Monday, March 30, 2020

FIRST STEPS TOWARD REALITY FOR A SCI-FI SCENARIO?


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, APRIL 17, 2020 OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
 
    “FIRST STEPS TOWARD REALITY FOR A SCI-FI SCENARIO?”


          Many parts of current reality, from talking wristwatches to smartphones and sophisticated industrial and domestic robots like Amazon’s Alexa, Roomba vacuum cleaners and many more, occurred in science fiction stories decades before becoming everyday devices.


          So it pays today to consider where California and the rest of modern civilization may be headed, with online work and education expanded exponentially as part of the effort to curb the worldwide COVID-19 viral pandemic.


          Increasingly, people communicate by computer, smartphone and smartwatch rather than in person. Isolation grows ever more common; “social distancing” is officially mandated as a key anti-virus tactic, with violations potentially punishable by fine or jail time.


          So a look at one of the first times something like this appeared in literature and the extreme form it took there might be appropriate before the current reality becomes habit in California, where many of the world’s trends are set.


          That early appearance came via the distinguished author Isaac Asimov’s 1957 novel “The Naked Sun.”


          The book sees humanoid robot Daneel Olivaw and his human detective partner Elijah Bailey, natives of earth, travel to the fictional planet of Solaria to investigate a murder. On Solaria, they find a civilization of vast plantations, each inhabited by only one person.


The planet’s rigidly-controlled population of 20,000 is supported by ten thousand times that many robots, who do all the work. The few humans, virtually always isolated, communicate almost exclusively by hologram – their real-looking but ephemeral images projected across thousands of miles, a potential technology far more advanced than the so-called holograms used on some drivers licenses and credit cards today.


          Face-to-face communication, especially of the sort needed to reproduce, is seen as dirty stuff on Solaria, even if it’s occasionally unavoidable.


In the face of the coronavirus, things have not yet gone nearly that far. But today’s great expansion of working remotely by computer and other “smart” devices is creating changes for many millions. This includes schoolchildren who get lesson plans and some supervision from teachers working at home via tablets and computers, some supplied by school systems. Even television reporters now perform live standups with backyard hedges or living rooms as backdrops, rather than the usual graphics like video boards with weather maps.


          It’s a massive change that seems to work in this hopefully brief period when parents are forced to shelter at home to avoid either spreading or catching the virus. But what happens if parents return to work, but schools remain closed, as Gov. Gavin Newsom has hinted they might until next fall?


          That’s unknown. But California has far too few day camps and other day care programs to handle the millions of children who might soon need supervision from someone other than a parent.


           What’s more, despite offers of free Internet service from companies like Verizon, many children lack connectivity in their homes, but can’t go to Starbucks, public libraries or other commercial sites to pick up wifi connections, because most such places – when they reopen – still won’t cater to unsupervised children.


          Meanwhile, working life in California and many other locales has changed radically since shelter-in-place became common government policy. Many workers already had no need for access to bulky file cabinets, drawing boards, easels and fax machines. They could find almost everything they need online with laptop computers costing as little as $200 each and, in some cases, mere tablets that cost much less.


          What happens to them when the pandemic runs its course? Will employers still want to pay rent on many thousands of square feet of office space when they’ve seen their employees can use kitchen tables? The relatively few times employees actually need to see their bosses could be accommodated by renting a large room. Will workers still want to make long commutes? All this might not work for food service workers, but no one yet knows how permanent the changes imposed on restaurants will become, how radically today’s experience might alter California’s future.


          No one knows if all this means fewer humans will eventually be needed, al la Asimov’s Solaria. But while the changes are new, the concepts they’ve begun bringing to life are not.


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

DANGEROUS PRECEDENT IN NEWSOM’S PG&E PLAN


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, APRIL 14, 2020 OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “DANGEROUS PRECEDENT IN NEWSOM’S PG&E  PLAN”


          The devil, goes the old saying about any complicated deal, is always in the details. In the ultra-complicated deal between Gov. Gavin Newsom and the bankrupt Pacific Gas & Electric Co., the potentially perilous devil may lie in one key detail that could cost electric customers around the state many billions of dollars over decades to come.


          Newsom bragged the agreement designed to bring the huge utility out of bankruptcy marks “The end of business as usual for PG&E.” He said this while preoccupied with imposing more and more rules to fight the coronavirus pandemic, but said nothing about one tax provision that immediately duns PG&E’s customers for $1.4 billion.


          This deal certainly could cause big changes for the felonious, twice-convicted PG&E. There would be no dividend paid to stockholders for at least three years, depriving share owners of $4 billion. That’s a major blow to the many small investors who bought PG&E shares for the steady income they once produced.


          The company will also pay about $7.6 billion at no charge to its customers to repay or refinance utility debts. A state observer will monitor PG&E’s safety performance. And the state can buy or break up the company if it doesn’t leave bankruptcy by July 1, selling off the pieces if Newsom and the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) he greatly influences should so choose.


          All this has to be approved by the PUC before the company can escape bankruptcy. Also, victims of the fires started at least in part by PG&E equipment will have to vote to accept an alleged $13.5 billion settlement or federal Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali says he won’t okay the deal.


          The July 1 date is vital because PG&E must be on its own by then to be covered by the state’s new Wildfire Fund, paid for by all electric consumers in the state. Created by a 2019 law known as AB 1054, the fund will reimburse privately-owned utilities like PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric up to $20 billion for fire damage they cause starting this year.


          It’s an unprecedented bailout for corporate wrongdoing and negligence.


          But the tax provision in the out-of-bankruptcy deal sets an equally dangerous precedent. Under the plan, all $1.4 billion in tax benefits PG&E will get from losses during the fires of the last few years will become part of the funding for the victim settlement.


          This would set a pattern the always utility-friendly PUC could follow whenever PG&E or the other utilities propose new settlements with their fire victims, past, present and future.


          For the past 109 years since the PUC began under the Progressive Republican Gov. Hiram Johnson, all outside financial benefits gained by any utility have gone toward keeping electric rates down. The huge PG&E tax writeoff is just such an outside benefit, not resulting directly from gas or electric operations.


          Giving that money to the settlement fund will raise rates for all PG&E customers, piling atop the $2.50 per month they and other electric consumers will pay for the next 15 years for the Wildfire Fund. Customers would pay both for that fund and some of the settlement with victims.


          Newsom has not publicly mentioned this new cost to PG&E’s customers. If anyone could be sure this is a one-time thing, it might not be such a big deal, costing each customer about a buck a month for years to come. Not much if you have money; a problem if you don’t.


          But no so-called consumer advocate except former PUC President Loretta Lynch has complained about the provision. She rightly notes that it marks “the first time a(n outside) revenue stream goes anywhere but to the ratepayers.”


          This provision alone ought to be reason for the PUC to reject the deal. But since current PUC President Marybel Batjer has a history of aiding PG&E, including helping design both the Wildfire Fund and the latest deal, that won’t happen. This arrangement appears greased.


          Which leaves electricity users all over California at far more future financial risk than ever before.

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

Monday, March 23, 2020

SAY GOODBYE TO SB 50, HELLO TO WIENER’S NEW SB 90


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, APRIL 10, 2020, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “SAY GOODBYE TO SB 50, HELLO TO WIENER’S NEW SB 902”


          Six weeks after Californians saw the legislative failure of SB 50, an attempt to impose dense housing and high-rise buildings on most parts of this state, the bill’s author is back with yet another attack on single-family zoning throughout the state.


          This one is called SB 902. It’s Wiener’s third bid in the last three years to urbanize neighborhoods that neither want nor need to see their characters changed.


          Wiener’s first two tries fixated on transit, mandating that cities OK apartment and condominium buildings of up to eight floors anywhere near light rail stations, and only somewhat shorter structures anywhere within hailing distance of major bus routes. Cities wanting to densify under that plan could do it just about anywhere, merely by increasing the frequency of bus traffic on particular streets.


          The fix would have been in for developers and construction unions, who stood to make big money from this misguided method of allegedly fighting the state’s housing shortage.


          But a coalition of homeowner groups and local officials jealous of their right to govern their own cities and counties shot it down both times.


          That didn’t change Wiener’s mindset about single-family zoning. He still believes it’s an abomination to build substantial homes on decent-sized lots. For sure, anything like that contrasts starkly with Wiener’s home turf in San Francisco’s Castro District, where cheek-by-jowl wooden walkup apartment buildings of varying heights fill the cityscape.


          With his new effort, Wiener’s basic idea hasn’t changed, but his tactics have. He’s no longer focusing as much on transit to decide where new housing should rise. Nor does he insist on high-rises. In fact, SB 902 is not nearly so draconian or compulsory as Wiener’s previous efforts. Which may give it a better chance for passage and the almost certain signature of Gov. Gavin Newsom, whose own flailing attempts to get millions of new homes built quickly have failed miserably so far, mostly because there aren’t enough qualified buyers for even the relatively few new homes that actually have been built. The coronavirus pandemic will reduce that group even more.


          “It’s much lighter-touch housing,” Wiener said as he introduced his new measure. This one is wider-ranging than SB 50, taking in virtually all communities in the state, not merely those with active public transportation. “It’s OK for it to be broader, because many communities in California that don’t necessarily have great transit or job access are still struggling with housing…so we need housing everywhere.”


          Instead of compelling everything, SB 902 compels only one thing, but also enables quite a bit. It forces an end to R-1 single family zoning everywhere in California, while giving owners the right to build or convert existing homes into small multi-family housing except where there’s high-risk for wildfires.


          In part because Wiener’s previous efforts have often been derided as one-size-fits-all approaches, this bill makes distinctions between urban and rural areas. It would create a right to build or convert single family homes into multi-unit structures everywhere except commercial and industrial areas.


          But in unincorporated areas and cities with fewer than 10,000 people, only duplexes are guaranteed approval on all lots. Buildings with up to three units could rise on any property in cities between 10,000 and 50,000 persons. The maximum would be four units in cities over 50,000.


          This could be a way for existing homeowners having difficulty making mortgage payments to build new units and create a funding source for their payments. The bill also would not touch local height and design standards, in sharp contrast to Wiener’s earlier plans. It allows cities to upzone areas for denser housing if they wish, without going through much of today’s laborious environmental processes.


          Said Wiener, “We’re serious about giving cities more and more tools to make their lives easier in…approving more housing.”


          This is all a far cry from SB 50, with its firm mandates and removal of local control. But it still could change the character of many California areas.


          All of which gives this plan a much better chance of becoming law than the major housing measures Wiener has  sponsored before.     

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

GET READY FOR BIGGEST BUDGET CRUNCH IN 12 YEARS


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, APRIL 7, 2020, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “GET READY FOR BIGGEST BUDGET CRUNCH IN 12 YEARS”


          As of the end of last year, California’s budgetary rainy day fund amounted to about $20 billion. That sounds like a lot, and the last two governors both put more cash than legally required into the fund.

         
          Now the rainy day has arrived. Skies are dark, figurative rain clouds loom over the Sierra Nevada and other mountain ranges. It’s almost time to tap into the rainy day fund. But it would be unwise to take all the money at once, just as no family should exhaust all its savings in one fell swoop, if at all possible.


          For the coronavirus pandemic, now about six weeks old in California, brought with it enormous personal and corporate financial losses, which will soon translate into vastly lowered revenues for state government. That may last awhile.


          Personal income taxes for 2020, mostly to be paid next year, will be much lower than this year’s and last year’s unless the stock market rockets back up at the same extended record pace it has lost ground over the last two months. With most businesses shuttered and restaurants, bars, sports teams and their arenas all idled to avoid disease contagion, corporate taxes will also skid. Income tax revenues will fall, too, because of the layoffs and unemployment the closures have brought.


          The last time anything like this happened to California, in the fiscal crisis of 2008-11, these same types of tax receipts nose-dived, and quickly. In 2007, for one example, the state took in $11 billion worth of capital gains taxes. The very next year, capital gains tax receipts came to just $2.3 billion, a drop of about 80 percent.


          Capital gains taxes paid to the state were about 50 percent higher in 2018 and 2019 than in 2007. They will likely come to about $15 billion this year. But they will certainly drop in 2021, and by at least as much as in 2008, barring a miracle stock market recovery.


          The rainy day fund can make up some of this, but not all. And that won’t account for the anticipated income and corporate tax dollars the state will not be getting.


          All of which means anyone or any program dependent on state budget support needs to get set right now for serious belt-tightening on a scale unseen in more than a decade. The days of relatively easy money are over.


          This means the $2 billion Gov. Gavin Newsom promised to contribute toward housing the homeless probably will be cut or will simply evaporate. It means plans for the massive tunnel the governor would like to bore beneath the Delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers may not advance nearly as fast as expected. It means schools must prepare to spend far less in the 2021-2022 academic year than they have lately. It could mean a big cut in state support for the University of California and the Cal State system, both of which saw such backing sliced dramatically during the last fiscal crisis.


          Many more programs and proposals will also be affected, but it’s hard to pinpoint Newsom’s priorities and the Legislature’s.


          They probably don’t even know those priorities today, and will likely spend months hashing it out. If Newsom is wise, the scheduled May revision of his proposed 2020-21 budget will slash many categories even if the state begins to pull out of immediate crisis mode by then.


          That way, state government could spread the harm from the coronavirus financial crisis over at least two or three years, rather than imposing all the needed cuts at once a year from now. Yes, this would be bitter medicine for a state already disrupted by the pandemic, but it would be easier to take than the kind of massive slashing that would come next year if everything is left intact in budget negotiations this spring and summer.


          All of which means that anyone who thought the far-reaching ripples of the viral threat were already pretty bad now needs to get ready for further crises to come.
         

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

Monday, March 16, 2020

GET READY FOR ANOTHER ETHNIC STUDIES BATTLE


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, APRIL 3, 2020, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
      “GET READY FOR ANOTHER ETHNIC STUDIES BATTLE”


          None of the myriad documents prepared by state agencies last year came close to generating the conflict and heated emotions of a proposed new ethnic studies curriculum for public schools put forward by the state Board of Education and California’s Department of Education.


          Expect a new battle on this subject soon.


          The end result of last year’s kerfluffle was that the plan went back to the drawing board. A draft of a purported new plan will be released later this spring, barring coronavirus-related delays, with public input to follow and the aim of getting approval by the state board next fall for use during the 2021-22 school year.


          Good luck with that schedule. The way it seems to be shaping up indicates the new ethnic studies program will strongly resemble the old one, which drew fire for ignoring the contributions and problems of many ethnic groups, including Jewish Americans, Armenian Americans and some other significant groups.


          This happened in part because the rejected draft divided all Californians into four basic ethnic identities: African-Americans, whites, Hispanic Americans and Asians/Pacific Islanders (as if – for one example – it makes any sense to toss Chinese Americans and Samoan Americans into the same pot).


          The rejected curriculum was essentially a litany of complaints. Perhaps that was because academics who subscribe to a field of studies known as “critical ethnic studies” dominated the volunteer committee that helped shape it.


          Several websites describe the guiding question explored by the Critical Ethnic Studies Association as this: “How do the histories of colonialism and conquest, racial chattel slavery and white supremacist patriarchies…affect, inspire and unsettle scholarship in the present?”


          That pretty much means ethnic studies thinking is dominated by negatives, with little use for the positive contributions of the 80-plus ethnic groups that live side-by-side in California.


          But critical ethnic studies has essentially been the background for shaping both the failed ethnic studies draft and the upcoming new effort.


          Said Theresa Montano, an ethnic studies professor at Cal State Northridge, “Racism has played a critical role in America and California. There’s a dominant white culture and then the others.” Might the cause of that last be the fact this nation was founded principally by Europeans?


          No informed American denies that slavery played a major role in the nation’s history. So did the cheap labor of Chinese and other immigrants, including the Irish, Jews and Hispanics. There’s also no arguing that Native Americans suffered enormously.


          All this belongs in public school curricula. But so do the positive contributions of European colonists and other immigrants who together made this the most successful nation planet Earth ever saw, both economically and, often, in living out democratic ideals.


          But anyone who expects the new draft to focus on the positive much more than the previous, rejected version probably should guess again.


          In an update early this year, state Schools Supt. Tony Thurmond said “Our recommendations will acknowledge and honor the four foundational groups” at the core of critical ethnic studies. That will lump Jews, Armenians, Irish, and all other Caucasian hyphenated Americans together with whites in general. It likely means anti-Semitism and the Armenian genocide, for two examples, would be downplayed next to racism and the interning of Japanese-Americans during World War II.


          Each of these subjects deserves separate, substantial study. But it can’t happen when there are “four foundational groups” and everyone else goes into some kind of sub-group. It’s like the major leagues vs. the minors, or like network television vs. something streamed on YouTube.


          Essentially, the Critical Ethnic Studies Assn. advocates focusing on communities of color and not giving much attention to others, no matter how central their role in American history and no matter how severe a persecution they may have suffered.


          So there will likely be no notation, for example, that Portuguese-Americans were central to building the state’s strongest-in-the-world agriculture industry.


          Sure, the new draft will eliminate most of the little-used words that dotted the first version, like cisheteropatriarchy (a male-dominated system) or hxrstory (pronounced the same as herstory and supposedly more inclusive than “history”). But the general thrust likely won’t differ much from last year’s effort, which means this one likely won’t fly, either.


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

JUST HOW ANTI-VAXX ARE THE NEWSOMS?


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, MARCH 31, 2020, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
          “JUST HOW ANTI-VAXX ARE THE NEWSOMS?”


          While the world waits for someone, somewhere, to develop a vaccine against the coronavirus, it would be nice if residents in America’s most populous state could be sure their governor really is on board with vaccinations.


There is some reason to doubt he is. It’s true that Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a legislative bill intended to close loopholes allowing some children to avoid vaccinations required for public school enrollment. And he’s demanded Californians take many coronavirus precautions, from closing all bars to forcing over-65s to stay home. But…


          Newsom only okayed last year’s SB 276 after intervening twice in the legislative process to make the measure far weaker than the original version proposed by Democratic state Sen. Richard Pan of Sacramento, a pediatrician.


          For anyone who doubts the impact of vaccinations on diseases like measles, rubella, mumps, polio and whooping cough, diseases that once could become epidemic, a look at the spread of the coronavirus might be illuminating.


          Without a vaccine to hinder it, this virus sped around the world in two months, causing personal and financial panic. It halted most travel to Asia and Europe, the government warns Americans against cruises, sports events are cancelled, many restaurants are closed and thousands wear surgical masks.


          All this for a virus whose death toll is less severe than it was from some diseases for which vaccines are now well established.


          Last year, Newsom did as much as he could afford politically to ease the impact of SB 276 on anti-vaccination parents who believe the almost certainly fictitious side-effect of autism that’s claimed by discredited anti-vaxx leaders. Those parents say this supposed occasional side effect outweighs any risk of disease epidemics.


          Today’s stock market and multiple deaths from the coronavirus suggest otherwise.


Before SB 276, hundreds, maybe thousands, of parents located the few doctors who push the unproven autism claims and charged about $300 each to sign medical exemptions from the vaccination rules.


          Pan sought to close this loophole by having state health officials vet all such waivers, approving only those for children with organ transplants and a few other conditions.


          Newsom bridled. Last summer, he said, “I believe in immunizations; I do not subscribe to their point of view broadly. I back immunizations, however I do have concerns about a bureaucrat making a decision that is very personal…I think that’s just something we need to pause and think about.” Does this verbal mush mean he thinks vaccinations belong in the realm of personal choice, not public health necessity? He won’t say.


          Newsom essentially forced Pan to revise his bill so vetting will apply only to doctors who sign more than five waivers in any year. That seemed to satisfy Newsom – until late August, when he weighed in again, causing SB 276 to be further weakened. It no longer requires doctors to certify under penalty of perjury that what they’re saying is accurate. If they won’t do that, why believe them at all?


          Then, in February, Newsom’s “First Partner,” wife Jennifer Siebel Newsom, told anti-vaxx activists in Sacramento that “I think there needs to be more conversation around spreading out vaccines, around only giving children the vaccines that are most essential.” Does the former actress believe she knows which ones fit that bill? Does the governor share her belief?


          The First Partner asked the activists not to post her remarks on social media, but they did it anyway.


          A Newsom spokesperson later noted that the severely weakened law he signed is the position of his administration, but he has not pushed the health department to set up either the required vetting system or any oversight.


          Pan told a reporter, “This should absolutely be happening now.”


          What’s more, once a coronavirus vaccine arrives, it should be added to the required list to reduce risks from that sometimes deadly micro-organism.


          It adds up to a situation where the governor talks strongly about combating the coronavirus, but has gone easy on other diseases that could spread even faster than the new threat, including some with far greater risks of death or brain damage for those they infect.


       Which opens the question of how badly he actually wants a coronavirus vaccine.

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

Monday, March 9, 2020

PG&E’S VICTIMS WILL FACE CHOICE: FAIRNESS OR FASTER MONEY

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, MARCH 27, 2020, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “PG&E’S VICTIMS WILL FACE CHOICE: FAIRNESS OR FASTER MONEY”


          All through the bankruptcy process Pacific Gas & Electric Co. entered in early 2019, almost all key moves have been made by platoons of lawyers working for the big utility, its creditors and more than 80,000 burned-out victims of wildfires started at least in part by faulty PG&E equipment or maintenance.


          But the biggest decision in the complex and costly proceedings will likely be made within the next two months by the victims themselves: a vote on whether to accept an approximate $13.5 billion settlement agreed upon by PG&E and attorneys for thousands of the victims.


          Here’s the choice for victims who will vote: Should they each accept almost $100,000 in cash pretty soon, plus many shares of PG&E stock of uncertain future value, or should they insist on all cash, with payment to be made at an uncertain later date, if at all?


          It’s a tough dilemma for a lot of uninsured folks, for replacement of burned-out homes will cost much more than the proffered cash. But some of the victims’ lawyers are telling their clients the settlement the attorneys agreed to is all PG&E can pay in the foreseeable future.


          The choice, as some see it, will be between getting cheated, or at least low-balled, or getting nothing for now.


          No one yet knows how that choice will play out, or just when the vote will occur, in part because the settlement offer can’t be finalized until and unless the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) okays PG&E’s not-yet-finalized full plan for exiting bankruptcy. But in most lawsuit settlement negotiations, clients accept offers their attorneys recommend.



          PG&E desperately wants the whole matter over with by June 30, the deadline for the utility to qualify for a consumer-funded, state-organized plan that shields utilities against paying many of expenses from future fires started by their equipment.


          Plenty of wildfire victims have told U.S. Bankruptcy Judge David Montali, presiding over the PG&E case in San Francisco, that they’ll feel cheated if the settlement goes through.


          Wrote one survivor of the 2018 Camp Fire in Butte County, California’s most damaging wildfire ever, “Our hopes will be shattered if the current plan is approved. I want you to know that many of us understand what is happening and we will move heaven and earth to stop it.”


          That letter and others released by the court indicate many fire victims believe Montali acts as a tool of PG&E’s management and Wall Street creditors, rather than making victim compensation his top priority.


          One thing many victims dislike is that half the money would come in the form of company stock, which many victims want no part of, if only because the stock is not valued today at nearly the amount listed in the settlement. Plus, many victims don’t want to become unwilling accomplices and shareholders of the company they feel destroyed their once-bucolic lives.


          And even if victims eventually vote for the settlement, they won’t get their money and stock immediately. Rather, the funds and shares would go to a new distribution trust that will handle each case individually. The trust has not yet been set up, which means that even if they vote “yes” on the settlement, victims can’t know just how much cash and stock they would get, or when.


          It all adds up to one of the most uncertain situations ever to affect California public utility customers. One big unknown is whether the PUC, now led by an appointee of Gov. Gavin Newsom but still peopled with a majority named by ex-Gov. Jerry Brown, will echo Newsom’s demands for a much stricter, larger and more expensive program than ever before for equipment repair and fire prevention.


          Usually, California utilities have been able to count on the PUC to assure both their survival and prosperity. But Newsom threatens a state takeover if the eventual PG&E plan isn’t much tougher than what’s been proposed to date and his appointees might do his bidding.


          Which means a “no” vote by either the PUC or the victims could throw the biggest utility in this state and nation into completely uncharted territory, with a breakup or a buyout two distinct possibilities.


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