Monday, February 22, 2021

MEMO TO THE RESTLESS: THINK TWICE BEFORE HEADING TO TEXAS

 


SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA FOCUS

      1720 OAK STREET, SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA 90405

FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, MARCH 12, 2021, OR THEREAFTER

 

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS

          “MEMO TO THE RESTLESS: THINK TWICE BEFORE HEADING TO TEXAS”

 

          Memo to Larry Ellison (Oracle Corp.), Elon Musk (Tesla) and other Californians eyeing a move to Texas because it has no state income tax but does feature lower living expenses and far less government regulation than California:

 

          Think twice, maybe three times, before you leap.

 

          That’s one lesson of the mid-February combination of blizzard and deep-freeze that struck the Lone Star state, dropping some outdoor temperatures near zero and indoor levels into the 30s and sometimes lower.

 

          Ice and snow froze water pipes, some placed two feet below ground level. Several hospitals were left without safe water, forcing mass patient transfers in extreme weather. All this just three years after Hurricane Harvey reduced much of Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, to a bunch of rivers and ponds.

 

          It’s one thing to see how virtually non-existent zoning that stems from the Texas ideal of little government control can let junk yards and body shops exist alongside posh homes. It’s another to see Houston reduced to non-functionality twice in less than 40 months.

 

          And not merely non-fuctionality in a business sense, but in much more human ways. In the midst of Texas’ weeklong super-freeze and blackout, some water purification works went the way of business activity and home heat: They did not work. More than 10 million Texans who still had running water were told to boil it before drinking it. That meant wide use of portable camping stoves – if households had them – because natural gas operations were also stuck in the deep freeze. Never mind the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning.

 

          The length and extent of the blackouts dwarfed anything modern California has seen, even in the energy crunch of the early 2000s, trouble primarily caused by Texas companies whose executives gloated publicly over “stealing from California grandmas” – before they were convicted and imprisoned.

 

          In short, the approximately 300,000 former Californians who moved to Texas over the last six years because of lower real estate and energy prices suddenly learned why their big new homes cost so little. They now know they bought into the mere façade of a solid place to live.

 

          Yes, Texas’ far-right Republican Gov. Greg Abbott tried to blame all this on the fact his state’s grid – independent of surrounding states that could have aided it (but did not) because Texas would have no federal regulation of its electric supply – gets about 20 percent of its power from solar and wind developments. What about the other 80 percent? In any case, Abbott’s own appointed energy experts said whatever green power Texas uses did not create this crisis.

 

          It was reminiscent of the old saying that when you eliminate a tradition, you soon learn why it became one. This time, Texas worked assiduously to avoid federal control and influence, then learned why those can sometimes be a big plus.

 

          Then there are Texas politicians. It wasn’t just that Abbott tried to scapegoat renewable power and the nonexistent Green New Deal. No top-level politician in California has been as dishonest and deflective during an emergency in more than 100 years.

 

          The freeze also featured panicked or irresponsible behavior by other officials. Two examples: Republican Sen. Ted Cruz fled to 80-degree Cancun with his family when the going got tough. That’s the same Ted Cruz who tweeted that California’s liberal policies created blackouts during recent wildfire crises. “I have no defense (of that tweet),” he conceded before flying south.

 

          And Colorado City, Tex., Mayor Tim Boyd was forced to resign after ranting on Facebook that local residents were “lazy.” The city and county, he told constituents, “owe you NOTHING. Sink or swim, it’s your choice. If you have no water, you deal with it and think outside of the box.” This, while some families tried for days to melt snow as their sole source of water.

 

          It all can serve as a timely and on-point warning to Californians who seek to get rich and live like kings by selling houses high here and then leaving for greener pastures and bigger homes at much lower prices.

 

          Those pastures may not look so green after you’ve been in the new place awhile, especially if it’s Texas.

 

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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

 

          Suggested pullout quote: They bought into the mere façade of a solid place to live.”

POOR PLANNING ON HOW TO STOP VACCINE LINE-JUMPERS

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, MARCH 9, 2021, OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “POOR PLANNING ON HOW TO STOP VACCINE LINE-JUMPERS”

 

        There was a wide sense of relief when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the other day that people aged 16 to 65 who suffer from certain severe underlying health conditions will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations starting on the Ides of March.

 

        Starting March 15, if you’re in a wheelchair, on a walker, need oxygen, take immune-suppressing anti-rejection drugs to preserve an organ transplant, suffer from coronary artery disease or heart failure or deal with chronic kidney or lung disease – you can sign up to get either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines shot in your arm.

 

        State health officials estimate this will add between 4 million and 6 million folks to the list of those eligible for shots – between 10 percent and 15 percent of all Californians. Overall, about half the populace will then be entitled to inoculations.

 

        That’s good, if supplies arrive. But planning for this phase has been less than good. In fact, the start of this new phase of the vaccine rollout figures to be about as confused as the opening of Phase 2, when people over 65 joined health workers on the eligibility list.

 

Back then – only about six weeks ago– Newsom proclaimed over-65s could begin getting shots and some grocery-based drugstores began Internet signups. But when those people turned up for appointments the next day, almost all were turned away. It developed there was no coordination between state and county health departments, so the drugstores could not give shots. This bait-and-switch affected tens of thousands of seniors. It wasn’t fixed until days later, a few hours after this column reported what happened.

 

        At the time there were no mass drive-through vaccination centers. There were few places to get vaccinated. The situation began to improve when some large testing sites quickly converted to giving shots.

 

        The planning flaw for the newest large expansion of the eligibility pool is different, affecting verification rather than availability – especially with more large centers opening across California.

 

        What’s undetermined now is how the soon-to-be-eligible will prove it. Most diabetics and folks with transplants don’t carry special IDs. Neither do heart attack veterans or kidney patients.

 

 

        In helping Newsom announce the new eligibility categories, state Health Secretary Mark Ghaly said his agency would spend the next four weeks figuring out what kind of verification would be used to keep imposters from jumping the line and getting vaccines long before their turn, along with the freedom and feeling of health security this brings.

 

        Like the confusion leading to the bait-and-switch of late January and the overloaded Web-based sign-up sites that followed, this problem was easy to anticipate.

 

        The real question is what health officials at both state and county levels were doing all fall, while awareness grew that coronavirus vaccines were about to arrive. Like most people, they knew that while some skeptics would refuse or delay getting vaccinated, the vast majority of Californians would eagerly accept the shots.

 

        In fact, the jabs quickly became the hottest commodity going. Planning for the phase-in was an obvious need, even while officials were also occupied with imposing shutdowns, lockdowns, masking, distancing and other anti-pandemic measures.

 

        But it did not happen, as was made clear by Ghaly’s admission that the state will develop seat-of-pants rules for folks to prove they are among the newly eligible. Will they need notes from their doctors, a la grammar school kids? Will their providers have to devise and hand out special cards to prove they have the conditions they claim?

 

        None of this will be much of a problem for patients at some of the state’s largest health care systems which did the requisite planning and possess the needed patient information. In the earlier phases, people regularly cared for by the UC Health system, the Providence hospital system and a few others were notified of their eligibility and invited via email to sign up for appointments. They’ll be OK in the new phase, too.

 

        Millions more will not have this benefit. They have no idea what documents, if any, they’ll need once they can start vaccination signups.

 

        It’s a plain dereliction of duty by Newsom’s administration, which knew this was coming but did not plan for it.

 


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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

Friday, February 12, 2021

CRIMINALS OR VICTIMS: WHO SHOULD JUSTICE SERVE?

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, MARCH 5, 2021, OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “CRIMINALS OR VICTIMS: WHO SHOULD JUSTICE SERVE?”

 

          It’s a fundamental question these days among California’s leading district attorneys: Should the justice system serve criminals or their victims?

 

          This question never arose seriously before now. Criminals, especially repeat offenders, were bottom priorities when it came to whom district attorneys aimed to help.

 

          That matched the sentiments of California voters, who over generations passed one initiative after another toughening laws on the death penalty, the three-strikes-and-you’re-out law that targets criminals who keep preying on others and threw out a law that banned cash bail.

 

          Voters also okayed mercifully-minded measures over the last 10 years, reducing some felonies to misdemeanors with much lower penalties and allowing for quicker release of prisoners. Those changes excluded serious and violent crimes, except where legal codes inexplicably classed a few violent acts – like sex trafficking – as lesser offenses.

 

          Now come the new district attorneys of California’s most prominent and arguably most influential counties, Los Angeles and San Francisco. George Gascon and Chesa Boudin both are expanding on campaign promises to end cash bail locally, almost never cooperate with federal immigration authorities and seek reevaluation of possibly wrongful past convictions.

 

          Gascon has become the more radical, ordering hundreds of deputies in the nation’s largest prosecutorial office to stop seeking sentence enhancements for career criminals and not to ask juries for death penalties, even for the worst crimes.

 

          Gascon’s actions struck many of his deputies, some with distinguished legal and academic credentials, as illegal, running counter to California law. Their union sued and the other day got a superior court judge to rule Gascon’s ban on sentencing enhancements does violate state law. The ruling will almost certainly be appealed, its fate uncertain in higher courts.

 

          Essentially, longtime Judge James Chalfant, whose decisions are only rarely overturned by appellate courts, ruled Gascon cannot force line prosecutors to ignore laws protecting the public from repeat offenders.

 

          Meanwhile, the moves by Gascon, a former San Francisco police chief and district attorney, and his Bay Area heir Boudin, caught the attention of other district attorneys around the state. On Jan. 12, the California District Attorneys Association, which represents all but one of the state’s chief county prosecutors, wrote Gascon that “CDAA has grave concerns that recent policy directives (by Gascon) undermine California’s bedrock expectation that prosecutors will never abandon their obligation to advocate passionately for crime victims…These mandates ignore our laws and governing ethical standards.”

 

          The prosecutors’ group added that Gascon gave “criminals in Los Angeles County…an unimaginable windfall.” Signing the letter were top CDAA officials Vern Pierson and Michael Hestrin, district attorneys respectively of El Dorado and Riverside counties.

 

          Soon after his colleagues denounced his prior moves, the undaunted Gascon responded with another radical order. He told his deputies to halt their previously routine appearances at state hearings to oppose parole for prisoners with life sentences who have served their legal minimum prison time. So, for example, when Charles Manson “family” member Bruce Davis, the vicious murderer of musician Gary Hinman, came up for a hearing the other day, only the 81-year-old cousin of his victim was present to protest on the video conference. She is not a lawyer.

 

          For decades, appearances by deputy district attorneys – especially those who originally prosecuted the lifers – helped keep major offenders imprisoned, where they could do no further harm to people whose lives their misdeeds already wrecked.

 

          Gascon did this to fulfill a campaign promise to relieve crowding in jails and prisons. Essentially, he placed convicts’ comfort above victims’ well-being.

 

          Almost all of his actions so far have been more in the interest of criminals than their victims, much the same as Boudin’s, which have not been quite as extreme.

 

          Boudin’s tendencies may be more understandable, as he’s the son of two Weather Underground members given long sentences after convictions for being getaway drivers in a 1981 Brinks car robbery in Rocklin, NY, that led to the deaths of two police officers and a security guard.

 

          But Gascon is a former longtime top cop . A movement to recall him is now underway, but he’s already spurred a totally unprecedented conflict among this state’s leading prosecutors. He’s also setting an example for like-mined leftists, if more of them ever become D.A.s.

               

 

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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

FAULCONER LOOKS LIKE MAIN GOP HOPE FOR A BREAKTHROUGH

 CALIFORNIA FOCUS

FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, MARCH 2, 2021, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “FAULCONER LOOKS LIKE MAIN GOP HOPE FOR A BREAKTHROUGH”

 

          The last time San Diego elected a moderate Republican mayor with strong potential for appealing to voters statewide, it was Pete Wilson, a onetime state assemblyman who later won election to the U.S. Senate and two terms as governor.

 

          Now, while Californians think about possibly recalling Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, there’s San Diego’s recently termed-out ex-Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who figures to be on both the recall’s list of possible replacement governors and the state’s June 2022 primary ballot.

 

Faulconer hopes to take a page from the playbooks of both Wilson and ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Like Wilson, he’s busily purveying a message of moderation and effectiveness. Like Schwarzenegger, he hopes a recall can propel him to the next level of politics.

 

        With Faulconer as mayor, San Diego was the largest American city with a Republican governor. Now, the other major GOP figure planning to be on the recall list, John Cox, has devoted the recall season’s first major TV commercial to blasting Faulconer. Cox, a big loser to Newsom in 2018, knows who is his main threat this time.

 

          Faulconer has sometimes sought to downplay his Republican identity in this state where the GOP label has lately meant certain defeat for anyone seeking statewide office other than the movie muscleman Schwarzenegger.

 

          Some Republicans hope Faulconer can rescue them, giving California a Republican very different from the hugely unpopular (in California) President Trump.

 

          But Faulconer sometimes makes moves that belie his image as a moderate.

 

          One came in January, when he endorsed former U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa to replace the disgraced and resigned San Diego Republican Duncan Hunter in a Mexican-border congressional seat. Issa, hardly a moderate, “retired” in 2018 from his former seat in north San Diego County when the district became too liberal for him to expect reelection. The Hunter district leans far more to the right.

 

          Faulconer took some risk in endorsing Issa, a persistent harrasser of ex-President Barack Obama while Issa chaired the House Government Operations Committee through much of the last decade.

 

          Then there was an appearance by Trump on Fox News last June, just after Faulconer visited the Oval Office. “(Faulconer) was just in my office, great guy,” Trump said. “He came up to thank me for having done the (border) wall because it’s made such a difference. He said it’s like day and night; he said people (had been) flowing across and now nobody can come in.”

 

          Faulconer quickly denied saying any of that, his office claiming he and Trump discussed only a trade deal. For sure, Newsom can use the Fox News tape against him, and never mind Faulconer’s denial.

 

          But Faulconer hopes to win over more voters with another move than he might lose with any of that.

 

          Besides his own campaign, he plans to sponsor a statewide ballot initiative on the homeless issue aimed for the 2022 election, claiming San Diego has had more success on this than other large cities.

 

          Faulconer wants the still-unwritten measure to make it easier for cities and counties to “encourage” homeless individuals to accept psychological treatment and shelter beds. He also wants to roll back some laws like the winning Propositions 47 and 57, which reduced penalties for drug use and crimes like thefts and car burglaries valued under $950.

 

          “California has lost its way on homelessness,” he said in a speech. “We have to speak the truth about what causes homelessness (referring to drug addiction and mental illness, as well as high rents and home prices).”

 

          Faulconer said San Diego cut homelessness after a hepatitis outbreak by sending nurses and paramedics to “every riverbed, canyon and street corner, vaccinated more than 100,000 persons, sanitized streets and built four bridge shelters.”

 

          That dropped his city’s homeless count by 9 percent in 2019, Faulconer said, the only significant city in California with any reduction.

 

          Faulconer’s stances on many things almost replicate Schwarzenegger’s, and Schwarzenegger remains the only Republican elected statewide since 1998. But he was a famed movie star and Faulconer is neither famous nor an actor.

 

          So the jury remains out on the mayor’s statewide political viability. But so far, despite Cox’s claim to the contrary, the state GOP has no better hope.


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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, February 8, 2021

A NEW TRUMP PARTY COULD BOOST CALIFORNIA DEMS

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 2021, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS

          “A NEW TRUMP PARTY COULD BOOST CALIFORNIA DEMS”

 

          About the first thing Donald Trump did after debarking from Air Force One near his new Elba (the island of Napoleon’s first exile) in Florida was float the idea of starting a political party of his very own.

 

          He has copious seed money for such a startup with more than $200 million he gathered in donations while boosting fake claims of rampant election fraud last November. The large and raucous crowds he drew even after losing the last presidential election by more than 7 million votes gave some indication of his ability to draw masses to any party he starts.

 

          Meanwhile, the idea has Democrats drooling across America, but nowhere more than in California.

 

          For third party efforts stoked by the rich and famous are not new to the nation or this state. They generally damage the party from which the founder defected.

 

          The late Ross Perot was the last billionaire to start his own party, running against Republican George H.W. Bush and Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992. Clinton won that time with a mere plurality, not a majority, taking just 46 percent of the California vote, for one example. Perot, a data processing mogul whose company General Motors bought for more than $2 billion, drew 20 percent, indicating Bush might have won had Perot not interfered.

 

          Now comes Trump, who appears to know at least some of this history. His stated purpose in starting a new party – if he goes through with it – would be to “punish” Republicans he claims betrayed him by not backing his bogus claims of having actually won in a landslide last year.

 

          Plenty of Republicans allowed Trump’s 30,000-odd documentable lies while in the White House to slide. They often let his prevarications become the basis for national policy, fearing what the ex-president could do to their political futures. Namely, destroy them by running some of his minions against them in primary elections.

 

          One consequence has been the repeated shortages of COVID-19 vaccines and the chaotic distribution of what supplies there were when Trump left office. No one will ever know how many lives that cost, but most likely they number at least in the thousands.

 

          If Trump ever founds his own faction, he’s said he would call it the Patriot Party, seemingly oblivious to Samuel Johnson’s famous observation that “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Such a party would work hardest to undermine and defeat several GOP senators who decried his incitement of the crowd that went straight from a rally behind the White House to breaking into the Capitol building. He’d also go after the 10 Republicans in Congress who voted to impeach him a second time.

 

          These included one Californian, David Valadao of Hanford, who was never so independent while Trump held office. For sure, Trump would not attack the likes of his sycophantic golf partner Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, also the GOP leader in the House and the likely replacement for Speaker Nancy Pelosi if Republicans regain control there.

 

          He might work against Kevin Faulconer when the former San Diego mayor who never was much of a Trumper runs to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom in this year’s possible recall election or for a full term in 2022.

 

          It remains to be seen whether he attacks Young Kim and Michelle Steel, new Republican representatives from Orange County who avoided voting on impeachment, never taking a stand.

 

          For Trump, the alternative to a new party would be working within the GOP, running primary candidates against his would-be victims. That would not work well in California, where Democrats and independents could bail out Trump targets in the state’s June 2022 non-partisan primary.

 

          There is, therefore, little reason for any politician in California to fear anything the ex-president does. No one planned it this way, but the state’s very open primary makes it difficult for outsiders to dictate outcomes.

 

          Which means Trump, who had severe negative impacts on California air and water quality, wildfire aftermaths, policing policy, immigration, infrastructure and more, probably can’t greatly influence any more elections here unless and until he runs again for president.

  

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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

IRONIC RECALL BEARS LIKELY PLUSES FOR NEWSOM

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2021, OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “IRONIC RECALL BEARS LIKELY PLUSES FOR NEWSOM”

 

          The colorful Internet ad from an organization called Rescue California, a lead sponsor of the petition drive to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom, accuses him of posting “The worst record of getting vaccines distributed” of any state in America.

 

          For one thing, that’s not correct. As of Feb. 1, California stood 37th among the states in the percentage of available COVID-19 vaccine doses that had already been administered. Not great, but far from the worst, and the pace has picked up since then.

 

          Then there’s the irony in that ad. Among the early leaders of the Newsom recall have been two organizer and leaders of rallies by the Freedom Angels, a group of hardline anti-vaccination activists. One of that movement’s adherents violently attacked the pro-vaccination leader and Democratic state Sen. Richard Pan last year as he walked in his Sacramento district.

 

          There can be few greater ironies than for anti-vaxx organizers to gripe about a governor not getting enough people vaccinated. Then there’s the fact that almost all recall leaders are part of the Republican far right, which often decries the “cancel culture.” Yet, they’re trying to cancel the results of the 2018 election.

 

The recall drive, of course, likes to play up Newsom’s admitted hypocrisy in attending at least one group dinner larger than the state’s then-recommended limit of 10 persons.

 

          Who are the bigger hypocrites here? Anti-vaxxers like those who shut down the mass vaccination site at Dodger Stadium for an hour the other day, many of whom signed the recall petition, or the governor, who is very human and sometimes slips up?

 

          For sure, not even its blatant hypocrisy will stop the recall movement. So it’s time to examine how a recall that stands some chance of ousting Newsom could also make him a political hero and a martyr to many members of this state’s dominant Democratic Party.

 

          So far, major Democrats are staying off the list of alternative potential governors that will accompany the recall question if and when it appears in a special election. If this holds up, and Republicans don’t find a candidate with the wide popular appeal of an Arnold Schwarzenegger, Newsom can run a massive ad campaign labeling the whole thing a far-right attempt to usurp power. He could even borrow one of ex-President Donald Trump’s post-election slogans, “Stop the Steal.”

 

          So far, the biggest names willing to put their names on the list of potential new governors are Republicans Kevin Faulconer, the termed-out ex-mayor of San Diego, and his near neighbor, businessman John Cox of suburban San Diego County, defeated easily by Newsom in 2018. Former Sacramento area Congressman Doug Ose also may run. None of them has appeal approaching movie muscleman Schwarzenegger.

 

          When former Facebook executive and Democratic megadonor Chamath Palihapitiya begged off the campaign the other day, it left no well-funded Democrat planning to run.

 

Prominent Democrats like Congressmen Adam Schiff of Burbank and Ro Khanna of San Jose won’t oppose a like-minded sitting governor, fearing they could become pariahs in their own party if he survives the ouster attempt.

 

          Only one significant Democrat took that risk in 2003, when voters dumped then-Gov. Gray Davis in California’s only successful statewide recall vote. That was former Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, who did become an enduring party pariah after losing to Schwarzenegger. Another former lieutenant governor, John Garamendi, considered running but backed off and later ran for Congress, where he sits today.

 

          One thing for sure: If and when Newsom beats back the recall, he would instantly win a reputation as someone who put a bunch of far-right populists in their place. That would give him a leg up in a future race either for president – which every California governor considers – or in a 2024 run for the Senate seat now occupied by Democrat Dianne Feinstein.

 

          Newsom now dreads the likely recall attempt but if it happens, he gets a chance to whip his three most likely 2022 reelection challengers well in advance of that election. He could turn the entire experience into one of the best things that ever happened to him, with the potential of becoming a lasting hero among his fellow Democrats, here and across the country.

 


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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, February 1, 2021

HOUSING BACKERS START FACING POST-PANDEMIC REALITY

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2021, OR THEREAFTER

 

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “HOUSING BACKERS START FACING POST-PANDEMIC REALITY”

 

          The mysterious blindness that apparently affected California’s top legislative housing advocates all through 2020 seems to have abated a little. They and leading housing advocacy groups appear at last to accept that the coronavirus plague changed things – a lot.

 

It’s true those lawmakers still insist on pushing bills to make California cities of all sizes and shapes far denser than ever. But some at last appear willing to admit that things have changed in the last year.

 

          No legislator will say a housing solution is at hand, but one new bill’s very presence in the Legislature shows an awareness that was missing last year.

 

That bill is for the moment called Senate Bill 6, part of a housing package introduced in the state Senate within moments of the current session’s opening. Specific terms of SB6 are not yet spelled out; the measure for the moment is basically a blank, but with a stated purpose.

 

That is to make it mandatory for cities and counties to allow rezoning when office buildings are converted to residential or mixed-use.

 

This bill exists because of the mass exodus of businesses from offices across California, a flood tide that started in mid-March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic grew so menacing that even the largest companies sent almost all employees home to work.

 

Since then, surveys indicate the changes will largely become permanent. Companies have cut expenses greatly by reducing office space, some even paying for the privilege (Pinterest paid a reported $89 million to get out of a lease in San Francisco, Twitter forked over even more to escape some of its obligations).

 

Firms from Dropbox to Merrill Lynch have sent workers home by the hundreds of thousands.

 

Multiple studies show about two-thirds of those employees prefer working remotely – and that they are more productive that way. How does this affect housing? Simple: Building owners sizing up their situation are realizing “normal” market conditions won’t return. Many are responding with quiet plans to convert existing office space into housing.

 

It's part of a trend that also sees rents dropping precipitately (down more than 20 percent in San Francisco over the last year) while home prices in exurban areas like Sonoma County and north San Diego County are on the rise. With distance working now the vogue, white collar workers can live almost anywhere they can afford. Proximity to their offices has become irrelevant.

 

          This is fine with advocates of low-cost housing and helping the homeless, so long as new laws include a requirement for plenty of affordable units.

 

          The new reality, says David Zisser, associate director of the advocacy group Housing California, “intrigues us. We don’t think single-family housing or market rate prices are evil,” he added, “But those alone don’t serve people who are neediest.”

 

          So he favors a by-right zoning bill that might encourage creating long-term housing for the homeless on some floors, high-end condominiums on others, with floors for offices also included. Buildings might rejigger elevators so that some run only to residential floors, others to office areas.

 

          Cities would be crazy to resist a rezoning measure like this. After all, if office towers and other commercial spaces go vacant, building values and property taxes plummet. But if building owners reconfigure structures for mixed use, those same structures can remain cash cows for owners and local governments.

 

          At the same time, Housing California and other advocates favor accelerating government purchases of motels and hotels to house the currently homeless, even if some will never want to move in. The history of homeless folks responding to getting housed is that the majority prefer indoor living.

 

          What better time than now to buy up hotel properties, while many are shut down and being eyed for possible redevelopment into market-rate housing?

 

          Still, housing advocates in the Legislature and elsewhere have not given up pushing for more new construction. But they’re starting at last to recognize they can get more units faster by using the billions of square feet that have already become vacant or are about to.

 

          That’s major progress toward political recognition of the obvious California housing solution.

 

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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