone think it capable of handling far more money paid in by tens of millions of individuals?

 

        The single payer proposal especially offended current Medicare subscribers, who benefit from a system long opposed by Republicans – but embraced even by them in recent years because it works.

 

        Typical is the coverage Medicare affords for heart bypass operations. First, it knocks down the price asked for such procedures (and most others) by hospitals and doctors. Then it pays 80 percent of what it allows. Medicare subscribers (mostly people over 65, but also including younger kidney dialysis patients and some others) can get the other 20 percent paid by supplemental insurance policies widely offered in months-long signup periods.

 

        Astonishingly, there is relatively little fraud in Medicare claims.

 

        Medicare paid out $718 billion in claims in 2018, the last year for which totals are available. Known fraud against the system last year totaled just $1.4 billion, well under 1 percent, and actions were taken against 142 individuals, including only 42 doctors and nurses.

 

        No wonder so many want Medicare for all. They certainly don’t want EDD for all and until there is certainly that would not befall California under single payer, it won’t happen.

       

 

    -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

KEVIN MCCARTHY: SHOULD A PROVEN LIAR BECOME SPEAKER?

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, MAY 17, 2022, OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “KEVIN MCCARTHY: SHOULD A PROVEN LIAR BECOME SPEAKER?”

 

        Possibly the most common jury instruction in courtrooms across America goes basically like this (specific language may vary a little): “If you catch a witness lying about anything, you can assume they are lying about everything else they said.”

 

        But both in California and in Congress, Republicans en masse are apparently ignoring that edict, offering standing ovations to Kevin McCarthy, the Bakersfield congressman and Republican leader in the House of Representatives who desperately wants to become speaker of the House. That would put him just behind the vice president in the presidential succession ranks, if his party gets the mid-term election victory it expects this fall.

 

        It was well known before this spring that McCarthy was a sycophantic minion of ex-President Donald Trump, aping his line and approach to almost everything. Publicly behaving in any other way would get him ousted by rank-and-file GOP members of Congress who vie eagerly for Trump endorsements whenever they run for office.

 

        To them, it does’t matter that Trump is a known liar, like many presidents before him, or that Trump took lying to flagrant new depths with his post-election-ouster claims of fraud and his administration’s open embrace of the concept of “alternative facts.” Longtime Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway generally gets “credit” for inventing the term and embracing it as an explanation for the frequent blatant, provable lies purveyed by Trump and his aides. The Washington Post once calculated there were an average of 22 of those on each day of Trump’s first three years in the White House.

 

        But no one has ever been elected speaker by his or her House colleagues after becoming involved in a provable lie about anything politically significant. That’s in the 235-year history of this republic.

 

        Here’s the detail on McCarthy’s biggest known lie. After the New York Times reported in April that he told fellow House Republicans Trump should resign for encouraging the Jan. 6, 2020 insurrection that caused them all to hide in Capitol building nooks as they fled for their lives, McCarthy denied ever saying that.

 

        “Totally false,” he declared.

 

        But an audio tape soon emerged, provided by the Times and played on the MSNBC cable network, proving McCarthy indeed suggested Trump get out.

 

        McCarthy said that in the belief Trump was political toast, and that his own ambition would best be served by jumping that ship. But Trump remains almost as firmly in control of the GOP today as when he was president. So McCarthy pretends he never said what he actually did say.

 

        He and Trump then made peace. This dizzying sequence caused Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, herself long a presidential hopeful, to label McCarthy a “liar” and a “traitor.”

 

        McCarthy’s turnabout on Jan. 6 probably does not make him a traitor, but he is certainly a liar, and if he goes on to become speaker, he will be the first selected for that post after a U.S. senator called him traitorous. So far, McCarthy has not so much as threatened a libel lawsuit over Warren’s slur.

 

        Strikingly, McCarthy’s proven lie did not visibly lose him much Republican congressional support or even much backing among California Republicans.

 

        The party’s state chair, Jessica Millan Patterson, participated in a standing ovation for McCarthy at the California GOP’s springtime convention the day after the tape surfaced proving him a liar.

 

        He ignored the matter in his keynote speech – yes, Patterson allowed him to keep the keynote slot despite his new status as a prominent prevaricator. Among Republicans, only a few dissidents expressed disapproval.

 

        Some rank-and-file convention delegates pronounced the tape a fake, but not McCarthy. And one major Trump contributor told a reporter that “MAGA-land is enraged…they’re going to play nice through the election, but Kevin McCarthy is not going to be speaker of the House if the Republicans win it back.”

 

        If that’s true, and McCarthy does not succeed California Democrat Nancy Pelosi as speaker, it will deprive California of becoming the first state with two consecutive House speakers.

 

        But it would also show that the standard legal admonition on lies and liars is not lightly ignored, and that no documented liar will soon get America’s No. 3 political job.


-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, April 25, 2022

IS THE BIG HOUSING CRUNCH MOSTLY FICTION?

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS

FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, MAY 10, 29, 2022, OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS

     “IS THE BIG HOUSING CRUNCH MOSTLY FICTION?”

 

        In some parts of California, there is definitely a housing crunch: small supplies of homes for sale, prices that escalate even when population has apparently stabilized and high prices that exclude most Californians as buyers.

 

        But a massive, multi-million-unit shortage? Maybe not. At least, so suggests a scathing springtime report from the non-partisan acting state auditor.

 

        “The (state) Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) has made errors when completing its needs assessments because it does not sufficiently review and verify data it uses,” the report deadpanned.

 

        Maybe that’s why as he campaigned in 2018, Gov. Gavin Newsom insisted California would need 3.5 million new housing units within 8 years just to keep up. That would have been more than 400,000 homes, condos and apartments every year, all supposedly getting snapped up as increased supply caused prices to fall.

 

        None of this has happened. Housing construction never has topped 110,000 units per year during Newsom’s tenure, and a good share of those stand vacant. Newsom’s administration now says California needs 1.8 million new homes by 2030, a huge drop in his needs assessment after less than four years. What happened to the other half of what Newsom said was needed? Maybe the need never existed.

 

        Those earlier numbers stemmed in part from expert estimates that California’s high growth would continue indefinitely. We now see that is not automatic. Fewer newcomers mean less need for new homes.

 

        But the auditor’s report suggests even the 1.8 million housing units Newsom now says are needed by 2030 may be a gross exaggeration. One look at all the vacancy signs on apartment buildings and condominiums in major cities informally suggests this. But HCD does not lower its estimates of need.

 

        The department’s regional need figures, in turn, produce threats of lawsuits from appointed state Attorney General Rob Bonta against city after city, demanding they grease development permits for hundreds of thousands of new units. The demand against Los Angeles, for example, is that it immediately OK about 250,000 new units. It’s as if Bonta has not seen the auditor’s report indicating the figures he uses are flawed. If he hasn’t read it, he is incompetent. If he has, he is dishonest.

 

        How real are the numbers on which the estimates and the resulting legal threats rest? Here’s a bit more of what Auditor Michael S. Tilden reported in a dramatic document so far studiously ignored by politicians:

 

        “HCD does not have adequate review processes to ensure that its staff members accurately enter data that it uses in the needs assessments.”

 

When means leading state officials continually spout unsubstantiated, possibly phony, estimates of housing need. This should discredit any lawsuits Bonta threatens against cities.

 

        For the auditor’s finding means the state housing agency estimates have no proven basis.

 

        All this is vital to California’s future because the estimates are already forcing cities to approve much more housing than they need, reacting to lawsuit threats and the possible accompanying loss of millions in state grant money.

 

That, in turn, could produce future slums, or at least thousands of future short term rental and temporary corporate housing units. But it won’t help prospective home buyers get into markets where the median price now tops $800,000, in part because construction of just one average California unit costs more than $500,000.

 

        The auditor in effect says that when Newsom and Bonta cite housing need figures, they essentially spread fake news.

 

        For sure, when the state bases policy on unreliable or imagined information, it can do great harm. Just that appears likely soon, as passage of laws like the densifying 2021 measures known as SB 9 and SB 10 rested completely on HCD’s unsound information.

 

        Far better would be for the state to concentrate instead on making housing out of converted office space vacated during the pandemic. That, at least, would not ruin any current neighborhoods.

 

        In short, California will suffer irreparable long term harm if it keeps basing housing policy on false or unreliable information.

 

   -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