Friday, May 26, 2017

JUST HOW RAMPANT IS CORRUPTION IN STATE GOVERNMENT?

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE:  FRIDAY, JUNE 16, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “JUST HOW RAMPANT IS CORRUPTION IN STATE GOV’T?”


          The well-documented “fix-is-in” proceedings which forced consumers to pay more than 70 percent of the cost of shutting down the San Onofre Nuclear Power Station were one form of corruption in state government for which no one has yet been punished in a meaningful way.


          Similarly, when proof reached the highest levels in state government that the California Energy Commission was in serious conflict of interest when it handed out tens of millions of dollars in grants to build hydrogen car refueling stations just over two years ago, no one was punished. Gov. Jerry Brown even reappointed the commission chairman to a new term.


          These problematic actions were exposed by media, including this column. New forms of corruption by state officials have been exposed more recently by the state auditor and the Department of Finance, involving both the University of California and the state’s Board of Equalization, which has many tax-collection functions.


          Taken together, the incidents indicate corruption is probably rampant in state government. It’s hard to determine just how widespread, because it almost always takes a whistle-blower or informant to expose such wrongdoing. Reporters and auditors can’t simply walk into a state office and ask the receptionist to take them to the most corrupt individuals there. That doesn’t work.


What’s clear is that corruption takes many forms and cheats taxpayers and consumers of many millions of dollars, possibly billions.


In the Energy Commission’s case, the consultant who designed the map for placement of hydrogen stations and then trained state employees in evaluating grant requests based on that map resigned after his blueprint was approved. He then set up a new company which applied for grants and won many. Could a grant applicant have been in a more favored position?


          The San Onofre “settlement” agreed to in a secret meeting between Southern California Edison Co. officials and Michael Peevey, a former president of Edison who headed the Public Utilities Commission at the time of the meeting, dunned consumers more than $3 billion. Could a company have been in a more favored position? For sure, public hearings held later about this settlement were completely irrelevant, as the outcome had already been determined.


          This spring’s revelations about UC and the Board of Equalization involved completely different forms of corruption. At UC, the auditor reported, President Janet Napolitano’s office spent $175 million less over a period of years than it budgeted for, then asked for budget increases based on the previous over-estimated budgets and not on actual spending, in effect maintaining an unreported slush fund that could be used for almost anything.  The auditor also charged that Napolitano’s office interfered with the audit process, later softening her words by saying “nothing nefarious” occurred.


          Nothing nefarious? What were students to think as they learned about this spare cash at the same time their tuition rose?


          Said Democratic Assemblyman Kevin McCarty of Sacramento, “We’re jacking up tuition for…families, we are squeezing access and at the same time (they) are sitting on this $175 million suitcase in the corner.”


          A fourth form of corruption was discovered by state Finance officials at the Board of Equalization, where elected members were found to have spent prolifically on their office furnishings, misused tax collectors for things like parking management at political events and interfered with some tax cases.


          This board has long been a sinecure for termed-out legislators like all four current elected members, former Democratic lawmakers Fiona Ma and Jerome Horton and ex-GOP legislators George Runner and Diane Harkey. It has also served as a stepping stone to statewide office for the likes of Controller Betty Yee and Treasurer John Chiang.


          While no one knows just how rampant these types of corruption are in state government, it is clear they are not confined to just one agency, and generally go unpunished. The fact that examples like these turn up almost every time investigators take a close look at an agency is one indication that a wide-ranging house-cleaning is in order.


          Here’s a question for the many declared and potential 2018 candidates for governor, none of whom has yet spoken out about any of this: What will you do about the well-proven and established climate of corruption that’s persisted for many years under the last several governors?


    -30-
    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It" is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

NO SURPRISES AS FIRST TRUMP BUDGET HITS AT CALIFORNIA

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, JUNE 13, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
“NO SURPRISES AS FIRST TRUMP BUDGET HITS AT CALIFORNIA”


          The bleats have been long and loud in California since President Trump’s administration released its first proposed budget, one that won’t be finalized for several months.


This budget can be read many ways, including these: As an initial negotiating position from the author of “The Art of the Deal.” As revenge for California depriving the president of the popular vote victory he so ardently craved. As a prototypical Republican attack on federal spending the party has long opposed in fields from health care to sanctuary cities. It may be all of those and more.


          But this spending plan should not have surprised anyone in California public affairs. Presidents often suggest cuts or additions to federal spending even when they know the items will not fly. This can take public attention away from others they deem truly important. It can represent some first moves toward compromise.


          And presidents have always favored states that favor them and punished those that don’t. So California fared well under Presidents Clinton and Obama. Just ask the tens of thousands of homeowners who collected large sums from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) after the 1994 Northridge earthquake under Clinton or the health insurance clients who got premium subsidies under Obama.


But California had problems securing grants for everything from transportation to education under both Presidents Bush. The new budget indicates there could be worse trouble getting desired federal grants under Trump. So California’s problems in getting its fair share of federal spending will likely grow as the Trump years progress.


          Why be surprised at this when the state’s top officials loudly and proudly bill themselves as leaders of national resistance to Trump’s agenda?


          Yet, those same officials now sound stunned. Said Gov. Jerry Brown, “(The proposed budget) gives a massive break to the wealthiest, while imposing painful and debilitating burdens on tens of millions of decent and hard-working people. It’s unconscionable and un-American.”


          In other words, it’s a fiscal plan promoting the Republican Party’s platform stances of minimizing “entitlement” programs, welfare and federal healthcare subsidies. It’s also a plan that favors the party’s biggest political donors, who often are corporate leaders. Election results matter. So does the Electoral College.


          That’s not to minimize this plan’s potential effects here. The Health Access California organization, for one, says this budget would “rip health care from over 4 million Californians, cut Medi-Cal by 25 percent” at a cost of over $24 billion a year to California. The organization’s executive director, Anthony Wright, complained the budget “would savage California’s health care system, cutting…tens of billions of dollars to hospitals and health providers…(it) would cause carnage to key safety-net services, all to finance massive tax cuts to corporations and the wealthiest.”


          California public and charter schools would also lose about $400 million if a proposed total of $9 billion is cut nationally from education spending. This would affect everything from teacher training and preparation to after-school programs and student loans. Moaned state Schools Supt. Tom Torlakson, “I give this budget an ‘F’ grade for failing public school students.”

         
          There’s also a new bid to punish sanctuary cities, which include California’s largest urban centers. This one would rewrite a federal code section so that cities could no longer block police and other employees from communicating with federal officials about the immigration status of any individual. The budget would condition federal homeland security and law enforcement grants on guarantees that cities comply. And it includes a mandate that local jailers hold releasable prisoners up to 48 hours when federal agents issue requests called “detainers.”


          Taken together, this budget attacks many items that are political dogma in California, but anathema in Southern and Midwestern states that voted heavily for Trump.


          Anyone who’s surprised by all this wasn’t paying attention to the promises Trump made during his campaign last year. Or when Trump appointed key budget officials who have long advocated precisely the changes they now propose.


          The challenge for Californians in Congress and state government who oppose all this will be to find Republicans who back at least some programs that now are threatened. Judge their effectiveness by what’s in the final budget.

         
    -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

Monday, May 22, 2017

VILLARAIGOSA: ‘I WANT TO RESTORE STATE’S LUSTER’

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, JUNE 9, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


One in an occasional serious of columns based on interviews with major candidates for governor of California


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
          “VILLARAIGOSA: ‘I WANT TO RESTORE STATE’S LUSTER’”


          At 64, the passion still comes through when Antonio Villaraigosa talks about California. “I haven’t stopped wanting to change the world,” he declares while explaining why he’s running for governor. “I want to restore the state’s luster.”


          Speaker of the state Assembly for almost three years and mayor of Los Angeles for eight, Villaraigosa spent 56 days over the last year touring parts of California that major politicians rarely see, and he says he learned a lot.


          Unlike Richard Riordan, his immediate predecessor as L.A.’s mayor, Villaraigosa did not return from his “listening tour” talking about “strange places” he visited. Rather, he’s now eager to help uplift the many places where he says Californians are hurting.


          “In many areas, the recession is still on. People feel the economy is rigged and just doesn’t work for them,” he said in an interview. “We need to improve the economy in the Central Valley and the Inland Empire (Riverside and San Bernardino counties) and we need to improve educational opportunities for young people there. By 2025, we will have 1 million less college graduates in this state than we need for the sophisticated jobs to be filled.”


          Villaraigosa, out of public office since 2013, also wants to improve the state’s plumbing, capturing more storm water in new reservoirs, recycling more discarded water and getting water supplies to places that receive too little.


          One of at least four major 2018 candidates for governor, Villaraigosa is careful never to utter a critical word about current Gov. Jerry Brown. But his improved plumbing probably would not include Brown’s pet project, a putative $40 billion set of water tunnels aiming to bring Northern California river water under the delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers to farms and cities further south.


          “We (the state) never came through on promises we made in 1999 to build at least two more dams and reservoirs,” he said. One of those would be the proposed Temperance Flat Dam on the San Joaquin in Fresno and Madera counties. Villaraigosa said that dam alone would significantly cut the more than 1 million acre feet of storm and snowfall runoff that flowed to sea from California this winter and spring.


          Villaraigosa runs second among Democrats in recent polls and fundraising reports. He was Assembly speaker when state government committed – with no firm timetable – to building that dam.


          He’s also aware that while he broke one glass ceiling as the first Latino mayor of the state’s biggest city in the modern era, he has two more barriers left to shatter. He knows no Latino has served as governor since Romualdo Pacheco in 1875 and that no former Los Angeles mayor ever has. One, Sam Yorty, tried twice during the 1960s and early ’70s.


          And he knows he’ll have to overcome the historic animosity for Los Angeles that persists in parts of Northern California. To do that, he said, “You have to show people you are who you say you are. I can say ‘Go, Giants,’ for example, but only when they’re not playing the Dodgers. People have to see you care and you’ll get your share of the vote.”


          Villaraigosa starts with an advantage among Latinos, who voted for him in 80 percent proportions when he ran for mayor.


          “I’m used to breaking barriers,” he said. “No Latino before me had been elected mayor of Los Angeles. By the end of my two terms, people didn’t talk about me as a Latino mayor, but just a mayor, and that was a good thing.”


          Villaraigosa, like rival Gavin Newsom, the current lieutenant governor and ex-mayor of San Francisco, knows he’ll have to overcome his record of womanizing. “I’ve taken responsibility for that,” he said. “I’ve acknowledged that I made mistakes. And after apologizing and healing with my family (but not getting back together with ex-wife Corina), I went back to work. People will have to decide this race based on a broad spectrum of factors and I know that will be one.”

         
          -30-       
    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It" is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

IS SMALLER BETTER, OR IS IT REALLY BIGGER?

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, JUNE 6, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
          “IS SMALLER BETTER, OR IS IT REALLY BIGGER?”


          Bigger, California has learned through long experience, isn’t always better. In fact, it can be downright destructive, as when a city outgrows its water or freeway system.


          The question of whether bigger can actually be better, more responsive and cost-effective arises again this spring, in a pair of proposals that could fundamentally change politics both statewide and in California’s largest county.


          One of these plans, purveyed in a proposed 2018 initiative now circulating in some areas, would essentially make the Legislature 100 times bigger than it is today, while cutting its pay and reducing the size of Assembly and Senate districts to about 1 percent of their current dimensions.


          The other would expand county boards of supervisors from five members to seven where population tops 5 million, which today means only Los Angeles County, which would also get an elected chief executive similar to a mayor.


This one is aimed to improve government in L.A., sponsors saying it would modernize the state’s most powerful local government, where open county board seats can attract sitting members of Congress who already occupy very secure jobs, as when Democratic former San Pedro Rep. Janice Hahn won a seat on the board last year.


          The more wide-ranging of these plans comes from John Cox, a San Diego County real estate investor who just now is the only 2018 Republican candidate for governor. As such, he drew 18 percent support in one recent major poll, topping the better-known Democratic likes of former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and current state Treasurer John Chiang. He trailed only Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the Democratic former mayor of San Francisco, who scored 28 percent.


          Cox’s current initiative is a rehash of an idea he floated in 2012 which failed to draw enough petition signatures to make the 2014 ballot. It would essentially divide the current 80 Assembly and 40 state Senate districts by 100, creating neighborhood micro-districts of 5,000 and 10,000 persons each. Every district would get a representative – 12,000 in all.


          Recognizing this might be just a tad unwieldy, Cox would have the 12,000 new legislators elect “working committees” of 80 Assembly members and 40 senators – oddly enough, the exact sizes of today’s two legislative houses.


          The working committees would perform most tasks of the current Legislature, but the full bodies of 8,000 in the Assembly and 4,000 for the Senate would vote on all non-urgent matters and proposed laws. Lawmakers’ pay would be cut to $1,000 yearly.


          Cox is convinced this would take most of the big money out of legislative politics, forcing candidates to go door to door in their small districts rather than flooding airwaves and mailboxes with advertising. The actual, working lawmakers on the two active committees would then have just 99 constituents each (other neighborhood legislators) to please and pander to.


          Don’t expect this one to go very far once voters realize they wouldn’t even be changing the number of people in the Capitol, but would add a whole new layer of government.


          Meanwhile, the county proposal sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Tony Mendoza of Artesia could create the second most powerful political job in California in the Los Angeles County executive, and two other posts also certain to draw big-name candidates and big-money campaigns.


          His plan to add two county supervisors to the current five would reduce each Los Angeles County supervisor’s district population to 1.4 million from today’s 2 million.


          “By increasing representation and creating a professional management position, we will address multiple issues and actively improve local government,” Mendoza said.


          This one needs a two-thirds vote in both current legislative houses to make the 2020 ballot and become effective in 2022. A similar proposal failed in 2015 after drawing opposition from the then-current Los Angeles County board.


          The Mendoza plan also raises the question of whether it’s right for voters in the rest of California to decide the structure of politics in Los Angeles, when it won’t affect anyone but Angelenos.


Either of these plans would make for major upheaval, something voters historically have not been inclined to approve. But no one can predict the outcome of such a vote in today’s volatile political climate, not when it involves creation of thousands of new political positions for ambitious Californians to occupy.


     -30-       
Elias is author of the current book “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It,” now available in an updated third edition. His email address is tdelias@aol.com


Monday, May 15, 2017

CLIMATE CHANGE THREATENS ICONIC JOSHUA TREES

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, JUNE 2, 2017, OR THEREAFTER

           
 BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
  "CLIMATE CHANGE THREATENS ICONIC JOSHUA TREES"

           
          Only four units of the entire 417-part system of national parks, monuments, seashores and historical sites carry the names of remarkable plants and trees. California hosts three of these – Redwood, Sequoia and Joshua Tree national parks.


          But by the end of this century, there could be little reason for the Joshua Tree National Park just east of Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley. That’s because its namesake cactus-like namesake shows signs of  gradually dying out due to changes in the local climate.


          This appears true despite denials of man-made climate change coming regularly from President Trump and the men he’s put in charge of agencies charged with protecting threatened plants, animals and fish, the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency. (Joshua trees don’t yet have formally endangered status.)


          The latest moves from these agencies indicate they will become even more enviro-skeptical than they’ve been in their first several months working for Trump: In mid-May, the EPA under Administrator Scott Pruitt – a longtime oil industry advocate who was formerly attorney general of Oklahoma – dismissed half the members of its key scientific advisory boards. At the same time, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke suspended more than 200 advisory panels on everything from invasive species to oil drilling.


          This means the ethereal Joshua trees can expect little help from federal agencies, despite their main habitat’s promotion from national monument to national park status in 1994.


          And they will apparently need some help – or a major shift back to old climate patterns – if they’re to survive into the next century.


          That’s because the species shows signs of flagging in the ever warmer heat of the Mojave Desert. The plants, actually huge lilies and cousins of the far more common yuccas whose flowers dot much of California during the spring, depend on ground water to survive. Their extensive root systems can reach 35 feet underground and they also take in atmospheric moisture through their leaves, trunks and branches.


          But Joshua tree saplings are not so hardy. With much shallower root systems than their mature relatives, they are far more vulnerable to hotter and drier weather. That’s exactly what scientists project for the national park and the rest of the Mojave, where average temperatures are expected to rise four degrees by 2050, while rainfall drops by 2.6 percent in the same time.


          For the saplings to survive, they need to grow an average of about three inches in each of their first 10 years, then another 1.5 inches yearly after that.


          It’s apparently not happening for them in this mostly dry period, despite the heavy rains of the past winter. In the first year of a projected 20-year survey of Joshua tree population and growth both inside and outside the park, scientists from nearby UC Riverside found few or no young trees on about 30 percent of the species’ normal range. If that continues through the end of this century, Joshua trees could eventually exist only in about 10 percent of their current habitat. Essentially, new Joshua trees are not replacing older, dying ones fast enough for the species to survive much longer.


          The outlook can only get worse under current trends, which have seen nighttime low temperatures in Twentynine Palms, nearest significant town to the national park, rise by 8 degrees over the last 40 years.


          The great preponderance of scientists worldwide, with little to gain from lying about it, maintain human activity has caused much of that change in the local climate, part of a worldwide phenomenon. But Trump and his allies hotly deny this. Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, an avid backer of both Trump and Pruitt, insists this represents “rigged science,” saying the latest firings and suspensions at both Interior and the EPA mean that government will now “start dealing with science, and not rigged science.”


          The current supposed stewards of the national park system and its multitude of plants and animals do not appear serious about that duty, though, as indicated by shutting down their advisory panels or loading them up with representatives of industries that contribute to climate change.


          They also are in no mood to heed any advice that contradicts their beliefs. Joshua trees, beware.

          
    -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


CALEXIT MOVEMENT STILL ALIVE, BUT EVOLVING

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, MAY 30, 2017, OR THEREAFTER
           

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “CALEXIT MOVEMENT STILL ALIVE, BUT EVOLVING”


          For months, the small but growing movement for California to secede from the United States was stalled in part because its nominal leader lives (for now) in Russia and attended at least one Kremlin-approved event for separatist movements around the globe.


          But the movement is now changing. The Yes California organization is gone, along with its nominal head, Louis Marinelli (a former San Diego candidate for the state Assembly who teaches English in Russia); so is the putative proposition they hoped to put on the ballot next year.


          But the idea lives on with a new name and the same on-the-ground leader. Yes California has morphed into the California Freedom Coalition, which has announced plans to file a reworded secession initiative petition in Sacramento May 19.


          At its center remains Marcus Ruiz Evans, whose 2013 book “California’s Next Century 2.10” suggested a kind of semi-independent status for the state. Later, he began advocating complete independence.


          Evans’ biography reports he worked 10 years as a liaison between California and the federal government. He says the experience taught him this state is fundamentally different from the rest of America. At first, he pushed for a California status akin to Scotland’s within the United Kingdom, both areas at considerable variance with the rest of their countries. (The UK overall voted for Brexit, for example, while Scotland voted strongly to stay in the European Union.)


          Evans worked with Marinelli on this cause for more than three years. He says its evolution now teams him with a high-ranking Silicon Valley executive, a top sales counselor and a longtime activist protestor best known for campaigning outside the Texas ranch of then-President George W. Bush. Those individuals did not return emails asking them to confirm their involvement. But the activist, Cindy Sheehan, was due to lead a march to submit the new separation initiative.


          Evans promised the new petition would have a “better text” than the one he pulled back. If it passes with a large majority, the measure could put California on a course toward independence.


          Evans believes sovereignty would work out fine. He pooh-poohs the idea of a new Civil War, with the rest of America fighting to hang onto California.


          Part of his reasoning: A recent poll conducted for a television network and an online business publication found 40 percent of those surveyed in the rest of the nation would like to be rid of California.


          Evans also claims the Reconstruction-era Supreme Court decision Texas v. White would permit other states to vote to let California go peacefully. But that view was expressed in a dissent, not by the court majority. Which means there is no more of a mechanism for a state to leave now than there was before the Civil War. Of course, there was also no legal way for any colony to leave the British Empire, but it happened.


          Nevertheless, Evans maintains secession would be both peaceful and fiscally sound. “I don’t believe the rest of America would go to war with us,” he says. “Unlike the old Confederacy, California doesn’t talk about shooting federal troops and attacking federal forts and bases. California has a culture of non-violence and anti-war activity.”


          As for finances, while secession skeptics worry about losing federal grants and other spending, Evans notes that California gets back far less in federal spending than it pays in federal taxes. That’s unlike other states, including West Virginia and Mississippi, which get back as much as 50 percent more than they put in. If Californians paid the same taxes they do now, but sent all of it to Sacramento and none to Washington, D.C., he says, all those grants, salaries and Social Security payments would be covered, with plenty to spare.


          Meanwhile, poll support for the Calexit idea climbed from about 3 percent in 2014 to 32 percent in one springtime survey, the biggest jump coming when Donald Trump became President. That’s major growth, and the longer Trump remains in office despite decisively losing the popular vote, the more it may increase.


          Right now, this still looks like an extreme longshot, but less so than three years ago. And no one can safely predict where popular sentiment might go in the next 15 months, when secession could come to its first-ever vote.



-30-
    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It" is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

Monday, May 8, 2017

CCAs BRINGING COMEUPPANCE TO BIG UTILITIES

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE:  FRIDAY, MAY 26, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
“CCAs BRINGING COMEUPPANCE TO BIG UTILITIES”


          You can call it a form of comeuppance for huge privately-owned California utility companies unscathed so far by exposure of their negligence and blundering of the past decade. They now find themselves deeply threatened by what some might consider a small army of mosquitos.


          No individual was penalized when a federal trial found Pacific Gas & Electric Co. guilty of criminal negligence in the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion that killed eight persons and destroyed dozens of homes. The company itself was fined just $3 million, a pittance for the vast enterprise.


          Similarly, no company executive has yet been charged with anything criminal in the well-documented multi-billion dollar collusion between Southern California Edison Co. officials and Michael Peevey, former president of both Edison and the state Public Utilities Commission. They agreed privately to force consumers to pay the bulk of the costs for decommissioning the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in northern San Diego County, rendering subsequent public hearings completely without meaning. That case is still under investigation, more than two years after raids on Peevey’s homes uncovered key documents in the case.


But the PUC, a participant in the illicit meeting where the decision was made to dun consumers more than $3 billion for the closure, saw its members carefully maintain straight faces while fining Edison a puny $16 million for not reporting a meeting their own chief attended.


          Those paltry penalties deprived millions Californians of justice. But a different kind of punishment is now pecking away at the utility giants. This comes in the form of Community Choice Aggregations, arrangements where cities and counties can let electricity customers choose whether to stay with the existing utilities or switch to a locally-run public entity that buys power from generating companies at the source and brings it to consumers via utility company lines. Non-profit CCA prices are generally lower than those of for-profit utilities.


          How seriously do the utilities take the threat of CCAs? One indicator was the 2010 campaign for Proposition 16, run by and for PG&E, which spent $46 million qualifying and promoting the measure. That initiative would have allowed CCAs to form only after a two-thirds supermajority vote in any area involved. Essentially, that was an effort to kill the CCA idea. Even without much experience with CCAs, and with opponents spending less than .2 percent as much as PG&E, the measure lost by a 53 to 47 percent margin.


          The eight current California CCAs now operate in places as diverse as Sonoma County, San Francisco and the high desert city of Lancaster in Los Angeles County. Butte County is exploring the idea. So are San Jose and San Diego.


          But the most serious comeuppance so far for the utilities came this spring, when Los Angeles County supervisors – free to do this because Proposition 16 failed – voted to create a CCA that will buy power primarily from renewable sources like solar thermal arrays, wind farms, hydroelectric dams and geothermal wells.


When the new CCA opens next year, anyone in unincorporated areas within California’s most populous county can switch to it. Scores of cities in the county will also be able to join the CCA and provide residents the choice of whether to stay with Edison or opt out.


The city of Los Angeles, which has run a publicly-owned utility of its own for many decades, will not be eligible.


          No one has reported the exact amount CCAs already cost the big utilities, but it is sure to be in the billions of dollars once the Los Angeles County version comes online.


          The companies know the most effective way for them to retain customers under this burgeoning free-choice system is to provide better service. So Edison is building scores of new electric vehicle charging stations, which look progressive even though they serve only a tiny fraction of Californians. And PG&E has upgraded equipment in San Francisco, cutting the frequency of significant blackouts to an average of just 1.02 times per customer per year.


          CCA’s, of course, are not a direct punishment of PG&E and Edison for their blunders and illegal acts. But CCAs very likely would not be proliferating without that very recent history, which saw the big utilities create an unfriendly climate for themselves.


                  

    -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