Sunday, June 28, 2009




What happens when ordinary citizens use a newspaper column to expose at least $100 million, and possibly much more, in government waste at a time when critical state services are being cut because of the most serious cash crunch in generations?

Not very much, at least not yet.

Almost precisely six months ago, readers through this column alerted the court-appointed receiver who runs California's prison health care system to several areas where big money was being wasted in his bailiwick.

"We paid attention, we knew you'd follow up," said the receiver, University of Pacific law Prof. Clark Kelso. "We've made some changes and we're going to make others. But we've also had some problems."

Among those difficulties:

-- Community hospitals near state prisons have been reluctant to negotiate rate agreements with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) similar to deals they have with myriad insurance companies. As it stands, prisons pay far higher prices for hospital services than ordinary citizens with health insurance.

"We're paying at least $100 million more - maybe much more than that - than we should be," Kelso said. "Since this was pointed out, we've contracted with a major consulting firm that negotiates with hospitals, but they've had only modest success. There's not a lot of medical competition in the rural areas where most prisons are. Plus, we as a department tend to pay late. So the hospitals are reluctant to negotiate with us."

-- A 30-year-old information system with few electronic files and large stacks of paperwork which can make it take months for Kelso to find out things like how often the state is double-billed by hospitals and doctors. "This is very frustrating," Kelso said.

There has been substantial progress, though, in one kind of waste readers revealed. That was in physician referrals for outside hospitalization and major tests like MRIs and CT scans.

In February, a prison nurse told this column that CDCR doctors fearful of prisoner lawsuits order excessive hospitalizations, blood tests and diagnostic scans. Dr. Terry Hill, then chief medical officer of California Prison Health Care, confirmed this and added that "We have some physicians who have been sued by inmates 100 times or more. One doctor even got sued because he didn't give an inmate long underwear. So the doctors are very defensive." Hill estimated excessive tests and referrals were costing the state $10 million per year or more.

That's on the way to being fixed, Kelso reports. "We now have a utilization management plan similar to what many health maintenance organizations use," he said. "Before a doctor can send an inmate out for treatment, he must now use a standard protocol." This system offers doctors protection from lawsuits, but also limits their options.

"Doctors initially resist the system," Kelso says. "But we're being aggressive in pursuing it. We don't yet know how much we're saving, because we have a three-month delay getting information because of that antiquated data system."

Similarly, Kelso doesn't know how much benefit has resulted from a recent contract with Correct Care - Integrated Health Inc., a major medical bill-processing company, to audit all prisoner care invoices from outside hospitals and doctors to make sure the state is neither billed more than once for the same service nor charged excessive amounts. "We also will work to bundle charges for each patient, rather than having separate bills for every service and item they use," he said. "That should reduce costs."

But Kelso says he cannot do much about wasteful prison rules requiring two guards to remain with every hospitalized prisoner whose crime requires the state to consider him or her a risk to public safety. That rule applies no matter how old or crippled or feeble the inmate might have become, even to those who are paraplegic or brain dead. Kelso and Hill earlier confirmed a report from a community hospital nurse exposing the fact that multiple guards often while away days and weeks sitting near such incapacitated prisoners, costing the state more millions of dollars.

"That's required by state law," Kelso says. Legislators, are you reading? If you want money to keep other programs going, you can find some here. All you need do is rewrite a few regulations that don't just enable boondoggles, but require them.

The bottom line: Kelso is plainly trying to save money, as evidenced by his reducing the projected cost of prison hospital improvements demanded by the judge who put him in place from $8 billion to about $3.2 billion. That will mostly be done by converting existing prison structures into hospitals rather than building new ones. Only $1.9 billion of the cost will come from the state's strapped general fund over the next 10 years, with the rest provided by prison bonds approved years ago by the voters.

Movement toward stopping waste in the prisons is surely slower than would be ideal, but at least there are signs of some effort to cut unneeded costs. Readers who know of other significant waste in state government are encouraged to email

Email Thomas Elias at For more Elias columns, visit




It's easy to finger ideology and campaign money as reasons behind the seemingly endless deadlocks and battles and threats encountered every year en route to devising the state budget.

Democrats, it shortly becomes obvious, can be counted on to protect government programs and the workers who run them, members of public employee unions who year after year provide money and footwork for their campaigns.

Republicans are just as determined to resist any new tax and look after the interests of wealthy developers and corporations that fund their campaigns.

But there's another key factor at work here, something missing from the Sacramento mix these days, something that allowed long-ago politicians to reach agreements even when they were just as polarized as today's. That would be trust.

Back in the days when Pat Brown and Ronald Reagan and Jerry Brown and George Deukmejian held sway in the Capitol, citizens and lawmakers alike knew where they stood. Even though some of those past governors could be eccentric and unpredictable, when they made a promise to a colleague, it was almost always kept. It certainly wasn't abrogated within a day or even a month.

But that kind of solidity is a thing of the past. For one thing, because of term limits, lawmakers and governors barely get to know one another before they're gone. Misunderstandings are common.

Take the dickering and bickering that's gone down during June, a time when experts on all sides - within government and outside - warned of fiscal catastrophe if no budget were agreed upon first by June 15, then by June 30 and later by who-knows-when.

The deficit to be dealt with was projected at $14 billion in mid-May, $21 billion a week later and $24.3 billion a week after that. No, state tax revenues did not fluctuate nearly so often or so much. Which means no one can know which figure to trust, if any. Who knows how much must be cut from the budget or raised via new taxes or dealt with in some combination?

No one knows for sure because no sane person would trust the figures thrown about.

Revenue and deficit forecasts always derive from some kind of alchemy and are rarely reliable. They always turn out either to exaggerate cash flow or the lack thereof. So that's not new.

What is relatively new is the lack of trust between the politicians charged with solving California's problems.

A classic example occurred during the third week of June. First, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger objected to an attempt by majority Democratic legislators to levy a couple of new taxes (on cigarettes and oil depletion) and the possible elimination of corporate tax breaks granted as part of the budget deals of last September and February. The Democrats, Schwarzenegger suggested, were reneging on a promise they made prior to the February budget deal, one that committed them not to seek any more new taxes or fees this year. Uh-uh, the Demos insisted. There was no such promise.

The next day, Democratic leaders accused Schwarzenegger of telling them one thing in a private meeting and then announcing something very different to reporters. That came when Schwarzenegger promised to veto the majority lawmakers' attempt at a budget compromise if it contained any new taxes.

The governor, said Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, took a very different tack in private. "That was not the indication he gave us at all," she said of the veto threat.

So Schwarzenegger accuses Democrats of saying one thing in private and doing something very different in public. And they promptly return serve. How are these people supposed to arrive at an accommodation when they can't even agree on what they told each other, a charitable way to describe their differences?

Meanwhile, Schwarzenegger's own party has lost all trust for him. "I am very confused," writes Stephen Frank, former head of the arch-conservative California Republican Assembly, in his blog. "In February, the governor gave us, and he was proud, the largest tax increase in history….Today, he says 'None of that will fly with me…it would be irresponsible to go back to the people and to say we want to increase your taxes (again).' Question: Which Arnold is governor?"

It's one thing to be hard-line and refuse all compromise, as most legislative Republicans in this state have done on all new tax proposals of the past decade or more. It's quite another to take positions so contradictory that no one knows what you believe or stand for. Combine this with the lack of trust engendered by the alleged differences in public and private positions and you have a formula for long-term stalemate.

No one should be surprised if that's what ensues.

Email Thomas Elias at For more Elias columns, visit

Friday, June 19, 2009




To understand at least part of the scenario Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will need if he decides to run for governor next year, it helps to go back to 1974.

Villaraigosa, the only major Southern California figure now considering a try to succeed Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor, might need a re-run of what happened that year in one down-the-ticket race if he's to have any real chance at the governor's office he covets.

Here's what happened then in the contest to succeed Jerry Brown (today's attorney general) as secretary of state, conducted while he ran successfully for governor: An eccentric assemblywoman from Oakland ran against well-known Democratic activist Cathy O'Neil of Pacific Palisades and eight-year San Gabriel Valley Assemblyman Walter Karabian for the Democratic nomination.

Prior to that election, former dental hygienist March Fong Eu was best known for smashing a toilet on the state Capitol steps as part of her successful campaign to get pay toilets outlawed in this state. She also sought to become the first Chinese-American elected to statewide office in California.

She won that nomination with less than 40 percent of the Democratic vote because her two prominent Southern California rivals essentially split that region's votes while tallying very few in Northern California, where Eu dominated. Eu went on to defeat Republican Brian Van Camp that November by a margin of more than 20 percent. She served almost five full terms before becoming President Bill Clinton's ambassador to Micronesia in the 1990s. But if another major Northern California figure had entered that 1974 race, she likely would have lost, and her son Matt would never have become state treasurer years later, nor would he have had a shot at getting the Republican U.S. Senate nomination in 1998.

Now Villaraigosa, weakened by drawing just 55 percent of the vote against a less-than-stellar field of underfunded unknowns when reelected last March, faces a nothing but Northern Californians in the run for governor. He's also handicapped by the recent revelation of yet another affair with a female television reporter. This time, though, he's separated from his wife, so the matter won't be quite as damaging as his first affair.

Other prospective Democratic candidates include Attorney General Brown, the former Oakland mayor, and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, not to mention U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the longtime San Francisco mayor who would probably force most other candidates in her party to reconsider if she decides to run. She says she probably won't.

Another wild card is state Schools Supt. Jack O'Connell, with less money than the other significant Democrats. With his base in Santa Barbara and small likelihood of running a large-scale advertising campaign, he doesn't figure as a major factor in this race.

Villaraigosa would have three fervent hopes if he runs in this field: One would be to sweep Latino voters while coaxing them into a large turnout. Another is that the northern candidates split the vote there as Karabian and O'Neil did Southern California in 1974 in a dramatic example of regional bloc voting. And a third (shared with Newsom) is that voters forget about sexual peccadilloes or deem them irrelevant. Newsom has also been involved in a sex scandal while in office.

There are no geographic splits among Republicans: all three major GOP candidates have strong roots in roughly the same Silicon Valley area. Republican contenders include Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, who can finance as many campaigns as he cares to run after selling off his software business for hundreds of millions of dollars; former eBay chief Meg Whitman, who was not involved in public life before becoming an adviser to defeated Republican presidential candidate John McCain last year, and former Congressman Tom Campbell, previously an unsuccessful candidate for the U.S. Senate and a former academic at both UC Berkeley and Stanford University.

Perhaps Campbell had something geographic in mind when he became a visiting professor this year at Orange County's Chapman College and started writing op-ed pieces for the Los Angeles Times and others. But he's still not well known in Southern California and would have no legitimate claim to regional loyalty.

Were Villaraigosa to win the Democratic nod, he would then hope for both a strong Latino vote and strong regional loyalty in the November 2010 contest against one of those current and former Silicon Valley denizens.

But that is by no means assured.

Email Thomas Elias at For more Elias columns, visit





This might be mere coincidence…or maybe not. But the people and interests who will suffer least and do best under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's latest budget plan and the two budget compromises he negotiated in September and February are the same ones that contribute the most money to his political committees. And those that will do worst - you guessed it - contribute virtually nothing.

Whether or not there is a cause-and-effect relationship here, Schwarzenegger's underlying priorities are starkly revealed by his response to the worst state budget crisis in generations.

The man who loves to call himself "the people's governor," it appears, cares most about people who give him money. The former muscleman actor also is revealed as willing to doom many persons to suffering or even death while assuring that some of his wealthy campaign donors won't bear a fair share of the state's burdens.

A fundamental lack of interest in anyone less fortunate was perhaps best evidenced by remarks from his finance director, Mike Genest, in a remarkable conference call with political reporters just after Schwarzenegger revealed his latest proposals.

Conceding the plan would solve the budget crunch mostly by depriving the neediest Californians of food, shelter, education and medical care, Genest added this:

"We have to make the numbers work. We can't worry about the trauma (that might cause). Would it lead to deaths? I certainly worry about it. People will have problems, but we don't have any alternatives."

Schwarzenegger wasn't so blunt when he spoke to a joint session of the Legislature. He said he can "see the children whose teachers will be laid off..the Alzheimer's patients losing some of their in-home support services…"

But he stuck to the no alternatives theme. No alternatives? This column and others have detailed how merely changing the rules under which some real estate is not reassessed to current market values on changing hands would provide between $3 billion and $12 billion in new state money each year. All this would take is majority votes in the Legislature and a Schwarzenegger signature.

At its low end, this move could save the Healthy Families program that provides health insurance for 942,000 youngsters. There would also be enough to spare 1.9 million persons loss of Medi-Cal coverage and it would allow continuation of the Cal-Works welfare program that supports the state's neediest families.

At its high end, it could stave off teacher layoffs and cuts in the school year.

But Schwarzenegger and his administration completely ignore this possibility. Similarly, there's no discussion in the Capitol of rescinding $2 billion per year worth of tax breaks granted large California corporations in the budget deals of last September and February.

Is it mere coincidence that real estate and development interests which have been Schwarzenegger's largest donors - more than $20 million so far - are about the only ones who might pay if he closed the state's biggest tax loophole? Or that oil companies, utilities and electronic giants gaining most from the big new tax breaks also are among his biggest donors?

Competitive pressures in today's miserable real estate market make it doubtful most owners of properties that have long enjoyed the no-reassessment loophole could pass their expense on to tenants or customers.

Until now, it's been easy to dismiss some Schwarzenegger behavior as routine politics. He fought to water down the landmark AB32 greenhouse gas emission standards before that law passed, gaining more time for businesses to reduce emissions and reducing the amounts they will have to cut far below the original proposal. Since then he's grandstanded around the world as an environmental champion.

Schwarzenegger campaigned in 2005 for a ballot initiative that would have set strict state spending limits. It lost, but as governor, Schwarzenegger could have used his line-item veto to enforce those same limits on a de facto basis. He did not, and helped dig today's budget hole.

He vowed to "throw away the credit card" if voters passed $15 billion in budget-balancing bonds, then backed more than $30 billion more in borrowing, another contribution to the mess.

But he accepts no responsibility. "My only mistake was allowing the world economy to collapse," he said, waxing sarcastic when asked about his part in the crisis.

Confronted with the problem, he displays token anguish over the cruel realities his proposals could bring about: patients deprived of life-saving drugs, children going with vaccinations, low-income tenants turned into a new cadre of homeless, increased gang activity as summer schools shut down, the state's most valued parks shuttered, and more.

Other politicians, most notably Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Campbell, have had the guts to call for temporary measures like a gas tax increase to stave off some of the harshest proposed cuts.

But Schwarzenegger ignores that possibility, along with any other potential method of bringing in more state money.

His actions speak louder than any words about what he really stands for: Taking care of his wealthy donors above all else.

Email Thomas Elias at For more Elias columns, visit

Wednesday, June 17, 2009




There have already been plenty of surprises in the ongoing contest to become the next governor of California, and chances are there will be plenty more.

For 2010 marks the first campaign since 1998 with no incumbent involved, and that situation always invites the unexpected. No one guessed in 1998, for instance, that the underfunded Lt. Gov. Gray Davis, who spent less than $7 million in the primary, would triple the vote of Northwest Airlines mogul Al Checchi, who spent $39 million?

Or that state Attorney General Dan Lungren, who drew 34 percent of the vote in winning the Republican primary, would end up with just 4 percent more in the November runoff, losing to Davis by a whopping 57-38 percent margin?

One of this year's surprises has been the emergence of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom as a serious candidate. Previously best known around the state for legalizing gay marriage early in his first term at City Hall, Newsom later became notorious for an affair with his best friend's wife, which ended barely a year before he married a movie starlet.

Another surprise was the lackluster showing of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in his city's early March election, when he could net just 55 percent of the vote in a reelection bid against several minor league candidates who lacked money, name recognition and any background in government. The 45 percent tally for those opponents demonstrated that Villaraigosa's base in his own city might not be strong enough for him to mount a solid campaign for governor.

Villaraigosa surprised again when local media revealed his affair with a TV news reporter, his second such involvement in two years. The first broke up his 20-year marriage.

Then there was stunningly straight talk from current Attorney General Jerry Brown, the ex-governor who plainly wants another shot at the job. "There's a lot of potential for failure," Brown allowed, saying there are no easy answers to California's fiscal problems, "just pain."

A far cry from the usual happy talk heard on the campaign trail.

And there was the dropout of Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, now running hard for a soon-to-be vacated seat in Congress that looks like a far easier goal for him to reach than the governor's office.

Getting less attention is Jack O'Connell, the state school superintendent also in the running. He could still pull some surprises, but not likely. None of these leading Democrats has much money of his own to toss into the campaign, a major shift from 2006, when two wealthy Democrats contested the nomination and one eventually lost to Schwarzenegger.

But there are two zillionaires on the Republican side in Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner and former eBay head Meg Whitman.

Either could make the sums spent by Checchi and Jane Harman ($14.4 million) in the 1998 Democratic race won by Davis seem paltry.

But the Checchi example, plus those of past self-financed candidates like Michael Huffington (Senate, 1992), Norton Simon (Senate, 1970), Steve Westly (governor, 2006) and William Matson Roth (Senate, 1974), haunts them both.

Poizner hopes that holding state office for four years prior to the next vote gives him a leg up on his rivals. But that didn't help Westly, who was state controller before his failed run.

If there's a Davis-like shock on tap for the big-bucks Republicans in this race, it might come from Tom Campbell, the former Silicon Valley congressman, Stanford law professor, UC Berkeley business school dean and state budget director.

Like Davis, Campbell has run for statewide office before, so his name is familiar to many voters. Like Davis, he's counting on voters to favor experience when they contemplate the problems facing the next governor.

Campbell lacks substantial funds, but could surprise as the campaign moves along, especially if the extreme conservatives who dominate most Republican primaries split between his two big-money rivals. Or if one or both make serious mistakes. Whitman already made one faux pas, coming out against the state's initiative system, a rookie political error.

Ordinarily, a Democrat might be favored as the ultimate winner from this large field. But, says Bob Mulholland, chief campaign adviser for the state Democratic Party, "When you've got two billionaires, you can expect a competitive race."

Then there's the wild card, Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein. She now says she's unlikely to enter the lists, but doesn’t fully rule herself out. If she does run, look for substantial reshuffling as other Democrats settle for lesser offices. A Feinstein candidacy would surprise most Democrats, especially after she pulled back from the 1998 race partly because of "the difficulty of campaigning" and the "deteriorated nature of California campaigns." They certainly have not gotten easier or cleaner in the intervening 11 years.

But in this year of political surprises, Feinstein might pull the biggest one yet. If she does, she'll be the overwhelming favorite from the moment she gets in, billionaire opponent or not.

Email Thomas Elias at For more Elias columns, visit





A little more than 11 months from today, California voters will have a rare opportunity to free their government from the kind of ideological gridlock that leads to lengthy budget stalemates, one-sided elections and control of this state's politics by special interests at the extremes of both major parties.

The chance will come via a ballot proposition that doesn't yet have a number, but one that should be the No. 1 priority of every voter contemplating next year's election. For this could be more important to California's future than the outcome of the races for governor and U.S. senator that will headline the ballot.

The solution to many of California’s governmental problems is called the open primary, known to some as the Louisiana primary because that often-benighted state has had the same system for more than 50 years. An identical system now operates in Washington state, given a stamp of approval by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier in this decade.

Here's now it works: All candidates are listed together on the ballot in each primary election, just as they now are in special elections. Everyone can vote for whoever he or she likes, regardless of party affiliation for either voter or candidate. The top two vote-getters advance to a runoff in the November general election, while the rest stay home, regardless of party.

Here's how things now work: In almost all elections, candidates are listed by party in the primary and voters can only cast ballots for candidates in the party where they're registered. Because almost all legislative and congressional districts in this state are designed to be dominated by one party or the other, primary election outcomes are controlled by labor unions or the far left on the Democratic side and by the far right among Republicans.

This leads to a Legislature and a congressional delegation loaded with ideologues, boasting very few lawmakers willing to compromise on issues from taxes to abortion, immigration and the environment. Gridlock often results, with late budgets, late tax refunds, state office closures and great uncertainty the frequent result.

Voters gave themselves a reprieve from all this by passing Proposition 198 in 1996, a measure that let voters cross over and cast ballots in whichever party primary they liked. It produced moderate winners in some districts, much to the chagrin of hardliners in both major parties.

So they went to court together and got the plan thrown out on the grounds that Republicans should decide their own primaries and Democrats theirs. California Democrats relented a bit afterward and allowed independents to vote in Democratic primaries. Republicans for years didn't allow independents into theirs.

The new plan is different because it takes primaries away from the parties while still showing party affiliations on the ballot. That small difference is the reason courts have upheld this system.

An almost identical proposal was defeated here three years ago as Proposition 62, when both big parties fought it. Similarly, the Louisiana and Washington plan lost in Oregon. Both parties opposed it there, and labor unions spent heavily to kill it.

The same interests will be at work here against the new proposal, which will be on the ballot only because Republican state Sen. Abel Maldonado of Santa Maria insisted on it as a condition of casting his deciding vote for a February state budget compromise.

New state Democratic chairman John Burton has vowed to lead the attack on the proposition, whatever its number turns out to be. He called the open primary plan "very devious," noting it will usually prevent minor party candidates from appearing on general election ballots. That, of course, would end when minor parties start running strong candidates.

Republicans take the same view, sticking up for minor parties for which they ordinarily have absolutely no use or sympathy.

Both big parties point out the open system could result in runoffs between two candidates from the same party. That, of course, is fine because when it happens, one will generally represent the extreme wing of the party and the other will be more of a moderate, producing a true contest in the runoff.

The bottom line: If voters want to make a real change in state government and get rid of the sort of deadlocks that have produced months-long budget delays and worse, they will have to see through the mud that will be slung at this proposal. That won't be easy with big money at work against it, but the bottom line is that if they defeat this measure next June, voters will have themselves to blame whenever California seems ungovernable.

Email Thomas Elias at For more Elias columns, visit

Sunday, June 7, 2009




We are starting to see the summer water picture for California -- and it's looking a lot like the late 1970s. Or, to put it another way, it's beginning to look a lot like Bolinas almost did.

That's right, chances are much of the rest of California will soon be following the plan put in place and later rescinded by Bolinas, the funky town not too far north of San Francisco in coastal Marin County. Best known for its populace of aging hippies, artists, lawyers and others seeking refuge from crowded urban life, Bolinas was rescued by an unexpected late-March storm that suddenly refilled its key reservoir.

Bolinas isn't often first with anything. But because it has no access to supplies from the state Water Project, the federal Central Valley Project or the San Francisco-owned Hetch Hetchy reservoir system and aqueduct, Bolinas uses only local supplies.

Before the unexpected late-season rains, the key Bolinas reservoir was at risk of running dry before the next rainy season, likely to start in November or December.

So Bolinas adopted California's toughest water rules: Residents were to use no more than 150 gallons per day, 4,500 per month. That amounted to about a 25 percent cutback from normal usage of about 208 gallons per day per water hookup. Violate the rule once or twice and nothing much would happen to residents. But supplies could be cut off on a third violation.

The Bolinas rules are now in abeyance, but they were only a little bit tougher than what many other places might soon be seeing, despite a few late rains.

In the Central Valley, cities like Folsom and Roseville are weighing water use cutbacks. Farmers are fallowing fields because allocations from the state Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project remain low. The East Bay Municipal Utility District, covering much of Alameda and Contra Costa counties, has now raised prices because water use there has been cut back so much. That's right: Use less and pay more.

But the most visible water-use reductions might be coming soon in Los Angeles, which has its own aqueduct running from the Owens Valley on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Despite heavier than usual rains in February and March, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has not backed off proposed water use restrictions involving a tiered pricing system punishing consumers and businesses that fail to conserve even beyond today's levels, which see average use down almost 15 percent from the levels of the 1960s.

"The level of severity of this drought is still severe," he said. "We have to move quickly."

No one can be sure whether Villaraigosa's plan is not at least partially motivated by politics. Just reelected to a new four-year term as mayor, he may run for governor next year. If so, he'll be the only Southern Californian in a crowded field running for an office that's been held exclusively by Southern California politicians since the 1960s days of Edmund G. (Pat) Brown. Southern Californians in the office have included Ronald Reagan, Brown's son Jerry, George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson, Grey Davis and today's occupant, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Among today's likely candidates, even ex-Angeleno Jerry Brown, the current attorney general, is now a confirmed Northern California resident based in Oakland, where he served two terms as mayor.

No Los Angeles mayor, not even the long-serving Sam Yorty or Tom Bradley, has ever been elected governor. That's been partly because of regional animosity stemming from a Northern California sense that water from that region has been "stolen" by Central Valley farmers and Southern California cities.

A vigorous approach to water rationing by Villaraigosa can only help him in the north, where Southern California is viewed as a profligate water waster - even by people who use unlimited water during droughts because their homes don't feature water meters.

Vigorous is surely an accurate term for what Villaraigosa has instituted: sprinkler use limited to twice a week, with a likely cut to once; no hosing of sidewalks or parking areas; water use in decorative fountains and ponds only if they feature a recirculating system; no washing cars with hoses without a self-closing shut-off device; no watering lawns between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., and fines for allowing excess water to flow onto sidewalks, driveways, streets or gutters. If things get worse, there would be no refilling of swimming pools and spas.

All this implies imposing a "water cop" system like that employed in the '70s, when water department or water district inspectors roved widely looking for violations.

The ultimate penalty for repeated offenders would be a water supply cutoff.

That's the immediate water future for much of California. Not a pretty sight, but it worked in the 1970s and there's no reason to believe it can't work again - unless the rest of the state gets the same kind of reprieve Bolinas did.

Email Thomas Elias at For more Elias columns, visit




Ancient Egyptians first observed that only when we eliminate traditions do we discover why they became traditions in the first place.

We modern Californians who now appear likely to eliminate scores of government programs may be about to discover the truth of that old saying. The cuts are coming because of a budget deficit estimated to exceed $21 billion over the next two years even with the $16 billion worth of increased sales, income and car taxes approved by state legislators last February.

Once those programs are gone, we will likely learn why many of them were deemed necessary by voters and legislators of the not so distant past. Not even public employee union contracts will save tens of thousands of workers from layoffs.

This was assured when Propositions 1A-1E lost by large margins in the May special election, a result interpreted by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as a public mandate to abandon previous plans for raising more than $5 billion via revenue anticipation warrants, a method by which state and local governments often borrow on Wall Street.

Some basic items are now on the chopping block. One proposal would eliminate the Healthy Families program that covers 942,000 children in families barely above the official poverty line. Do this and the state risks epidemics of diseases like measles and mumps, onetime scourges now kept in check by vaccinations. Do this and emergency rooms - which by federal law cannot turn most patients away - could be swamped. It's uncertain who would pay them for their work. Don't pay them and widespread hospital closures may ensue. "No analysis (of this) has been done," conceded state finance director Mike Genest.

Medi-Cal cuts also are contemplated, with as many as 1.9 million Californians of all ages losing health care coverage over the next three years, according to the non-partisan California Budget Project. This also imperils hospitals and emergency rooms.

Public schools will increase class sizes and might have to cut as much as a week and a half off the school year. Most are cutting back sharply on summer schools. Only time will tell how these moves affect pupil performance and the state's economic future.

Then there are state parks, visited by 79 million persons last year. Schwarzenegger's immediate post-election budget proposal called for cutting all their state funding for two years, leaving them to operate with nothing more than entrance and parking fees. The visitor tally means the average Californian visited a state park more than twice last year. About 200 state parks could be closed if current entrance and parking fees remain stable. Parks officials now are contemplating price increases of as much as 100 percent in order to keep some units open.

Not that the public couldn't get into closed state parks by climbing fences or skirting around closed gates. But they wouldn't have parking facilities, rest rooms, campgrounds, lifeguards and other amenities normally deemed necessary. Imagine California without jewels like Emerald Bay at Lake Tahoe, Torrey Pines Reserve near San Diego or the Hearst Castle near San Luis Obispo.

Then there's the proposed $750 million cut to the state's university systems, which would lead not only to lower enrollment, but also could spur a brain drain if frozen salaries drive off first-rate faculty. Add to this the proposed elimination of Cal-Grant scholarships long given low-income students and Cal State and University of California campuses might become the the exclusive property of the rich and upper middle class.

Also contemplated are an end to or suspension of the state's welfare-to-work program, release of tens of thousands of nonviolent prisoners and an end to poison control programs, just to name a few. It's easy to imagine the outcry if these cuts produce deaths from poison or a crime wave, as could happen. This at the same time cities and counties shrink police forces and fire departments because of a planned $2 billion "revenue shift" from their coffers to the state.

Many of these cruel moves, of course, do not have to happen. Change the rules under which some real estate now escapes reassessment to current market values when it changes hands and state and local governments might gain as much as $12 billion in yearly revenue. Consider going to a "split roll" property tax system where businesses pay more than residential properties and much more could be raised.

But so far, lawmakers have not even contemplated those moves. Nor have they yet eliminated several barely useful commissions and boards that often serve as halfway houses for termed-out legislators. Perhaps examining the grave consequences of the contemplated budget cuts will open legislative eyes to the possibility of defying the powerful industrial and real estate lobbies that resist logical changes to the current taxation system. Or, more likely, not.

Email Thomas Elias at For more Elias columns, visit