Monday, January 26, 2015

GOVERNOR COULD – BUT WON’T – DOMINATE SENATE RACE

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 2015, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “GOVERNOR COULD – BUT WON’T – DOMINATE SENATE RACE”


          If the current large corps of potential candidates for retiring U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer’s job look to some like a gaggle of political pygmies, it might have something to do with the proverbial 800-pound gorilla lurking in their living room. That would be Gov. Jerry Brown, who could most likely have the job for the asking.


          There are plenty of other names, including state Attorney General Kamala Harris, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a bunch of Congress members including Loretta Sanchez and Adam Schiff and John Garamendi and Xavier Becerra, and even Republicans like former party chairman Duff Sundheim, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin and San Diego County Assemblyman Rocky Chavez.


          But the reality is that if Brown wants the Senate seat, it’s almost certainly his.


          He has coveted a Senate seat before. Back in 1982, he tried to move from the governor’s office to the Senate, only to be whipped by former San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson, who would himself become governor eight years later. It’s still the only loss of Brown’s 47-year political career.


          Notoriously impatient, easily bored and always eager for new challenges, Brown could dominate the Senate race. But because Harris now employs Brown's 2012 campaign manager and campaign spokesman, her presence means Brown won’t run, even though he’s said nothing on this.


    Not only does he have more campaign money available than anyone else, but Brown sports an unusually high approval rating in every poll, his ratings higher than any other California figure.


          Plus, Brown has moved the state’s nascent bullet train forward about as much as he can for the moment and has been stymied so far in advancing his “twin tunnels” water project.


          And people his age (mid-70s) are much more common in the Senate than in governor’s mansions.


          So, why isn’t he running? He would say it’s because he wants to finish what he started in 2010, when he began his second incarnation as governor. But maybe it’s also because he knows there are vulnerabilities in his record. One weakness: some of his appointments to key state jobs. This was never discussed in last year’s campaign, where the worst names Republican candidate Neel Kashkari called him were “lazy” and a “do-nothing advocate of the status quo.”


          That was before Brown appointed non-Californian Leondra Kruger, who has never contested a legal case in California, to the state Supreme Court. No non-Californian in memory has ever been given a spot on the state’s highest court. The appointment was a slap in the face of the state’s huge corps of lawyers, who certainly believe many of them could do at least as good a job as someone who knows virtually nothing about California.


          Then he named his former renewable energy adviser Michael Picker to replace the disgraced Michael Peevey as president of the vital and powerful state Public Utilities Commission. Peevey left after disclosure of private emails between him and officials of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. Since then, other emails have turned up showing he was also cozy with Southern California Edison Co. During the year Picker and Peevey were together on the five-member commission, Picker never voted against Peevey in any significant case.


          There was also Brown's reappointment of Robert Weisenmiller to head the state Energy Commission. Among other problems, Weisenmiller presided over awarding of multi-million dollar “hydrogen highway” grants despite the fact both he and Brown knew about serious conflicts of interest by one major recipient.


    There have been other questionable appointments, too, some of them present and former Brown aides and cronies. He consistently refuses to discuss any beyond bland press releases announcing their appointments.


     And there was his bill-signing message making it easier for parents to avoid getting their children vaccinated for diseases like measles and mumps, a possible factor in this winter’s measles outbreak.


          So yes, Brown could likely be the top primary election vote-getter in the upcoming Senate race. But a little opposition research by any runoff opponent could make things at least a little unpleasant for Brown, and chances are he knows it.


    Which could be one reason he’ll likely never run for office again.


    -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, go to www.californiafocus.net

PROSPECTS IMPROVE FOR CONDOMS-IN-PORN INITIATIVE

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 10, 2015, OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
          “PROSPECTS IMPROVE FOR CONDOMS-IN-PORN INITIATIVE”


    For years, the loudest arguments against expanding a landmark Los Angeles law requiring condom use by adult film actors in sex scenes to the rest of California were financial and geographic:


          The pornography industry argued any locale requiring safety in filmed sex would see a production exodus and a big loss in revenue. The most likely place for porn producers to go was Las Vegas.


          That city embraced the possibility of immigration by pornographers, its mayor even issuing a supportive statement. And some production quickly moved there.


          Well, as the advertising slogan goes, what happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but its effects are not necessarily static.


          Just one case of AIDS has changed a lot. It was diagnosed in an adult performer with a role in a movie that actually migrated there from the porn industry’s longtime capital in the San Fernando Valley portion of Los Angeles.


          This case may have terrible effects on the infected actor, or not, but it will definitely help the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and its campaign committee as they work to qualify and pass a statewide condoms-in-porn initiative for the fall 2016 ballot.


          The foundation would have liked to see such a law pass legislatively, but had no success with that, just as it could not push the Los Angeles law through the City Council there, but had to take it to voters as the 2012 Measure B, which passed with about 56 percent of the vote.


          The single AIDS infection in Las Vegas last fall may have a large effect in California because of the response it drew in Nevada, a state which carefully regulates legal prostitution in rural county brothels within easy reach of places like Las Vegas, Carson City and Reno.


          As soon as reports of the porn actor’s infection became public late last fall, Nevada officials announced they will probably apply their brothel rules to film production sites. Legal prostitutes in Nevada get regular blood tests and health exams; male customers are required to use condoms for any interpersonal contact involving even one person’s genitalia. Since 1988, when those rules took effect, not one AIDS case has been tied to a legal Nevada brothel.


          Meanwhile, when porn actors’ health was monitored voluntarily by California producers, more than 25 cases were linked to porn shoots.


          If, as now seems likely, Nevada imposes its brothel rules on adult film shoots, there will be no reason for pornographers to migrate there. Films made there would show the same condoms the producers want to avoid.


          And where might they head if there’s no point going to Las Vegas? To the blue-nosed likes of Idaho, Texas or Utah, where state officials fight against same-sex marriage? To the even more stultified likes of Louisiana or Georgia? To New York, where polling has shown support for condoms in porn filming?


          No, the likelihood is that a California-wide law essentially adopting the Los Angeles rules will end the migration of pornography that has seen adult filming permits drop by about 90 percent in L.A. over the last two years. Many shoots moved to nearby counties, where it’s tougher for producers to find performers, but condoms are not required.


          Others went underground in L.A., not applying for permits and refusing to comply with the condom mandate.


          A statewide law likely would not stop those scofflaws, but they would continue to find insurance hard to get, at the same time exposing themselves to lawsuits from actors who become infected or otherwise injured on site.


          One thing for sure: Because the Los Angeles law has been challenged in federal court and found not to infringe on constitutional free expression, the path will be smoother for the statewide initiative, if it passes.


          And chances are it will pass, once qualified. A poll of more than 1,100 likely voters last fall found 71 percent support. If voters are informed that opposition ads are funded by pornographers, as likely will happen, that initial support won’t erode much.


          The bottom line: One AIDS case in Las Vegas has largely removed the arguments that such a measure would lead both to financial loss for California and continued use of unsafe sex in adult films. So this is one initiative that will likely qualify easily for the ballot, and then pass late next year.



     -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, go to www.californiafocus.net

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

WHY LATINOS ARE KEY AS DEMS PLOT 2016 STRATEGIES

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 6, 2015 OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
          “WHY LATINOS ARE KEY AS DEMS PLOT 2016 STRATEGIES”


          For the last 20 years – ever since passage in 1994 of California’s abortive anti-illegal immigrant Proposition 187 – Democrats here and around the nation have increasingly depended on Latino vote.


    Election results last fall showed what happens to Democrats when they somehow disconnect with Hispanics or take them for granted: they lose, or narrowly avert defeat.


    Barack Obama knew he risked alienating this ever-more vital
voting bloc last fall, when he delayed his executive order exempting about 5 million undocumented immigrants from possible deportation until after the election. But several Democratic senators who knew they’d have close races in swing states had implored him to wait.


          So he did and they all lost anyway. Meanwhile, Latinos, feeling they’d been betrayed and taken for granted, stayed home. There is some uncertainty whether Democratic incumbents would have done better or worse in states like Colorado and North Carolina, both places that Latino votes helped put in the Obama column in 2012, had he acted sooner. But no one also can be sure whether an earlier immigration order would have pushed even more non-Latinos to vote Republican.


          But there is no doubt Latino voters stayed home in droves last year, not only in those states but also in California.


          Democrats didn’t lose any congressional seats here last year, as they did in states like Nevada and Florida, both of which saw Latino turnout fall far below 2012 levels. But they came very close in several California districts with large Hispanic populations. Had Latinos turned out in larger numbers, people like Jim Costa, Scott Peters, Julia Brownley and Ami Bera never would have been threatened. As it was, they had to wait weeks after the election to learn they’d narrowly survived.


          The lesson for Democrats was plain: They must do all they can to keep Latino enthusiasm for them high.


          This means they must keep moving on immigration or at least force Republicans to take stands against giving illegals a pathway to citizenship, something Obama could not do on his own. Why? Because reliable polling shows about 65 percent of Latino registered voters (all of them U.S. citizens) say they know someone who is undocumented, an increase of 10 percent from three years ago. And because 40 percent of those same voters say they know someone who either now faces deportation or did before Obama’s order.


          So Democrats are acting. They’re sponsoring comprehensive immigration reform bills in both houses of Congress even though they know nothing like that will pass. Doing this has already put Republicans on the record against change.


          Democrats also named New Mexico Rep. Ben Ray Lujan as the head of their overall 2016 congressional campaign. Lujan, son of a New Mexico state House speaker and cousin to both a current New Mexico congresswoman and the eponymous onetime New Mexico congressman and secretary of the Interior, was reelected last year mostly because he carried a huge majority of the Latino vote in his district.


          That’s a necessity for Democrats who want to avoid losses or a post-election month of nail biting. Only about 8 percent of the national electorate was Latino last fall, the worst showing for the ethnic group in 14 years and the first time in a generation its percentage of the vote has dropped. Latinos made up 10 percent of the national electorate in 2012, and about 14 percent in California.


          There was no presidential race last year and voting turnout for all groups invariably drops in midterm elections, but this was still a remarkably low vote.


          So Democrats next year will target Hispanic-oriented districts they lost this time, meaning Central Valley Republicans Jeff Denham and David Valadao can once again expect to be targeted. It hasn’t worked before, and neither voted for the House GOP’s bill aiming to kill Obama’s immigration order. Both know the growing Latino presence in their districts could endanger them.


          But much depends on who draws the major party nominations for president. If Republicans tab former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a fluent Spanish speaker with a Latina wife and no anti-immigration rhetoric, the Democratic task gets tougher. But a Rand Paul or a Ted Cruz atop the GOP might be suicidal in an era when Latino votes have the influence displayed last year.

         
    -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, go to www.californiafocus.net


CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION FOR UTILITY REGULATORS?

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 3, 2015, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION FOR UTILITY REGULATORS?”


          Memo to United States Attorneys in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego: It’s high time you investigate the former president and some current members and officials of the California Public Utilities Commission for things like conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud.


          Evidence against current commissioners and former commission President Michael Peevey has mounted steadily over the last six months, but there has been no action against anyone.


          State rules forbid utility regulators from communicating individually with executives of the companies they regulate. Any letters, texts or emails must go to all five commissioners, as a means of preventing secret deals favoring the companies over their business and residential customers.


          Yet, emails have shown that Peevey for years communicated privately and had understandings with executives of both Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and the Southern California Edison Co., of which he was formerly president. He even hosted at least one high PG&E official at his country home in Sea Ranch, north of San Francisco.


          He also communicated privately with Edison execs, setting up a dinner in London with one, and in one case reported by the U-T San Diego newspaper agreeing to delay a PUC action that would limit the percentage of Edison’s executive bonuses it could bill to ratepayers until after that year’s bonuses had been paid under old rules.


          Current Commissioner Mike Florio has recused himself from some votes affecting PG&E because of his role in a “judge-shopping” attempt. Emails showed Florio helped the utility choose a sympathetic commission administrative law judge to preside over a key case.


          And there was the recently-disclosed 2012  phone call between Edison’s external relations director and the administrative law judge presiding over a case to determine how Edison and its customers would split the cost of retiring the disabled San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. Edison says that call covered only technicalities.


          All this led Michael Picker, the new commission president, in a public meeting, to call the emails “troubling and very painful to read.” Yet, in the year he served on the commission with Peevey, Picker never voted against him in any major case.


          One bottom line in all this is that customers of California’s big regulated utilities – PG&E, Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric – pay power rates averaging almost twice as much as consumers served by the municipal utilities in Los Angeles, Anaheim, Riverside and Sacramento. Power rates have consistently risen, while consumption has remained steady. Details are contained in this report about San Onofre generated by former San Diego City Attorney Mike Aguirre: http://www.amslawyers.com/Breaking-News/Storm-Warning-CPUC-1-7-14.pdf.


          No, utility profits are not supposed to lead to doubly high energy bills. That, in fact, is what the PUC was set up to prevent.


          This column has frequently documented PUC favoritism of the big companies over their rate payers, labeling Peevey a “fox guarding the chicken house” as early as 2005. But the emails released in recent months provide a smoking gun pointing toward possible criminal conspiracy. If so, it could be charged as mail fraud and/or wire fraud because excessively high rates set via conspiracy would have been billed by mail or email.


          Aguirre suggests the U.S. attorneys convene special grand juries like the one that indicted PG&E for its conduct surrounding the fatal 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion.


          “We need to investigate how utility rates got so high,” Aguirre said. “It’s been a swamp of dishonesty.”


          Aguirre suggests investigating, for example, what happened to money collected by the big companies to ensure utility safety. “Edison was paid money for defective San Onofre steam generators. PG&E was paid money (since the 1950s) to fix (gas lines), but failed to do so,” his report said. Similarly, he said, defective SDG&E equipment caused a huge 2007 San Diego County fire.


          “In each case, the PUC blocked its (staff’s) investigations into utility executive wrongdoing,” Aguirre charges. No one knows what happened to billions of maintenance dollars paid by customers.


          Efforts to ask Picker about these charges and any plans to improve PUC practices were rebuffed.


          The bottom line: The pattern of utility regulators’ favoritism of the companies they oversee, even possible collusion with them, has been plain for decades. But the email and telephone call evidence emerged only lately.


          That evidence is so strong it would be dereliction of duty for prosecutors to ignore it.



     -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, go to www.californiafocus.net

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

TAIL WAGS DOG AGAIN IN PRESIDENTIAL RACE

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, JANUARY 30, 2015, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
          “TAIL WAGS DOG AGAIN IN PRESIDENTIAL RACE”


          Almost exactly one year from today – Jan. 26, 2016 – voters in New Hampshire will don parkas and trek through snowdrifts to tell the rest of America who should be running for president and who should not.


          That vote will come eight days after the Iowa caucuses draw a few tens of thousands of die-hard activists from both major parties to give their version of the same thing.


          Within less than three weeks, Nevada and South Carolina will follow, ensuring yet another four-year electoral cycle where the tail wags the dog. Candidates will have to know all about ethanol subsidies to compete in Iowa, but because California votes on June 7 next year, no candidate will have to know much about this state’s high speed rail project or the “twin tunnels” water development sought by Gov. Jerry Brown.


          Once again, California won’t matter as the Podunk states of America decide the future of this country and much of the world’s future as well. California won’t even be a factor in the general election, as the Democrats’ heavy voter registration advantage here pretty much assures its 55 electoral votes to the Democratic nominee, no matter who that may be.


          It didn’t have to be this way, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way in 2020 and beyond.


          One big reason California won’t count for much next year is that state legislators made no effort to set an early date for the state’s primary. They figured that every time they tried that – the state has voted in early February in several recent election cycles – it still hasn’t mattered much.


          This was because whenever California moved up its primary, other states governed by an “anywhere but California” mindset moved theirs up even earlier, with things getting so absurb that in 2008 and 2012, Iowans  caucused just three days after the New Year’s celebrations.


          California lawmakers also have their own reasons for disliking early primaries, the main one being that early votes accelerate filing deadlines, which normally fall about three months before primary day. This forces them to speed up their decision-making process, eroding their comfort levels. An early primary also means early fund-raising, forcing many officials to get on the phone with donors just a couple of months after taking office.


          But no one can say accurately that moving California’s primary up doesn’t increase its influence. The hard-fought 2008 Democratic contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is probably Example A of this. Obama dominated much of the initial going, but when California voted in early February, Clinton emerged about even with the eventual president. So California alone assured that the Democratic race extended well into April and all the way to Pennsylvania before Clinton finally conceded.


    It also meant that both candidates trekked around the state, it meant millions of advertising dollars for California media, plenty of revenue and extra jobs for services like caterers and charter bus lines.


          The only reason California didn’t decide the Democratic race for Clinton was the national party rule demanding proportionate representation. Obama lost in most California congressional districts, but  got plenty of national convention delegates anyhow. The result would have been very different under the Republicans’ more decisive winner-take-all rules.


          So anyone who says California didn’t matter when it voted earlier is only partially correct. And anyone who says the calendar can’t still be altered is also not completely correct.


          If California legislators and Gov. Brown want to increase this state’s influence, they can do it right now, even though there would be a bit of a price. If California moved up into January, Republican Party rules would deprive it of about 70 percent of its convention delegates.


          The Democrats might also assess a delegate penalty, but it’s not automatic, and there’s some doubt they would, since they want to keep California solidly in their column.


          All of which means California will be irrelevant-land during the next presidential season, unless politicians here are willing to defy the national parties. But they won’t, and most likely will find new excuses to avoid moving up the vote in future election seasons, just because staying put in June is easier for them despite the fact it disenfranchises their tens of millions of constituents.

         
               -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, go to www.californiafocus.net

RED LIGHT CAMERA PLAGUE ABATING A BIT

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, JANUARY 27, 2015, OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
          “RED LIGHT CAMERA PLAGUE ABATING A BIT”


          For many California drivers, there have been few worse plagues than the red light cameras that once operated in more than 70 cities across the state.


          At their peak, red light cameras featured tickets costing upwards of $450 for “offenses” like stopping for a red light, but with the front bumper a foot over a painted restraining line, or stopping before making a right turn, but having the camera “see” it as not a stop. Judges never allowed cross-examination of camera operators to be certain their machines were not running faster than life speed.


          But things are getting steadily more sane on the red light camera front, where only about 50 California cities still run such systems, operated by outfits like Redflex Traffic Systems and American Traffic Solutions, both based in Arizona.


          Over the last few years, more than 40 cities around this state have given up on photo-tickets, from Belmont and Cupertino in the San Francisco Bay Area to Los Angeles and Poway in Southern California, plus Fresno in the Central Valley. Also, voters in Anaheim, Murietta and Newport Beach all nixed red light cameras when the question appeared on their ballots. Results were the same from votes in 24 other cities. There may be few law enforcement tactics more widely detested than red light cameras.


          But cities like Beverly Hills, San Francisco and Culver City still have them.


          Now the crucial, related issue of how long yellow lights should stay on has been resolved in favor of motorists.


          Relatively short yellow- or amber-light intervals at intersections can amount to traps for unsuspecting drivers if they are traveling too fast to stop when a light turns yellow, but not so fast they can make it across the intersection before the light goes red.


          For many years, yellow lights have been set to correspond with speed limits, but prevailing traffic speeds in many places are higher than the posted limits.


          So Caltrans, spurred in part by legislation introduced last year by Democratic state Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, from the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles, has changed the rules, demanding that from now on all yellows must be set according to the prevailing speeds of traffic, not the speed limits.


          This may amount to a change of less than half a second, but it’s enough to make an enormous difference in the number of tickets issued. For example, reported the Safer Streets Los Angeles organization, when the city of West Hollywood increased its yellow-light interval by just three-tenths of a second, violations at its red light cameras dropped by at least 40 percent. In Fremont, Safer Streets said, when Caltrans increased yellow signal time by seven-tenths of a second, violations fell by 76 percent. A full second more yellow time in Loma Linda brought a 92 percent reduction in tickets.


          There are also the questions of whether red light cameras make streets safer or even make much money for the cities than authorize them. In Oakland last year, city officials claimed to have netted just $280,000, while Redflex said the city got just over $1 million. Either way, the take was so paltry, Oakland doesn’t bother anymore.


          As for safety, there are claims – never substantiated – that because red light cameras can inspire to drivers to slam on their brakes while traveling at fairly high speed, they lead to more rear-end collisions. Longer yellows should reduce that danger as well as the peril of getting a ticket that can cost well over $500, when all expenses are done.


          None of this, of course, speaks to the serious constitutional issue of whether any legal proceeding can be valid when defendants can’t cross-examine the people responsible for maintaining the red light cameras.


          The bottom line: All signs point to the eventual expulsion of red light cameras from this state. They’ve been demonstrably unfair for years, which has led to their phenomenal unpopularity. Add that to the questions about reliability and increased safety, and you have a program that probably won’t last many more 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, go to www.californiafocus.net

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

BIG UTILITIES’ NIGHTMARE BEGINS TO PLAY OUT

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, JANUARY 23, 2015, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “BIG UTILITIES’ NIGHTMARE BEGINS TO PLAY OUT”


          The biggest nightmare of California’s largest utility companies may be about to begin playing out, thanks to a small irrigation district in San Joaquin County and a bunch of disgruntled customers of Pacific Gas & Electric Co.


          This trend also had help from the state’s voters, who in 2010 rejected a ballot proposition designed and written to prevent such a day from ever coming, a measure on which PG&E squandered about $35 million.


          Here’s what’s happening: Following a 4-1 vote by the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission, the South San Joaquin Irrigation District will shortly begin taking over all PG&E’s local power poles and generating plants and begin providing electricity to 38,000 homes and businesses (about 116,000 persons) in the cities of Manteca, Ripon and Escalon, as well as some nearby unincorporated areas.


          The non-profit district promises to provide reliable power at lower costs than the for-profit PG&E.


          No, the district will not steal anything from the company: If it and PG&E can’t agree on prices for equipment and facilities – cost estimates vary wildly from about $60 million to as much as $600 million – a jury of county residents will decide the price.


          Meanwhile, PG&E must continue providing any needed electricity that can’t be generated locally, essentially using its transmission lines and grid as a common carrier, in much the same way an airline must carry any passenger who pays the fare.


          If there’s one thing this state’s big utilities don’t ever want to become, it’s common carriers, because that risks lowering their profit margins considerably. That’s why PG&E ran the 2010 Proposition 16, which lost by a 53-47 percent margin. The measure would have required a two-thirds majority vote in the affected area anytime a locality wants to break away from a big utility.


          The Manteca area is not alone in wanting out from under the big-utility thumb. Movements are afoot in San Francisco and 40 other locales around California. These are called Community Choice Aggregations (CCAs), the choice being that customers in areas leaving big utility companies can opt to stay with them simply by making that request of the new power provider.


          So far, this system has worked smoothly in both Marin and Sonoma Counties, where almost a dozen cities have separated from PG&E over the last few years, forming two new CCAs. Prices are consistently lower there than in surrounding PG&E territory, so much so that the Marin agency has lately spread its service area across the San Pablo Bay to Richmond.


          Plainly, the peril to the monopolies of companies like PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric is of their own doing.


          All backed the disastrous deregulation of state electricity approved by the Legislature and then-Gov. Pete Wilson in the late 1990s. That plan saw the utilities sell off many of their most significant power plants to generating companies. Now, CCAs can buy from those companies at negotiated prices. As part of the selloff deals, the utilities agreed to continue transmitting power from the generating stations over their grid.


          In the new Manteca-area CCA, the total savings will amount to $12 million per year if the irrigation district’s 15 percent price cut promise becomes reality. That could come to an average saving of about $200 per year for a typical family.


          This may explain why the only persons speaking against the departure from PG&E at the local agency commission’s hearing were affiliated with the utility. Meanwhile, customers said things like this, from Manteca resident Roger Beauchamp, “PG&E doesn’t respond to our needs and puts profits in front of the well-being of their customers. Fire ‘em.”


          The company’s image certainly hasn’t been helped by its highly equivocal response to the 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion and its later criminal indictment for behavior afterward.


          For sure, the movement away from giant utilities to small city- and district-owned power companies is not yet widespread and does not yet threaten the big companies’ survival or even dented their bottom lines. But it is a thorn in their sides, a reminder that given a choice, a lot of Californians would like to break away.



     -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, go to www.californiafocus.net