Thursday, January 20, 2022

TIME TO STOP THE WORSENING REVOLVING DOOR

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 11, 2022, OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “TIME TO STOP THE WORSENING REVOLVING DOOR”

 

        The federal government has rules designed to put a crimp in the revolving door phenomenon that sees former government regulators often take high-paying jobs in industries whose profits and incomes they once influenced.

 

        Many agencies – like the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Energy Commission, to name just two – enforce five-year waiting periods before onetime officials can take high-paying jobs with companies they formerly regulated.

 

        That’s to protect consumers from so-called “regulatory drift,” where political appointees know as they make key decisions that high-paying industry jobs will soon be theirs for the taking so long as they vote the “right way.”

 

        Things are very different in California, where members of boards like the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and the Air Resources Board often exert more power over big companies than their federal counterparts. They make billion-dollar decisions affecting millions of people who buy products like cars, natural gas, telephones and electricity.

 

        One recent example of the revolving door came when former PUC member Carla Peterman’s term expired in 2018 and she took a high-paying job as a Southern California Edison Co. vice president. This, after spending six years helping determine the electric firm’s rates, profits and the penalties it paid for fires it helped start. A couple of years later, she moved to Pacific Gas & Electric in an even higher salaried job.

 

        She was far from the first commissioner to make such a shift. As far back as the 1970s, onetime PUC President John Bryson moved to Edison after his term expired, making exponentially more money after becoming the company CEO. Bryson eventually became ex-President Barack Obama’s commerce secretary.

 

        The revolving door can move in the other direction, too, as when the former top Edison executive Michael Peevey became PUC president under ex-Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown. Peevey presided over several scandalous decisions favoring his former employer, including the 2014 ripoff of Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric customers after the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station had to close because of an Edison blunder. That decision – foisting most of the closing costs onto consumers – was so bad it was later rewritten to give customers a better deal.

 

        Now comes a different form of the revolving door. This time, it involves a state legislator. Lorena Gonalez, the recently-resigned Democratic assemblywoman from San Diego, left her $114,000-a-year post to become head of the California Labor Federation, with a pay increase of at least $49,000.

 

        Gonzalez spent her entire eight-plus years in the Legislature carrying water for organized labor. She authored the ill-fated 2019 law known as AB 5 that aimed to force rideshare drivers for companies like Uber and Lyft into unions. That law had the side effect of wrecking the careers of thousands of other contract workers who never wanted to become regular employees and lost their freelance gigs.

 

        As chair of the Assembly Appropriations Committee, Gonzalez shaped scores of other decisions favoring the interests of big labor over employers of all kinds and sizes.

 

        Now she’s made it official. Gonzalez, once a labor leader in San Diego County, would have been termed out in just under four years. Now she’ll have no time limit or term limit. There will be no more potential conflicts of interest, as she will openly advocate for the 1,200 unions in the labor federation.

 

        The question raised by all this is the same one that led to the federal waiting periods (which do not apply to members of Congress who often morph into big-money lobbyists). Do regulators and in some cases legislators make decisions based on what’s good for the public or are they really working all along for organizations and interests where they know high-paying jobs await them?

 

        Because such arrangements are always made confidentially, the public has no way to know which regulators are responding to future payoffs and which are honest. This gives all government regulators a bad name.

 

        What’s very clear is that at the very least, California needs waiting periods that approximate what the federal government imposes on its former officials. And any new rules should apply not merely to appointed commissioners, but to ex-legislators as well.

       

        -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

PROP. 47 RIPE FOR A REWRITE

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 8, 2022, OR THEREAFTER

  BY THOMAS D. ELIAS

       “PROP. 47 RIPE FOR A REWRITE”

 

        If any California proposition of the last half century is an obvious candidate for a major rewrite, it is the 2014 Proposition 47, which made small-time offenses out of all thefts of more than $950 value unless the perpetrator had a prior history of violent crimes.

 

        For sure, it is currently under threat. Alive right now in the Legislature are several efforts to cancel most of Prop. 47 or increase penalties for some crimes it deems minor.

 

Ask most police and they’ll say this law is a major factor behind the wave of shoplifting that has plagued cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles and Fresno and caused closure of many retail stores, especially in San Francisco.

 

        They also attribute the so-called “smash-and-grab” robbery/burglaries during last fall’s Thanksgiving week to the same law. That might be a bit of a misattribution, as voters by a 60-40 margin in 2020 voted down the Proposition 20 attempt to make organized retail theft chargeable as a felony even if stolen goods amount to less than $950 per incident.

 

        For now, under Prop. 47, this can only be charged as a misdemeanor, very likely one motivating factor in the group smash-and-grabs involving as many as 80 persons per incident and about as organized as they could have been.

 

        It’s true that a variety of police and media studies have shown crimes like larceny are up about 9 percent since the new value limits – up from the prior $250 petty theft limit – were raised eight years ago.

 

        At the same time, because crimes that were formerly felonies suddenly became misdemeanors, police and prosecutors changed their practices, going from court hearings that set bail amounts to simple arrest, book and release if a crime involved less value than $950.

 

        This went without much fanfare until the smash-and-grab crimes occurred en masse in many parts of California, highlighting the weaknesses of Prop. 47.

 

        The incidents gave a boost to an impending recall election against San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, the son of two former Weather Underground members convicted of driving getaway cars in a deadly New York state robbery.

 

        Boudin’s opponents object to the light-to-no bail he has imposed on criminal suspects, even after voters roundly rejected a state law passed by legislators which aimed for a no-bail system.

 

        Meanwhile, the equally leftist Los Angeles County DA, George Gascon, was served just afterward with his own fresh set of recall papers.

 

        Backers of Prop. 47, including Gov, Gavin Newsom, have long noted the felony theft floors in conservative places like Texas and South Carolina are more than double the current California amount. They say inflation prior to Prop. 47 meant onetime misdemeanors were now routinely being prosecuted as felonies, thus overloading prisons and county jails with minor criminals.

 

        Still, it’s hard to overestimate the effects of the smash-and-grab events. Politically, without them, the toughen-47 proposals would go nowhere.

 

Plus, private security contractors report a dramatic upswing in orders for burglar alarm systems since Thanksgiving. That trend actually began shortly after the nationally televised, organized burglaries and robberies in downtown Santa Monica last May, when police didn’t bother intervening while shops were plundered, sometimes to death.

 

        Security patrols in wealthy areas like Malibu and Bel-Air also report higher demand.

 

        At the same time, custom car modifiers report an upswing in demand for bulletproof vehicles. Other reports add that stocks of fake Rolex and Omega watches like those often sold by street vendors in cities like Shanghai and Buenos Aires are being snapped up, owners of genuine high-end products hesitating to wear actual bling in public.


        For sure, stealing the cheap imitations will not result in long-term prison sentences for anyone who does not use a gun during their heists.

 

        Newsom responds to all this by saying “We want real accountability, we want people prosecuted and we want people to feel safe.

 

        But others question if that’s possible while Prop. 47 remains intact.

 

        That initiative easily withstood the threat of changes from Prop. 20 in the last general election. But criminals appear to have changed public thinking about the issues those measures covered, at least somewhat.

 

        Which makes Prop. 47 ripe for at least some legislative changes.

 

-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

Friday, January 14, 2022

NEWSOM DOUBLES DOWN ON UTILITY FAVORITISM

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 4, 2022 OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
        “NEWSOM DOUBLES DOWN ON UTILITY FAVORITISM”

 

        California Gov. Gavin Newsom last month had a golden opportunity to turn around the state Public Utility Commission and make it into the consumer-friendly agency it was designed to be. He blew it, and badly.

 

Newsom’s latest utility regulation move turns out to be almost a carbon copy of what he did three years ago, when he made one of his anonymous aides California’s top supervisor of utility companies like Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric.

 

        The result of that first move was several years of unfettered favoritism of electric and natural gas companies over their customers.

 

        The new move looks equally predictable in the same direction.

 

        In his earlier move, Newsom replaced the scandal-prone former president of the utilities commission (PUC) with Marybel Batjer, one of his top energy aides. Batjer first designed the 2019 state bailout of then-bankrupt PG&E, and then as PUC president rubber-stamped her own work.

 

        Batjer’s plan, created to benefit one of Newsom’s longest-term political donors – PG&E – is called the state’s Wildfire Fund. It now sees customers of all the big electric companies donating $13.5 billion over 15 years, to be deployed when the utilities cause high-damage fires.

 

        Now Batjer has left the PUC, having dunned utility customers tens of billions of dollars, and Newsom seeks to replace her with someone who seems almost like her clone.

 

        This time the appointee is Alice Reynolds, Newsom’s senior energy advisor. The governor, who has received well over $1 million in campaign donations over the last two decades from PG&E, called Reynolds his “lead energy policy expert.”

 

        In his press release encomium to Reynolds, like Batjer a longtime state bureaucrat, Newsom says she helped “navigate the bankruptcy of the state’s largest investor-owned utility (PG&E) and accelerate progress toward meeting our…energy goals.”

 

        Essentially, then, he was saying Reynolds helped him push the Wildfire Fund plan through the Legislature even as Batjer guaranteed it would get needed approval from the PUC.

 

        One of Reynolds’ first tasks will be to ensure the utilities toughen up their power line inspections and beef up programs to cut back trees and other vegetation that can ignite big fires when they are hit by sparks from power lines arcing unpredictably during dry-weather windstorms.

 

        Showing just how lenient the PUC has been with utilities, the Reynolds appointment came mere days after the commission gave PG&E a very mild slap on the wrist with a $7.5 million fine for safety problems with its equipment.

 

        About $5 million of the fine was for deficiencies on a high-voltage line in Marin County just north of San Francisco, home to several large stands of coast redwood trees. While about one-fifth of all California’s (and the world’s) giant Sequoias were killed in last year’s hotter-than-ever fires, so far coast redwoods have been largely spared, except a few stands near San Jose.

 

        But the latest fine included a charge for inadequate inspections of 55,000 power poles everywhere in PG&E’s vast service area. Just such dereliction of its inspection duties led to most of the PG&E-caused fires of the past few years. The $7.5 million fine is so small PG&E will not feel it, and as usual, no individual was held responsible for any of the myriad failings cited.

        It’s highly likely that the state Senate’s standing committee on energy, utilities and communications will, as usual, rubber stamp the Reynolds appointment to a job where she cannot be fired even by the governor who appointed her.

        But there is at least an off-chance the committee will actually ask some tough questions this time and force Reynolds into committing herself to at least some pro-consumer moves during the four years left in her term.

        That’s never happened before, as senators usually take little interest in anything having to do with utilities, perhaps because the subject is more complicated than most things they deal with.

        But wildfires and the gigantic damages from them focused more attention than ever on the PUC, so perhaps there is some hope this time that promises for saving consumer dollars can be elicited, even if there is no means ever to enforce any of them.

       

    -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.

WHAT DEPARTING CALIFORNIANS GAIN WHEN THEY MOVE

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 1, 2022, OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS

        “WHAT DEPARTING CALIFORNIANS GAIN WHEN THEY MOVE”

 

        For most of the last decade, California has seen a steady outmigration to other parts of America, one that has somewhat outnumbered the also steady in-migration.

 

        No place matches once-conservative Orange County in the number of migrants departing for more politically conservative places like Texas, Idaho and the windswept plains of Nebraska.

 

        Many of the 190 daily emigrants leaving California daily for Texas since 2011 claimed to move because of higher taxes and a poor business climate in California, spurred by a succession of Democratic-dominated state administrations that gave new privileges to undocumented immigrants while instituting many measures to fight climate change.

 

        But a look at real estate prices in California and the favorite destination states reveals that the most likely reason migrants take off is simple: cash: Real estate the migrants buy is usually much cheaper and much larger than what they sell off when they leave.

 

        This is particularly true for folks leaving Orange County for major areas of Texas.

 

        The median home price in Orange County as of mid-2021 was $1.09 million. That means half the homes sold there went for more than $1.09 million, and half for less.

 

        Meanwhile, the median home price in Texas at mid-year was $375,000. But most Californians who move to Texas don’t head for the more rural parts of the state, where prices are lower. Rather, the most popular destinations, according to the StorageCafe real estate web site, are Collin County in suburban Dallas, home to cities like Plano and McKinney; Tarrant County (Fort Worth), and Denton County, where the significant cities include Denton and Frisco.

 

        The average Orange Countian moving to Collin County pays a median $400,000 less for a new house than what their former home brought, calculates StorageCafe. Plus, the new home on average is 940 square feet larger. So an Orange Countian moving to Collin County will have money to bank, besides adding space equivalent to a normal two-bedroom apartment.

 

        In Fort Worth, where the average price differential is $547,000, California emigres find themselves with 379 extra square feet, equal to many one-bedroom hotel suites.

 

        In Denton County, the numbers are similar, with median home price differentials with Orange County running at $458,000 and homes averaging 747 square feet larger.

 

        These are powerful motivations to move, even though  new Texas residents quickly pay far higher electric and natural gas bills. Power outages also are more common in suburban Texas areas than anywhere in California.

 

        Things aren’t much different in Star, ID, 17 miles northwest of Boise. Star is the fastest growing city in America largely because of ex-Californians.

 

        Here’s what folks can get, based on autumn real estate listings in Star: The most expensive home available was a 5 bedroom, 3.5 bath home with 6,284 square feet on 1.16 wooded acres for $1.34 million. That’s far above the Orange County median, but cheap compared to anything comparable in pricier parts of the OC, like Irvine, Laguna Hills and Newport Beach.

 

        More typical was a three-bedroom, two bath home of 1,773 square feet for $524,000, almost $500,000 below the Orange County median.

 

        And folks moving to equally conservative, less fashionable Kearney, Nebraska could find a five-bedroom, three bath, 2,471 square foot home for $424,000.

 

        If these prices seem higher than expected, it’s because median home prices all across America have been dragged upward over the last few years by hot real estate markets in California, New York and the Washington, DC area, especially its Virginia suburbs.

 

        But movement is still primarily California to Texas. Even Texas urbanologists concur that money and not politics is the big motivator – many folks prefer to cash out and get financial security even if it means leaving California’s salubrious climate, beaches and national parks.

 

        Said William Fulton, director of an urban research institute at Houston’s Rice University, “There’s no question the main driver is housing prices in California. When housing prices there go up, so does migration to Texas. When housing prices in California go down, migration to Texas does, too.”

 

        So never mind what some emigrants may say about taxes or liberal politicians, these moves now and always have been mostly about the money.

       

    -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, January 10, 2022

THIS RECYCLING SCANDAL IS NO FRAUD

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, JANUARY 28, 2022, OR THEREAFTER

     “THIS RECYCLING SCANDAL IS NO FRAUD”

 

        In California’s recycling program, nickel and dime deposits add up to about $1.5 billion a year. But at least $200 million of that goes to criminals, according to a new report from the usually reliable Consumer Watchdog advocacy group.

 

        The money piles high because more than18 billion drinks whose containers have California recycling value are sold across the state each year. Buyers deposit five cents for each glass, plastic or aluminum container holding less than 24 ounces and 10 cents for each one with 24 or more ounces of water, soda, beer and other drinks (wine and hard liquor bottles are not included).

 

        Roughly 30 percent of the cash raised every year stays in a special fund earmarked for future refunds, because only about 68 percent of eligible bottles and cans actually get recycled.

 

        Another 12 percent or more of the take – almost as much as last summer’s recall election cost – likely goes to crooks, despite the state Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) insisting that figure is high and “inaccurate.” The new report titled  “Cash for Trash” (https://www.consumerwatchdog.org/sites/default/files/2022-01/CASH%20FOR%20TRASH%202022.pdf) indicates the estimate may be low. Its estimate of at least $200 million in yearly fraud stems in large part from CalRecycle’s own investigations.

 

        The state agency boasts of tough enforcement, citing 62,259 audits, investigations and inspections over the last 10 years, recovering about $10.3 million a year or a total of $103 million. That works out to $1,611 recovered per CalRecycle action – quite possibly much less than what the actions cost.

 

But recycling larceny is far more extensive than that, says Consumer Watchdog, whose prior reports on the gasoline, insurance and utility industries have substantially proven out.

 

Recycling crimes appear easier to pull off than schemes that have defrauded the state Employment Development Department (EDD) of an admitted $20 billion-plus over the pandemic period. Recycling fraud likely accounts for almost as large a portion of recycling money as thefts ever did at the EDD.

 

        It can work several ways. With no tracking when containers are turned in and paid for, they can be “ultra-recycled” over and over, fraudulent redeemers filing padded requests for state reimbursement. Criminals also bring containers from other states. California is committed only to redeem its own material, but buys plenty that originates elsewhere, says the new report.

 

        Plus, trucks bearing cans and bottles can be stuffed with other things before they’re weighed and reimbursed.

 

        So despite CalRecycle’s measures, it is likely being scammed continually.

 

        This will not likely threaten Gov. Gavin Newsom’s reelection, just as the better-publicized EDD scandal did not hurt him in last September’s recall attempt.

 

        Two factors here did not figure in the recall. For one, recall replacement candidates did not harp on the EDD. But if Newsom ever ran nationally, opponents would fully exploit the extensive fraud that’s plagued his administration. While the EDD affair involves more money, funds were mostly paid by employers, including many impersonal corporations. By contrast, recycling money comes from virtually every individual in the state, aged 4 to 104. The apparent theft from consumers is very direct.

 

     Meanwhile, Consumer Watchdog has some suggestions for cleaning up CalRecycle practices. One is to take matters at least partly out of human hands. Reverse vending machines could handle most beverage container returns with no fraud, as they do in several other states and some of Europe. These could most strategically be placed in or near supermarkets.

 

        But market chains want little to do with recycling, one reason consumers often cannot find a place to recycle containers.

 

        A current legislative proposal known as Senate Bill 38, sponsored by Democrat Bob Wieckowski of Fremont, would require use of reverse vending machines, which could end many of today’s multiple reimbursements.

 

        As it is run today, “the program is not fixable,” argues Liza Tucker, a Consumer Watchdog researcher who spent six months compiling the new report. “We say at least $200 million is stolen every year,” she said, adding that no one knows exactly how much theft there is “because CalReycle is a terrible enforcer and (today’s) honor system allows recyclers to (claim) anything they want for weight on which they are paid.”

 

        All of which cries out for action, or at least quick passage of SB 38.


-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

NEWSOM GETS EASY PATH AS GOP SHOT ITS WAD

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, JANUARY 25, 2022, OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “NEWSOM GETS EASY PATH AS GOP SHOT ITS WAD”

 

        There will be hot races up and down the California ballot in the June 7 primary election and later in the November runoffs. But not in the highest-profile races for the two most powerful jobs on the line this year.

 

     Right now, mere weeks before the March 11 filing deadline, it appears Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom will have nothing to fear either in the spring or fall. The same with U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla, a Democrat appointed by Newsom after former Sen. Kamala Harris became vice president.

 

        Yes, there will still be competition here and there. Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara faces a serious challenge from fellow Democrat Marc Levine, a Marin County assemblyman, and very likely another from former Commissioner Steve Poizner, beaten by Lara in 2018.

 

        Appointed Attorney General Rob Bonta, named to his current job after Xavier Becerra left to become President Biden’s secretary of Health and Human Services, will have at least one major rival, Sacramento County’s longtime District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, running with no party preference.

 

        The openly gay Schubert is best known for using genetics to crack the Golden State Killer case, seeing Joseph DeAngelo plead guilty in 2020 after being charged with 13 murders and 13 rape-related offenses.

 

        So there are no guarantees of election or reelection to top statewide office this time, unless your name is Newsom or Padilla. Newsom right now has no significant declared opponent, while Padilla’s lone experienced challenger is Jerome Horton, a former member of the state Board of Equalization and a fellow Democrat.

 

        Newsom lack of significant challengers is the more unusual. Far-right talk show host Larry Elder, who led would-be replacement governor candidates with 48.4 percent of the vote in the September attempt to oust Newsom, has begged off another race even though he said months ago he likely would run. But Newsom never had reason to fear Elder, whose vote total last fall was far less than half the number opting to retain Newsom.

 

        Other declared candidates include San Diego County businessman John Cox, twice beaten by Newsom and the sixth-place finisher among wanna-be recall replacements. The mostly self-funded Cox was best known for using a Kodiak bear as a campaign prop last summer.

 

        Also on the Republican side is ex-San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who drew one-seventh as many votes as Elder.

 

        Other possibilities include Democrat John Chiang, a former state treasurer who dropped out of the 2018 race early, and Republican Kevin Kiley, an assemblyman from the Sacramento suburbs who pulled a measly 3.5 percent of the recall replacement vote.

 

        None of them spurs any fear in Newsom. That might explain some of his behavior over the latter part of 2021. First came a last-moment pullout from a world climate change meeting in Scotland, saying his family didn’t want him to leave at Halloween. Trick or treating with the kids took precedence over an issue Newsom calls existential.

 

        Then he took his family to Mexico for six days over Thanksgiving week, while flash mobs conducted numerous smash-and-grab burglaries at high-end stores around the state. Few other governors would have passed up the chance to grandstand as a sympathetic law enforcement figure at a time like that, but Newsom again preferred being with his wife and kids.

 

        Later, he was a no-show when other state officials using his authority reinstated California’s indoor masking mandate just before Christmas. That contrasted sharply with his behavior through the coronavirus pandemic’s first 18 months, when he overexposed himself on television or the Internet almost daily with Covid pronouncements others could have made.

 

        If all this means Newsom is coasting, taking his reelection for granted, it would be understandable considering that he survived months of concerted attacks during the recall campaign.

 

        For sure, there would be much more tension about this year’s campaign if the recall vote had been closer or never taken place at all.

 

        This also leaves Newsom very few places to look if he wants political advancement. About the only office that might interest him is the presidency, now occupied by a fellow Democrat.

 

        But it’s doubtful Newsom would run against Harris in 2024 even if President Biden were to step aside and she then sought to keep the job. Which goes far toward explaining Newsom’s relaxed demeanor.

       

 

    -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, January 3, 2022

HOUSING BATTLE HEATS UP IN SIGNATURE SEASON

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, JANUARY 21, 2022, OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “HOUSING BATTLE HEATS UP IN SIGNATURE SEASON”

 

        Even before a proposed homeowner-inspired measure aiming to restore full zoning powers to local governments hit the streets looking to qualify for next fall’s ballot, the battle over who would control housing decisions in California began heating up.

 

        Proponents will need just short of 1 million valid voter signatures to put their plan on the ballot, but because many non-voters also sign petitions, they’ll likely need to gather almost 1.5 million names to be certain..

 

        That should not be too hard, once most homeowners understand how fully state legislators attempted last year to usurp the most basic powers cities and counties have long exercised.

 

        As long as California has been a state, the most basic function of local governments has been to decide where housing will be placed, where it won’t go and how much to allow. Voters have passed countless ballot initiatives instructing their local governments in how to do that.

 

        But with two strokes of a pen wielded by Gov. Gavin Newsom in September, that all may have ended. When he signed new laws known as Senate Bills 9 and 10, most city council members might as well have gone back to being ordinary citizens.

 

        The two new laws allow at least six times as much building as before in areas formerly zoned for one home per lot. The ratio goes much higher for properties anywhere near rapid transit stops or “major transportation corridors.”

 

        All without any requirements for either new parking spaces, water, schools or even a single affordable housing unit.

 

        If ever there's been a plot to let developers get rich quick, this is it. In fact, many of the liberal Democratic lawmakers who voted for these two bills see their election campaigns at least partly funded by developers.

 

        Homeowner groups view these new laws as a license for unbridled development at a time when almost everyone believes California has a massive housing shortage. This perception is furthered by the homeless encampments that abound in almost all parts of the state.

 

        When he ran for office in 2018, Newsom vowed to spur the building of 3.5 million new housing units by 2026, eight years later. But new home construction lags far behind that pace, and units that do get built often languish unsold for many months, even if they are supposedly affordable.

 

        One reason is cost. The average affordable housing unit now runs more than $450,000 to construct, and most families with income below California’s median of $75,200 per year (half the households in the state earn more than that yearly, the other half do not), can’t afford so-called affordable housing.

 

        There’s an illusion in the public consciousness that the unhoused will somehow benefit from new affordable housing. But almost none of them have the cash to buy in.

 

        Meanwhile, state officials do nothing to promote and speed conversion of vacant office space into residences, many of which would cost far less to create than today’s supposedly affordable units.

 

        Into this picture now come developers with large bankrolls offering to buy up existing one-home lots and build as many as six units on each, with no new amenities for the surrounding community. The same developers are behind another initiative that would completely counteract the one aiming to save single-family zoning. The way this one is written, whichever measure gets more votes will govern, period. No compromises here.

 

        Many homeowners now getting behind the initiative to cancel SB 9 and 10 and give land use decisions back to local officials appear unaware of the competing initiative, but both will almost certainly make the ballot.

 

        This promises to be a battle unlike anything since 1978, when Proposition 13 clashed with another measure known as Proposition 10, a softer version of 13’s property tax limits. Both passed, but 13 got more votes and has governed ever since.

 

        Meanwhile, websites and organizations are popping up regularly with names like “Our Neighborhood Voices” and “Liveable California.”

 

        The upcoming competition is vital because so much of California’s character would change if SB 9 and 10 were allowed to let developers proceed without concern for either anything aesthetic or the infrastructure they have traditionally had to provide when erecting new subdivisions.


-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