Monday, July 15, 2019

WILDFIRE INSURANCE CRISIS HITS EVER HARDER


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, AUGUST 2, 2019, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
          “WILDFIRE INSURANCE CRISIS HITS EVER HARDER”


          Californians have heard plenty about the wildfire crisis that’s afflicted this state for the last few years, highlighted by a rash of huge blazes and evacuations of more than 1 million area residents.


          But as the height of the annual fire season approaches, there has been little attention paid to the ever-increasing expenses inflicted on property owners and renters in or near wildlands, who may not ever be burned out, but are certainly getting burned.


          For a fire insurance crisis of ever increasing magnitude is now upon California and the state has done nothing to prevent or mitigate it.


          While thousands of owners and occupants of properties fully or partially destroyed in fires from Redding to Paradise to Napa to Ventura and Malibu still wrestle with lawyers and insurance companies as they try for damage compensation, other thousands are getting hit now via their mailboxes.


          Increasing numbers of potential fire area residents from the Sierra Nevada Mountain foothills to plush residential areas in suburban San Diego County and the hills of the East Bay are receiving cancellation notices from their property insurance firms, forcing them to seek new policies just when most insurers want to rid themselves of potential liabilities in or near California’s forests and brushlands.


          Others are seeing their policy premiums doubled and tripled.


          One typical homeowner in Oakhurst near the southern approach road to Yosemite National Park saw his rate raised this spring from just over $2,000 a year to more than $6,000. But at least he can still buy insurance on the general market.


          Thousands more are being forced onto the open market, trying to obtain coverage from reluctant insurers.


          It’s a situation reminiscent of the mid-1990s, when every large insurance company in America boycotted the California homeowners insurance market. They cancelled or declined to renew virtually every homeowners insurance policy in the state after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and 1994’s Northridge temblor combined to inflict billions of dollars of expenses on them.


          Rather than insisting that insurance companies continue to offer quake insurance or be banned from selling other lucrative coverage – like car and truck policies – in California, then-Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush allowed the boycott to continue and proposed creation of a state-run system that evolved into the California Earthquake Authority (CEA). Insurance companies resumed selling homeowner policies, but are off the hook now in California quakes, and would love the same to apply in wildfires.


          But so far, state lawmakers – like their predecessors who were cowed during the 1990s – refuse to do much of anything. Among the biggest unresolved issues that legislators won’t directly confront this year is whether to limit liability of insurance companies with burned-out customers.


          All of which means that what former Gov. Jerry Brown said last year about wildfires and climate change – “All hell is breaking loose” – applies now to more than actual fires.


          Former Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones foresaw some of this two years ago, observing that insurers must renew policies for a time in actual fire disaster areas, but they don’t have to renew policies in non-disaster areas when they expire.


          That’s the root of the current crisis. The insurance companies understand many so-far-unburned parts of California will inevitably become disaster areas and don’t want their own finances impacted when those disasters hit.


          There is a safety net of sorts for homeowners when their policies aren’t renewed. It’s called the Fair Plan, roughly equivalent to the CEA in that it must insure anyone who applies. But Fair Plan rates are much higher than other fire policies, even at their increased rates. Yes, by law they cannot be excessive, but no one is sure what that means.


          Before last year’s fires, the number of Fair Plan policies was rising by about 1,000 per year. That will likely climb substantially over the coming months and years, eventually making the fire insurance crisis less about scarce policies than it is about money.


          The bottom line: Even if their houses don’t ignite in any of the next few fire seasons, plenty of homeowners will see their wallets get seriously burned, with state government unable or unwilling to protect them.

         
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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

WHY SHOULD NPP’S PAY FOR PARTISAN PRIMARIES?


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, JULY 30, 2019, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “WHY SHOULD NPP’S PAY FOR PARTISAN PRIMARIES?”


          With California’s March presidential primary less than eight months off, herds of candidates arrive in the state regularly, seeking both votes and campaign cash.


          But one often unspoken question remains about that vote, which will look very different from most other primaries in this state: Why should people who declare themselves independent, no party preference (NPP) voters pay for a primary where they can’t vote for anyone they please?


          This question arises because state government – that’s us, the taxpayers – foots all the bills for these elections. That includes the 26 percent or so of all voters who are NPP. When primaries involve California offices, state or local, any registered voter can cast a ballot for any candidate listed for a particular office. But it doesn’t work that way in presidential primaries.


          Only Republicans can vote for GOP candidates for president next March. And while anyone who wants to can vote for Democratic presidential candidates next spring, NPP voters must first request a Democratic ballot. For those planning to vote by mail, this means sending a postcard to the local registrar of voters with the request, and all but declaring themselves Democrats.


          Those policies are set not by the state, but by the national political parties. Unfortunately, no one thought of these wrinkles back in 2010, when Proposition 10 passed handily and created the Top Two “jungle primary,” where the two leading primary vote-getters get spots in November runoffs for state offices, regardless of their party.


          State legislators have known the rules for almost a decade and chosen not to confront the national parties. That could risk a confrontation which might reduce California’s role in presidential candidate selection.


          As it stands, almost one-fourth of Californians now have a limited role because of exclusionary national party rules. No one really knows how a confrontation might turn out in the future, whether Californians or the national parties would blink first. But it’s pretty unlikely such a conflict would ever lead to there being no presidential primary here at all.


          Since California sets just about all its own election rules except those for presidential primaries, why not test this? Gov. Gavin Newsom has shown plenty of daring since he took office last January, on everything from housing problems to the death penalty. Why not take the lead on enfranchising the huge chunk of California voters (more than the total voters in all but eight other states) who may not now be able to vote for the presidential candidate they like best?


          And why should all Californians, including both Democrats and NPPs, foot the bill for the 23 percent of state voters now registered Republican to cast their votes? Why not have each political party pay for primaries not run according to state rules?


          Those questions won’t get substantial answers before the March vote, in which California might have more influence over eventual presidential choices than it has since the early 1970s.


          But some NPP registrants are already thinking four-plus years ahead, to the next time these issues arise.


          Some advocate a state law giving independent voters their own ballot, listing every presidential candidate. This won’t happen, because providing an open ballot to a quarter of the voters leaves them with more options than the majority would have. It would be unequal.


          There’s also the problem of the national parties possibly refusing to recognize ballots cast that way.


          The result is today’s situation, a mess created by the two major parties’ insistence on exclusivity financed largely by voters belonging to other parties, or none.


          “I don’t agree that a voter’s rights should be subject to party rules,” tweeted Chad Peace, a leading spokesman for NPPs. “We can’t control party rules, but we can write laws to maximize voter rights.”


          Do that, and you get a state confrontation with both national parties and their long records of opposing open voting in California. Which means this state’s primaries will remain essentially unfair until the state’s politicians rouse the courage to risk doing something about 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

Thursday, July 11, 2019

UPDATE: TRUMP THREATS END; CALIFORNIANS MUST GET COUNTED


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, JULY 26, 2019, OR THEREAFTER

EDITORS: TO ENSURE TIMELINESS, DISREGARD EMBARGO DATE

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “TRUMP THREATS END; CALIFORNIANS MUST GET COUNTED”

          The Census ball is now very much in California’s court. It turns out, President Trump’s bald effort to punish California for providing Hillary Clinton with her 2016 popular vote majority has been ended by a narrow 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision in June tossing the issue of a citizenship question back to a lower court that previously nixed it.

          Trump at first insisted he would defy the court and insert the question anyhow, but pulled back this week, saying he will get all the citizenship information he wants from other government sources. That, of course, is what Census Bureau officials about one year ago advised him to do.

          For weeks after the Supreme Court ruled, Trump fostered doubt about what he would do. But there’s no guesswork about what could happen if that query is included. Since 1949, Census officials have said using the question widely would cause vast undercounts of undocumented immigrants who don’t trust Census assurances of confidentiality and fear deportation as a consequence of participating.

Trump’s minions lied consistently throughout their legal appeals about why they wanted the question in. They said it was to help the Justice Department enforce the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which has never been enforced under Trump. New evidence emerging since the lower court decision ruled the question out, in the form of previously secret emails, plainly showed the motive for the question was entirely political.

          The Supreme Court’s decision hinged on the obvious disgust of Chief Justice John Roberts, a Republican appointee of ex-President George W. Bush, over lies told by Trump’s secretary of commerce, Wilbur Ross. Roberts wrote that those falsehoods demanded he cast a rare vote with the high court’s four-member liberal minority, possibly deep-sixing the question.

          Meanwhile, the Constitution requires every human being in the country be counted, citizen or not.

Ross insisted he sought to insert the citizenship query used before 1950 because of the Justice Department’s desire. The prior lack of Voting Rights Act enforcement made that statement enough of a lie to offend Roberts.

          There was immediate speculation that Trump backed down on the question because defying a Supreme Court order would almost automatically bring impeachment, and might even be offensive enough for Senate Republicans to convict him. For sure, it would have been a threat to constitutional government.

Trump had also speculated about delaying the Census, contrary to law and precedent, but backed off that, too.

          All this leaves any Census-driven parts of California’s future up to Californians. If a citizenship question spurs millions of the undocumented to refuse participation, this state could lose at least one seat in Congress, one or two electoral votes in presidential elections and many billions of federal dollars earmarked for housing, highways, sewers, public schools and much more.

          But now an undercount will only happen if Californians let it, as they did ten years ago. Most Census experts believe low participation rates caused at least one million to two million Californians not to be counted in the 2010 Census. A repeat would make life more difficult and less consequential for many Californians.

          So Californians, whether citizens or not, must step up now and protect their own interests. Anticipating something like today’s scene, ex-Gov. Jerry Brown and state legislators last year allocated $90.3 million for Census information and outreach.

          That’s about $3 for every California resident, which the state will spend encouraging participation and discouraging anyone who’s thinking of hiding from federal Census takers. Brown and his allies considered spending $90-plus million on TV and newspaper ads, social media and community meetings a prudent investment that promises to produce far more in new money than it costs.

          The effort is needed because, even without the decrements brought by a Census undercount, Trump already allots an average of about 6 billion less federal dollars each year to California than it got under ex-President Barack Obama.

          The one way to change this kind of steady mistreatment, minimization and denigration of California while Trump holds office is to maximize the state’s Census count. That will only happen if virtually all Californians participate.
         
 
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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, July 8, 2019

WHY CALIFORNIANS MUST GET COUNTED, TRUMP MACHINATIONS OR NO


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, JULY 26, 2019, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
      “WHY CALIFORNIANS MUST GET COUNTED, TRUMP MACHINATIONS OR NOT”


          The Census ball is now very much in California’s court. President Trump’s bald effort to punish California for providing Hillary Clinton with her 2016 popular vote majority has been at least blunted by a narrow 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision in June tossing the issue of a citizenship question back to the lower court that previously nixed it.


          It’s anyone’s guess whether the Census Bureau now controlled by Trump lied when it said it has started printing Census forms without the question: “Is this person a citizen of the United States?”


          But there’s no guesswork about what could happen if that query is included. Since 1949, Census officials have said using the question widely would cause vast undercounts of undocumented immigrants who don’t trust Census assurances of confidentiality and fear deportation as a consequence of participating. Census confidentiality promises have been honored in the past.


Trump’s minions lied consistently about why they want the question in. They said it was to help the Justice Department enforce the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which has never been enforced under Trump. New evidence emerging since that federal court in Maryland ruled the question out, in the form of previously secret emails, plainly shows the motive for the question is entirely political.


          The Supreme Court decision hinged on the obvious disgust of Chief Justice John Roberts, a Republican appointee of ex-President George W. Bush, over lies told by Trump’s secretary of commerce, Wilbur Ross. Roberts wrote that those falsehoods demanded he cast a rare vote with the high court’s four-member liberal minority, possibly deep-sixing the question.


          Meanwhile, the Constitution requires every human being in the country be counted, citizen or not.


Ross has insisted he sought to insert the citizenship query used before 1950 because of the Justice Department’s desire.

         
          The prior lack of Voting Rights Act enforcement made that statement enough of a lie to offend Roberts. Did Ross also lie when he said the Census Bureau, which he supervises, had to start printing forms by July 1 for them to be ready for the March 1 beginning of the count?


          Meanwhile, Trump proposes to ignore the Supreme Court and include the question by executive order. If Ross and the Census Bureau are not lying about the print timetable, of course, Trump would have to be content with including the query only on some forms or as an addendum.


Trump also has speculated about delaying the Census, contrary to law and precedent.


          All this leaves any Census-driven parts of California’s future up to Californians. If a citizenship question spurs millions of the undocumented to refuse participation, this state could lose at least one seat in Congress, one or two electoral votes in presidential elections and many billions of federal dollars earmarked for housing, highways, sewers, public schools and much more.


          Question or none, an undercount will only happen if Californians let it. Most Census experts believe low participation rates caused at least one million to two million Californians not to be counted in the 2010 Census. A repeat would make life more difficult and less consequential for many Californians.


          So Californians, whether citizens or not, must step up now and protect their own interests. Anticipating something like today’s scene, ex-Gov. Jerry Brown and state legislators last year allocated $90.3 million for Census information and outreach.


          That’s about $3 for every California resident, which the state will spend encouraging participation and discouraging anyone who’s thinking of hiding from federal Census takers. Brown and his allies considered spending $90-plus million on TV and newspaper ads, social media and community meetings a prudent investment that promises to produce far more in new money than it costs.


          The effort is needed because, even without the decrements brought by a Census undercount, Trump already allots an average of about 6 billion less federal dollars each year to California than it got under ex-President Barack Obama.


          The one way to change this kind of steady mistreatment, minimization and denigration of California while Trump holds office is to maximize the state’s Census count. That will only happen if virtually all Californians participate.

         
 
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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

AMENDED WILDFIRE FUND PLAN STILL HAS HUGE FLAWS


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, JULY 23, 2019, OR THEREAFTER

EDITORS: TO ENSURE TIMELINESS, DISREGARD EMBARGO DATE


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “AMENDED WILDFIRE FUND PLAN STILL HAS HUGE FLAWS”


          Hurried, slapdash amendments to a proposed state Wildfire Fund plan pushed by Gov. Gavin Newsom improve it a little, eliminating secret meetings by a now-discarded new commission and forcing utilities to pay a full $5 billion for fire safety measures. But the plan still does not answer two key questions ignored by Newsom and the state Legislature:


          Why should consumers pay for the negligent conduct of utility companies like Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric? And do these companies deserve to survive, considering how the largest two of them admit they’ve behaved?


          Other huge problems also lurk in both the amended measure, known as AB 1054, and in Newsom’s original plan:


          While the putative new Wildlife Fund Commission is gone, replaced by a fire advisory board with no real powers, vital decisions on whether utilities act responsibly remain with the state Public Utilities Commission despite its long history of corrupt favoritism of those same utilities.


The latest plan would let the PUC decide when utilities can issue bonds to pay for wildfire liabilities, with electric customers obliged to pay them off via increased rates. That’s on top of a mostly customer-paid fire claims fund that could exceed $30 billion.


 There is no limit on how much in bonds the PUC could authorize, money consumers would have to repay as certainly and as regularly as they pay taxes. But no company could issue bonds if the PUC finds it was irresponsible.


          Lawmakers giving the PUC these powers apparently don’t remember that this commission in secret and illegal meetings with SoCal Edison officials agreed to force consumers to pay two-thirds of the cost of decommissioning the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, closed in 2012 because of an Edison blunder. The PUC years later conceded this was wrong, changing its earlier decision to charge consumers about one-third less than before, a difference exceeding $1 billion.


          Then there was a federal investigation that found PUC negligence as much at fault as PG&E’s criminal behavior for the 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion which killed eight persons and destroyed much of that San Francisco suburb.


          All this came before the huge wildfires of 2017-18 drove PG&E into bankruptcy because of expected fire claims in the tens of billions of dollars.


          Now, the only limit on the PUC’s bond-authorizing ability in the Wildfire Fund plan, original or amended, is that it expires after 2035.


          So the commission’s long history of favoring utilities and getting investigated for criminal collusion with Edison is ignored. AB 1054 would give the PUC a new way to help the utilities it consistently favors.


          One other problem: While the current Wildfire Fund proposal forces customers to pay many billions, it does not name a single fire prevention move the utilities must take, even though their lines started multiple billion-dollar-plus blazes. Instead, the companies would bring safety plans to the PUC only once every three years, the aim to “harden” power lines, whatever that means.


          “This entire plan does not focus on fires, but on ways to let the utilities keep making billions,” says former San Diego City Attorney Michael Aguirre, whose legal work caused the reduction in consumer payments for San Onofre. He threatens a lawsuit to cancel the new plan, if it becomes law. “It’s as if no one really wants to stop the fires.”


          Meanwhile, Newsom keeps urging quick passage of AB 1054, with its current amendments and others likely to come. He says it must pass before the lawmakers’ impending summer recess or Wall Street will degrade utility bond ratings.


          This rush to poor judgment again places utility interests ahead of consumers’, with no explanation why the present companies should be allowed to survive and keep their monopolies intact.


          For despite a Newsom suggestion to the contrary, power would not disappear if the companies do: state law allows a government takeover of their systems if those firms fail, with employees guaranteed their jobs.


          It all means slowing down this bill is a must to allow measured consideration of alternatives to the current system that frequently foments criminality and negligence.

         
          -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, July 1, 2019

NEW VACCINATION BILL IMPROVES ON ORIGINAL PLAN


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, JULY 19, 2019, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
          “NEW VACCINATION BILL IMPROVES ON ORIGINAL PLAN”


          Only rarely does a legislative compromise that waters down an originally tough proposed law end up creating something better. That appears to be what Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Sen. Richard Pan have now accomplished.


          This compromise came about because of an off-the-cuff remark Newsom made in early June while talking to reporters in a hallway at the state Democratic Party’s annual convention.


          Newsom, whose own four children have met all public school vaccination requirements, shocked the medical world in the midst of the worst national measles outbreak in decades when he said he might not sign a bill by Pan, a Sacramento Democrat and the Legislature’s only pediatrician.


          Pan sought to crack down on some parents and the doctors they depend on for medical exemptions from requirements for vaccinations against diseases like polio, whooping cough, rubella and measles. Children need to have had these shots to register for schools at various grade levels, but increasing numbers have gotten the waivers.


          Parents who are skeptical of vaccinations because of firmly debunked pseudo-information contending there’s a connection between inoculations and autism lost their ability to claim a religious exemption when ex-Gov. Jerry Brown signed a previous Pan bill in 2015, after vetoing it the previous year. A brief measles outbreak changed Brown’s mind.


          Anti-vaxx parents immediately began seeking medical exemptions instead. No pro-vaccination bill can ban medical waivers altogether because some individuals, notably those with organ transplants, organ failure or certain allergies, cannot safely be vaccinated.


          Soon, a cadre of physicians willing to sign off on exemptions for fees of about $300 per child developed, and anti-vaxx parents began seeking them out. The Voice of San Diego news website reported last year that one doctor was responsible for about one-third of all medical exemptions in the 130,000-student San Diego Unified school district.


          Pan’s effort this year was to foreclose that avenue for unjustified waivers by subjecting each of them to a review by state health officials. Newsom, in his unscripted comments, called this draconian because, he said, it would put government bureaucrats between doctors and patients.


          Subsequently, the pair met and hashed out a compromise that actually improved on the original Pan plan. Instead of subjecting all medical waivers to state review, the new version covers only exemption forms from doctors who sign off on more than five waivers a year. Schools where vaccination rates fall below the 95 percent saturation level many experts say is needed for the protection of “herd immunity” will also be looked at.


          This should pretty much put medical offices that had become de facto waiver mills out of that business, while also relieving state medical officers of most burdens imposed under the original plan. If the Legislature passes this plan over the vocal objections of anti-vaxx protestors, doctors who write significant numbers of exemptions will now have to demonstrate via medical records that all of them were justified.


          Whenever state health officials believe a doctor’s waiver decisions create a wide risk to public health, they would now have to refer those physicians to the state medical board for potential discipline. This also improves the original plan, which could have allowed non-medical board members to punish offending doctors.


          It still leaves exemptions open for children who really need them, while placing major obstacles in the path of waiver mills.


          This satisfies just about everyone except hard-line anti-vaxxers, who want to enable all parents to choose whether to inoculate their children.


          State officials can now “focus on the two biggest (vaccination) problems – doctors who sell exemptions and schools that lack community immunity,” said an official of the Health Officers Association of California. (About 100 schools now have vaccination levels under 90 percent.)


          The bottom line: This bill is less intrusive than it originally was, while still accomplishing all its major aims. It’s a clear-cut case of compromise causing improvement.


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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

WILDFIRE FUND PLAN: CONSUMERS WILL BAIL OUT UTILITIES


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, JULY 16, 2019, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “WILDFIRE FUND PLAN: CONSUMERS WILL BAIL OUT UTILITIES”


          There’s one word Gov. Gavin Newsom has assiduously avoided in the days since he proposed a new $30.5 billion Wildfire Fund that would help the state’s big privately-owned utilities pay off damage claims from forest and brush fires their lines have sparked or helped to cause: Bailout.


          This fund would shore up utility finances as they face tens of billions of dollars in potential judgments from lawsuits that followed fires they admittedly helped cause via negligence during 2017 and 2018.


          Under pressure from Wall Street investment firms, Newsom proposed that utility customers (often euphemistically called “ratepayers”) and utility shareholders share the costs. The legislative form of Newsom’s plan makes it clear customers would be stuck with at least half the costs of utility negligence.


          This bill, AB 1054, co-sponsored by Democratic Assembly members Chris Holden of Pasadena, Autumn Burke of Inglewood and Republican Chad Mayes of Yucca Valley, places the burden of proving utilities acted prudently on the consumers, reversing many decades of precedent.


          There’s an unasked, unanswered question here, ignored largely because of the sheer power of the utility lobby and its financial allies, all of whom could lose big bucks if other utilities follow Pacific Gas & Electric Co. into bankruptcy: Why should customers/ratepayers foot any bills when they did nothing to cause these fires?


          It’s a fact that customers’ monthly bills for decades included money earmarked for utility maintenance. That tab came to more than $6 billion over almost 50 years before the latest spate of big blazes.


State and federal regulators never tracked what the companies did with most of that money. As a result, California saw the fatal San Bruno natural gas line explosion in 2010 and huge amounts of vegetation sitting on or near power lines before the start of the state’s largest and most costly fires ever during 2017-18.


          If much of the maintenance money went to executive bonuses and other optional items, another question arises: Do these irresponsible monopoly companies deserve to survive?


          For sure, there are other ways PG&E, for one example, could raise whatever money it needs to pay off upcoming negligence judgments. Here’s one: sell off its natural gas division and some of its electric assets.


          This could produce many billions of dollars, exact amounts depending on how many assets are sold.


          AB 1054 contemplates none of that. It would keep the same companies that damaged thousands of lives in business. And Newsom asked that his Wildfire Fund plan be rushed through in a matter of a few weeks, urging passage by July 12.

         
          “It’s a massive hijacking of the state of California,” says Michael Aguirre, former city attorney of San Diego.


          Newsom’s rationale: “Financially unstable electrical utilities will put wildfire victims in jeopardy and cause California families to see their electrical bills skyrocket,” he said, parroting the utility line. No wonder PG&E stock rose sharply after release of his plan.


          But would there be so much as a glitch if Warren Buffett’s Oregon-based Portland General Electric took over gas operations in Northern California? Even the company initials would be the same. And what if the state’s publicly-owned Community Choice Aggregation electric outfits bought up PG&E dams and power lines? Why would that cause service problems?


          Meanwhile, Newsom cleverly devised his plan so customers rescuing the undeserving utilities would barely notice their new payments. He would continue a current $30 per year fee that was about to expire. Bills wouldn’t change until after the next huge fire piles on even more claims. Business as usual would continue at companies that spent many years mismanaging safety operations.


The governor also wants utilities to develop safety plans to be OK’ed by the state Public Utilities Commission. Never mind the PUC’s long history of kowtowing to utilities, favoring them over their customers/ratepayers.


          How could consumers be sure the new safety plans would be worth the paper they’re printed on? This is the same PUC that has long ducked its own safety responsibilities by hiring far too few inspectors to check all power and gas lines.


          So Newsom’s fund can only be described with the one word he badly wants to avoid: bailout.

                  
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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