Wednesday, April 30, 2014




          As springtime admission and rejection letters went out from the nine undergraduate campuses of the University of California, the squeeze on this state’s most promising high graduates became tighter than ever before.

          That made it fair for many of those rejected despite meeting all qualifications to wonder just whose UC this great public university will eventually become.

          Will it continue to be the fundamental goal and reward for the state’s high schoolers, motivating them to achieve and attempt ever more difficult academic challenges? Or will it become another playground for wealthy out-of-state and foreign students who can afford the almost $23,000 extra per year in tuition paid by non-California residents?

          So far, that extra money – the difference between $13,200 in-state tuition this year and $36,078 for all others – has proved no hindrance to foreigners in particular. One reason: Governments of China and some Arab countries pay all tuition and expenses for many of their citizens who study at American universities.

          Altogether, 13 percent of all UC undergraduates next fall will be from out of state, split just about evenly between foreign students and those from the other 49 states. That’s up from 12 percent this year and just 5 percent as recently as 2010.

          There is no doubt a connection between that fast-growing out-of-state student-body element and the fact that state budget support of UC has declined over the last 10 years, though it was bulked up a bit this year with funds from the temporary taxes in the 2012 Proposition 30.

          UC officials maintain the out-of-staters displace no Californians in either the top 9 percent of their high school class or the top 9 percent statewide. Of course, UC used to accept the top 12 percent statewide, so despite that claim of no displacement, there has unquestionably been some. Plus, the out-of-state proportion is higher at the most desired UC campuses – Berkeley and UCLA – compared with lower-demand locations like Merced and Riverside. Which suggests that in academia, money talks, especially the more than $120 million in extra yearly tuition to be paid by new out-of-state students. Add in returning students and those in graduate and professional schools, and UC now gets nearly $1 billion more each year from out-of-staters than if the same slots went to Californians.

          But California taxpayers built those nine campuses principally for the benefit of their children. It’s one thing to argue that a sprinkling of students from other places serves a sound academic purpose, but when do financial motives supplant that academic benefit?

          The demographics of UC are also changing as fast as those of the state itself, where Latinos are now the largest ethnic group and Asian-Americans are a fast-growing minority. For the first time this year, UC took more Latino students than Anglos, 29 percent of incoming frosh being Latino to about 27 percent white. High-achieving Asian-Americans made up the plurality of admits among in-state students, at 36 percent.

          Some of those new Latino students will be so-called “Dreamers” brought to this country as small children by undocumented immigrant parents. Typically, many such UC and California State University admits have been unable to accept their slots because as illegal residents they cannot get low-interest federal loans or grants.

          But a program now proposed by Democratic state Sen. Ricardo Lara of southern Los Angeles County would allow at least some of them to get loans from the state if they can’t access federal ones.

          New UC President Janet Napolitano, responsible for deporting thousands of the undocumented while serving as secretary of Homeland Security, backs that plan as it advances in the Legislature. “These students…should have access to equivalent resources as their campus peers,” she told a legislative hearing.

          It’s one thing, of course, for changes to occur because the state itself is different from before. But for UC to display the obvious financial motives that it has in admissions over the last few years is both unseemly and wrong. Far better to accept at least the top 10 percent of California high schoolers than to take foreign students just for their money, even if that means state government will have to pony up a bit more support.

          Otherwise, UC will increasingly belong to highest bidders, a change in the entire purpose and gestalt of the entire university.

           Email Thomas Elias at 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




          Businesses are moving out of California – or at least building new plants in other states – in droves because this is such a high-tax state. That’s the frequent claim of Republican politicians who have tried to bludgeon Democrats for years with the issue.

    The idea has been repeated so often it is widely accepted as truth, even though here’s no proof any company relocates outside California except when a move puts it closer to existing plants and assets, as when Occidental Petroleum announced an impending move from Los Angeles to Houston this spring, saying that would put management much closer to the oil wells it manages. Or Toyota moving many jobs from Torrance to Dallas, much closer to its factories.

    But the tax motive in corporate moves is often overrated, with the real reasons frequently factors like land costs and lower housing expenses that ease recruiting of young employees.

    Similarly, Republicans have argued for decades – without proof – that lower taxes actually lead to higher government revenues because they encourage employers to add jobs. But it’s never been proven that when corporations get tax benefits, they put the money saved into employees rather than seeing it pocketed by top management and investors.

    That’s why it behooves California politicians to pay heed when a substantial study shows lower taxes in other states actually do have an impact on a particular industry and that lower taxes do add both jobs and government revenues.

    About the only area that’s been proven is in movie and television production, where California has steadily lost location filming to places as varied as Pennsylvania and Georgia, New Jersey and Louisiana over the last 20 years. The majority of feature filming now takes place outside this state, even though most pre- and post-production work – everything from casting and film editing to sound dubbing and musical scoring – still is centered here.

          Altogether, states gave movie and TV studios and TV commercial production houses more than $1.5 billion in tax credits and rebates last year. States actively pursue location shoots because of the revenue they bring via catering, vehicle rentals, house rentals, hotel rentals, restaurant meals and much more. Pennysylvania ponied up a $1 million tax credit to get the Denzel Washington film “Unstoppable” filmed there, as just one example.

          “You just follow the money,” actor-director Ben Affleck told a reporter last year, when asked why he planned to film his upcoming “Live by Night” in Georgia. Tax credits and incentives sometimes cover as much as one-third of production costs in an industry where profit margins can be thin. For the states, this can lead to new jobs (most of them temporary) and more government revenue without the kinds of environmental problems new factories often bring. Movie makers almost always guarantee host states they will leave conditions exactly as they were before, or better.

          California now offers about $100 million a year in credits, not enough to keep a lot of filming from going elsewhere, even when it means producers must pay lodging and transportation bills for actors who mostly live in California.

          This state’s tax credits produced at least $1.11 in state and local tax revenues for every dollar of tax benefits deployed, concludes a study performed this spring by the usually-accurate Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. With 35 other states now giving tax incentives for location work, California's current credits are not enough to retain most of the production that was traditionally centered here.

          Relatively small as the California film location credits have been (less than one-fifteenth of national credits from a state with about one-ninth of the national population), the study concluded the spending they helped produce came to $1.9 billion for 109 projects over the last three fiscal years, with 22,300 jobs supported. Total economic activity from those projects was $4.3 billion.

          The movie tax credit, opponents say, is a giveaway to the wealthy, while the poor languish as programs helping them are steadily cut back. But if the film credits actually produce more government money (via income taxes, sales taxes and more) than they cost, that means they’re really helping keep programs for the indigent alive, even as they benefit wealthy actors and producers.

          The bottom line: This is a tax credit that works for California and could work even better. That’s why it should be increased, as called for in a bill now working its way through the Legislature.

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

Wednesday, April 23, 2014




          It’s all the rage these days to say that politics has been changed enormously by the combination of the “top two” primary election system and voters’ increasing reluctance to declare allegiance to either major political party.

          While it’s true these phenomena have made some changes, it’s also true that some of the basics remain.

          Among thechanges: In districts where either Democrats or Republicans have very large voter registration margins, top two can and has produced interesting intra-party matchups. The presence of the minority party’s voters – whichever party is in the minority in a given district – causes November winners to conduct themselves in a more moderate manner than they otherwise might.

          But some things remain just as they were, and that has never been better demonstrated than in the February San Diego special election making former City Councilman Kevin Faulconer, a Republican, mayor of a city carried by Democrat Barack Obama by a 25 percent margin in the last presidential election.

          A post-election analysis conducted for the non-profit Voice of San Diego news site by Ohio State University political scientist Vladimir Kogan, a former staffer at that site, indicates this happened because of a seemingly ancient phenomenon: Republicans turn out much more heavily than Democrats, especially in special elections.

          Faulconer, a Republican now trying to govern as a moderate, managed to win in a city where Democrats have a 13 percent voter registration advantage.

          Kogan’s analysis showed that only 36 percent of voters who went for Obama in 2012 went for Democrat David Alvarez for mayor, while 63.5 percent did not cast ballots in the mayoral election.

          By contrast, 76 percent of those who voted two years ago for Republican Mitt Romney for president chose Faulconer, while only 23 percent did not vote in the special mayoral election.

          Some other statistics Kogan mined from the February vote demonstrate what political professionals have long known: Democrats turn out in far greater numbers for regularly scheduled runoffs than they do for either primaries or special elections.

          That’s one big reason some Democrat-dominated cities have lately rescheduled their municipal elections to coincide with the November vote and it’s also why the Democratic-controlled state Legislature voted to move all initiatives that quality for a ballot via voter signatures into November. They figure the causes they favor stand a far better chance at that time.

          The San Diego result also reinforces the reality that a disgraced politician can hurt whoever from his own party tries to succeed him. Alvarez, for example, has never been associated with wrongdoing, but was trying to hold onto the seat won in 2012 by fellow Democrat Bob Filner, chased from office in a groping and sexual harassment scandal.

          Only 44 percent of the people who voted for Filner went for Alvarez this year, while 55.5 percent didn’t cast ballots. Meanwhile, 65 percent of those who picked 2012 loser Carl DeMaio (now running for a San Diego seat in Congress) voted for Faulconer and just 31.5 percent of DeMaio voters did not participate.

          No one can say for sure that had the February vote somehow been delayed nine months until November, things would have gone differently. But for sure, Democrats would have had a better chance.

          For there will be other candidates, other causes on the ballot then that they care about. But even with a big push from labor unions, Democrats never generated much enthusiasm in February.

          Meanwhile, Republicans salivated over the opportunity to recapture a mayor’s office that had been almost exclusively theirs for decades.

          Does all this mean anything elsewhere, where voters are not as accustomed to Republican success as they have been in San Diego? Maybe. For sure, Democrats long have wanted to avoid contesting anything important anytime other than November, so they clearly knew the danger to them in a situation like what San Diego saw in February.

          It all goes to show that, as humorist Finley Peter Dunne’s comic character Mr. Dooley pointed out more than a century ago, “The more things change, the more they stays the same.”


    Elias is author of the current book “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It,” now available in an updated third edition. His email address is For more Elias columns, go to




          When a city like Carson, home to one large oil refinery and next-door neighbor to another, hard by the junction of two major freeways and site of both a Cal State campus and a Major League Soccer stadium, slaps a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing because of environmental questions, you know fracking of California’s vast oil and gas reserves is no sure thing.

          Carson’s current city fathers and mothers, of course, were not around when most of those land-use decisions were made, but they are essentially saying “basta,” Italian for enough. It’s one thing to be oil-rich, as Carson is, and another to have unsafe drinking water, which many in the city feel they’d get if Occidental Petroleum goes ahead with a large fracking project in an oil field long considered mostly depleted.

          Carson is not alone. Los Angeles, another city with a long and storied history of oil drilling, is drafting an anti-fracking ordinance. So are others.

          This activity comes because environmentalists don’t believe Gov. Jerry Brown and the state Legislature went nearly far enough last year, when they okayed the nation’s toughest set of fracking regulations.

          The stakes in all this are enormously high for all of California. The Monterey Shale geologic formation extending almost 200 miles south from near San Juan Bautista to Bakersfield and Ventura, and nearly 50 miles wide, is said by some to contain as much as two-third of America’s petroleum reserves.

          All this should make it a major public priority to find a fracking method of unquestionable safety.

          Oil, of course, has been drilled in the Central Valley part of the Monterey Shale for more than a century. The Elk Hills federal petroleum reserve near Taft is part of this history. Coalinga, about 100 miles north, is home to the state’s most significant oil industry museum, recognizing oil’s historic role in that area.

The oil drawn from those fields helped propel companies like Union Oil, Occidental and Chevron to international significance, but could be dwarfed by what lurks in underground shale.

          Yet, the Central Valley’s long history of soil subsidence and chemical pollution of once-fertile farmland provides a cautionary note, even if a USC study last year concluded all-out fracking of the Monterey Shale could produce hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

          Environmentalists like to counter that report with a 2012 study of several Pennsylvania counties where fracking is common and has created few jobs. They also note a spate of small Ohio earthquakes now linked by many to fracking. But there’s also North Dakota, once a place of high unemployment and now a fracking boom state with the lowest unemployment rate in America.

          Until former Treasury Dept. official Neel Kashkari and current Assemblyman Tim Donnelly emerged as the two apparent Republican frontrunners to oppose Brown, it appeared he might be hurt by his 2013 fracking compromise. But now anti-frackers have nowhere else to turn other than Brown. Donnelly evinces no interest in environmental issues, while Kashkari advocates fracking the state to the hilt.

          Doing that, he says, could produce up to 2.8 million new jobs (far more than USC’s optimistic estimate) and $24.6 billion in new state and local tax revenues.

          The best thing about the new state fracking regulations may be that no one likes them. Environmentalists gripe the rules didn’t stop the practice, while pro-fracking oil industry spokesman Tupper Hull of the Western States Petroleum Assn. says, “We don’t like them.”

          But where Hull went on to say, “We can live with” the new rules, environmentalists don’t make that concession. They worry that water pollution could occur even though oil companies must now apply for permits before fracking and disclose where it will occur, two things they’ve never done in 60 years of fracking, mostly in older oil wells.

          The new rules aren’t permanent, though. The state will report near the end of this year on what further restrictions should be part of permanent rules, and the Democratic-dominated Legislature will most likely okay them.

          But there has to be a way to have at least have half a loaf, perhaps by using careful limits on where fracking can occur in order to do it without fouling ground water. That might allow enough activity to ease the existing severe unemployment in areas most likely to be fracked.  

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

Wednesday, April 16, 2014




          Because of hydraulic fracturing in states like North Dakota and Wyoming, Californians and other Americans have enjoyed lower natural gas prices over the last two winters than anytime in the last 15 years. That continues right up to this moment.

          But if the natural gas industry and the Obama Administration have anything to say about it, today’s relatively low-cost heating and cooking may soon be matters of nostalgia.

          That’s the meaning of the three approvals already issued by the Obama-appointed Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for either building new terminals to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) or to convert existing import plants to export facilities. More are likely to be approved soon.

          Californians should well remember LNG, natural gas frozen into a fluid state near its source and then shipped around the world for use in places that don’t produce their own. The new American export plants, carrying benign-sounding names like Cove Point and Sabine Pass and Jordan Cove, aim to send LNG to places like Europe, Japan, Korea, China and India. They’ve gotten new impetus from ongoing disputes between Ukraine and Russia, source of most of Europe’s natural gas.

          Less than 10 years ago, Californians were battling over whether and where to put plants for importing LNG, the result of a decision by the state Public Utilities Commission to give up some of the state’s reserved space on pipelines bringing gas here from Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado.

    The answers were no and nowhere. Proposals for plants near Eureka, Oxnard, Long Beach and Santa Monica all died because companies promoting LNG imports never proved the state would ever need gas imported by sea. The later discovery of vast quantities of gas right in California, available if the massive deposits in the Monterey Shale geologic formation are ever fractured, or fracked, means California may soon need no imported gas at all.

          So this state dodged a financial bullet, not getting stuck with hyper-expensive LNG.

          But prices here will nevertheless rise because of the export licenses now being handed out for gas the industry has defined as “surplus.”

          This likely fact of life emerges in a remarkable letter sent to Alaska’s Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski last fall by a top federal Energy Department official.

          Murkowski has pressed for quick approval of an LNG export facility in her state, warning that “The United States has a narrowing window of opportunity to join the global gas trade.” Seeking oil and gas-related profits and  jobs for Alaska, Murkowski never acknowledges the certain effect exports will have on domestic gas prices, sure to rise if the current surplus goes overseas.

          In California, price effects will probably be immediate with the opening of planned LNG export plants near Coos Bay, Ore., and near Prince Rupert on the coast of British Columbia. Both would take allegedly surplus gas from western Canada fields that now supply California and the Pacific Northwest.

          But FERC doesn’t care, according to its letter to Murkowski. “We take very seriously the investment-backed expectations of private parties,” wrote Deputy Assistant Energy Secretary Paula Grant. Would FERC rescind an export license if domestic gas prices rise precipitously because of that permit? No, said Grant. “DOE has no record of having vacated or rescinded an authorization to import or export natural gas over the objections of the authorization holder.”

          The Energy Department is also ignoring protests by other U.S. industries whose recession recoveries have partly been fueled by low gas prices.

          A group of firms led by Dow Chemical has demanded that FERC – which works hand-in-glove with the Energy Department – slow the rush to sell off America’s energy bonanza.

          FERC, the companies say, should “clearly articulate in advance its criteria” for deciding what is in the public interest.

          So far, no response. Which indicates that even with a majority of commissioners appointed by an allegedly consumer-oriented Democratic President, FERC is no more responsive to the interests of utility customers than it was during the energy crunch of 2000-2001, when Republican George W. Bush was president and the commission refused to stop predator companies that cheated Californians out of more than $10 billion.

          It all assures gas prices here will rise sharply in the next year or two unless California’s congressional delegation unites to put the brakes on LNG exports, and soon.


    Elias is author of the current book “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It,” now available in an updated third edition. His email address is For more Elias columns, go to




          Californians don’t trust their state government. That’s nothing really new, but right now there’s as much cause for distrust as ever before in modern times.

          There is, of course, the scandal that sees three indicted or convicted state senators under suspension after accusations of political corruption, gun-running and/or perjury, all refusing to resign. This leaves millions of Californians without Senate representation while the unconnected cases drag on and other senators refuse to expel their disgraced colleagues.

          Then there’s the behavior of the Senate’s top officer, President Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat who has vocalized in favor of action to regain the public trust in his tainted house of the Legislature. But what he’s actually done so far is order his staff to delete the bulk of the official websites of the three troubled senators, wiping the Internet clean of their press releases, some records of their votes and the list of bills they’ve authored.

    This makes it harder for the average citizen without hours to spend at it to track connections between bribes and votes, giving rise to speculation that Senate leaders are trying to protect their disgraced pals.

          And there’s Steinberg’s designated successor, Los Angeles Democrat Kevin de Leon, due to assume the Senate’s top slot when Steinberg is termed out later this year. He is mentioned 47 times in the 124-page FBI affidavit ( in the case against suspended Sen. Ron Calderon of Montebello. De Leon reportedly also brokered a sequence seeing Calderon pull out of a run for chairman of the Legislature’s Latino Caucus, while $25,000 went from a caucus-aligned committee to a consulting firm owned by Calderon’s brother, Tom, himself a former state senator.

          In short, the Senate – specifically its big Democratic majority – wants the public’s trust but kills public information and doesn’t let questions about de Leon derail his progress toward its leadership. Not the usual way to earn trust.

          So who can be surprised that a new Gallup Poll of 600 Californians shows only 49 percent with either a fair amount or a great deal of trust for their state government. That makes this one of just seven states where more people distrust their government than trust it.

          Remarkably, even in New Jersey, home to the scandal-ridden Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a majority of the public trusts state government.

          And it’s not just charges of corruption that spur voters not to trust California government. There’s also performance. The Gallup survey came within days of a report that the Los Angeles area has seen no net increase in the number of jobs over the last 25 years. Zero. That’s despite a population increase of more than 10 percent and the emergence of hundreds of high-tech startups in the coastal area now known as “Silicon Beach.” Not much achievement there by either state or local government.

          There’s also the growing public disenchantment with the California High Speed Rail project, where hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent so far without construction of an inch of track. When voters approved the project six years ago via Proposition 1A, it was clear the only way to achieve the promised two hour, forty minute travel time between Los Angeles and San Francisco would be to follow the Interstate 5 corridor much of the way.

          But that route never got serious consideration, with state planners insisting they would buy up prime farmland in Kern, Kings, Fresno and Madera counties while building pricey railroad stations in Bakersfield, Fresno and Merced, where not many passengers figure to board or detrain. It’s a classic bait-and-switch that has turned off even some of the original promoters of bullet trains in California.

    And there’s the state Public Utilities Commission, consistently setting rates at levels designed to benefit big utility companies at the expense of their customers.

          Step back and look at the full picture and you see a government that hasn’t grown jobs, hasn’t kept its word on the biggest proposed project in two generations, doesn’t look out for consumers and works to protect its own.

          Does an outfit like this deserve much trust?


        Email Thomas Elias at 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

Thursday, April 10, 2014




          The grand compromise on immigration passed by the U.S. Senate 10 months ago is now all but history, despite talk from President Obama and other Democrats about “comprehensive reform.”

          For comprehensive immigration reform, as it’s understood in Washington, D.C., means granting undocumented immigrants some kind of pathway to citizenship. Only a very few Republicans are willing to allow this, no matter how arduous and long the path would be.

          Despite the common GOP rhetoric, this has little to do with humane concerns or fairness, and everything to do with politics. Republicans have seen what the 1986 immigration reform bill signed by then-President Ronald Reagan did to their party in California. Legalizing many previously unauthorized residents combined with a sense of threat engendered by the 1994 Proposition 187’s draconian rules for the undocumented – since thrown out by the courts – made California a Democratic stronghold, where previously it was up for grabs in most elections.

          Republicans fear the same kind of thing could happen nationally with any new “amnesty” bill, so as long as they hold a majority in either house of Congress, they won’t let it happen.

          But that doesn’t mean they couldn’t do other things. A new “guest worker” program a la the old bracero plan that began in World War II and stretched into the late 1960s is a possibility. Concessions are also possible for undocumented immigrants brought here as small children.

    Some family unity measures might be okayed, too, so long as they don’t spawn new citizens.

          And despite their current obdurate talk about accepting only comprehensive reforms, it would be unrealistic to expect either Obama or Democrats in the Senate to block these moves.

          For one thing, they’re all parts of the wider-ranging Senate bill. For another, each of those measures would improve the lives of at least some of the undocumented, essentially legalizing many even if not allowing them citizenship and voting rights.

          Many Latinos who have steadily cast ballots for Democrats and against Republicans principally because of immigration would be mightily offended if Democrats suddenly became purists and rejected measures that may not be wide-ranging or comprehensive, but would nevertheless improve the lives of some immigrants.

          It’s possible this picture could change a bit as the primary election season moves along and Republicans in “safe” districts whose biggest worry is a primary challenge from the right get past the point where new opponents can emerge.

    "For many members, they’d be more comfortable (with immigration bills) when their primaries are over,” observed Republican Congressman Darrell Issa of north San Diego County.

    But those same GOP members of Congress also know conservatives often have demonstrated long memories. If they back anything like amnesty today, they realize they may face challenges from their right in 2016.

          As with the Democrats, their principal concern is not with what will do the most for America or be the most humane, but what stands the best chance to preserve them in office.

          That’s why, for example, a group of 16 House Republicans including ultraconservatives like Michelle Bachman of Minnesota and Lamar Smith of Texas wrote to Obama in late winter rejecting any bill that “would permanently displace American workers.”

          Even though there is no proof any guest worker program or other legalization tactic has ever displaced American workers or decreased wages, belief that immigration changes will do this remains strong in many parts of America.

          Meanwhile, other Republicans realize that they’ll have to make adjustments on immigration if they ever hope to make inroads on the Democratic domination among Latinos, the fastest-growing bloc of voters.

          Democrats, meanwhile, relish watching the GOP sweat over all this. They know that as long as citizenship is off the table, Republicans won’t threaten Latino loyalty to them. They also know that the less the GOP does, the less happens, the better their own electoral prospects.

          Which is why it's unrealistic to expect immigration changes this year other than a few desultory, half-baked measures improving things for businesses wanting to pay low wages.


    Email Thomas Elias at 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




          The next front in California’s long-running water wars has already opened, and the reasons for it will sometimes be hard to see – but not always.

          That next fight is over ground water, source of about 35 percent of the state’s fresh water in normal years and a much higher percentage in dry ones like 2014. This battle has the potential to become far more bitter than even the quarrels over how to distribute water from the Delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin river systems.

          For it’s all but certain that regulations of some kind will come soon to this only source of California fresh water that currently has virtually none.

          “In the coming months, I will be working…on strategies for more effective groundwater management,” wrote Democratic state Sen. Fran Pavley of Calabasas in her latest constituent newsletter. When Pavley broaches a subject like this, no one involved can afford to ignore her. Only last year, she authored the state’s first regulations on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for oil and natural gas, and back in 2006, she was the force behind the AB32 restrictions on greenhouse gases, progenitor of the state’s ever-controversial cap-and-trade program.

          For sure, the long-running drought here is producing conditions that almost demand regulation.

          As things get drier, especially for San Joaquin Valley farms now drawing just a small fraction of their normal water entitlements from both the state Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project, many of those farmers are pumping ground water furiously to keep their crops and businesses alive.

          The longstanding presumption here has been that if there’s water under your land and you have a well, you can take as much as you want. That has sometimes ignored effects on other nearby property owners and the public.

          One of those effects can be land subsidence, which in some Central Valley locales has topped 20 feet and can be spotted by passing motorists who see instruments and wellheads that once were on the surface perched on pipes reaching high above the current ground level.

          Subsidence, in turn, can lead to problems moving surface water in canals, something water agencies cannot long tolerate. Over-pumping ground water can also spur intrusions of brackish salt water into fresh water aquifers.

          The reality is that some of California’s most significant environmental laws have been the direct results of crises. The Field Act, passed just after the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, changed the way schools all over the state are built. Building standards for other structures changed immensely after the 1971 San Fernando earthquake severely damaged the Olive View Medical Center. The drought of 1975-77 produced major water conservation changes, among them wide government distribution of low-flow toilets and shower heads, now standard in new homes and one reason today’s drought has not yet proved as disastrous as previous ones.

          So far, drought has not produced great enthusiasm for Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed twin tunnels water project to bring Sacramento River water under the Delta to the state’s aqueduct. That’s partly because in return for more than $20 billion, the state would get no more water, even if the tunnels might assure more level supplies from year to year. So far, the main backers are water districts on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, whose member farmers are prone to major water allocation swings from year to year.

          So that project won’t go anywhere for awhile. Which could mean that legislators who want at least to purvey the image of doing something about the drought will become more likely to adopt ground water regulations.

          If they try this, expect another loud and large fight to break out, as farmers and water districts with wells of their own can be expected to fight anyone trying to tell them what to do with water they’ve long viewed as their own property.


    Email Thomas Elias at 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

Wednesday, April 2, 2014




          Talk to corporate executives and they’ll often say California is a difficult place to do business, in part because consumers can file class action lawsuits willy-nilly, even when their companies haven’t screwed up.

          But it ain’t necessarily so. Yes, the Consumers Legal Remedies Act, a 44-year-old law, lets customers sue for damages even after a warranty has expired and even when there’s been no risk to health or safety. They’re supposed to be able to do this if the maker of a product knows it has a major defect but does not reveal it to prospective or existing buyers.

          Consumers could sue under those conditions, that is, until a pair of court decisions seriously limited the law and its intentions. For now, state and federal appeals courts have decided, product buyers can only sue manufacturers for post-warranty problems if their health or safety was at risk.

          That’s why consumers might benefit from passage of a new bill being carried in the Legislature by Democratic state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara which aims to restore the 1970s-era law to its original broad coverage.

          “Consumers have a right to expect a product to last a reasonable length of time, even after a warranty has expired,” says Kristen Law Sagafi, a partner in the San Francisco law firm Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein. “Without it, we return to a caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) marketplace.”

          Expect restoration of any rights consumers have lost to be contested strongly by industry lobbyists. “Current California law allows suing during the warranty period of a product if a manufacturer won’t fix it,” said Kimberly Stone, president of the Civil Justice Association of California, an industry lobby representing companies ranging from Allstate and Apple to Chevron, Toyota, Intel, Oracle and many more. “The courts have said people can also sue after a warranty over safety and health. Our fear is that if this is expanded, we will see many more class action lawsuits and that plaintiff lawyers will hold manufacturers to unreasonable time standards.”

          In fact, the original law prohibited that. Said Sagafi, who helped craft the Senate proposal, “It would be up to the judge in each case to determine how long is reasonable. You would expect that the time a product can reasonably be expected to last after a warranty expires will be longer for a high-end product that a cheaper one. If someone has defrauded you, your right to sue should not expire with the warranty.”

          Under current law, established by courts and not by elected lawmakers, a company could theoretically design products from computers to cars and dishwashers that would fail deliberately the day after their warranty expires. Unless the failure is dangerous – involving risk of accident, injury or fire – consumers would have no recourse if that happened.

          “The best industry actors make a fix available to customers when a product is defective,” said Sagafi. “But if they hide a defect and fraud is demonstrated, consumers should be able to ask for punitive damages, just as the original law provided” before the courts emasculated it.

          Consumer lawyers still would have a difficult time proving that a company deliberately hid a known defect, unless handed internal documents by a whistleblower. “It’s an incredibly high hurdle,” said Sagafi. “But the only concealed facts we can act on now involve safety, which is not what the law says.”

          All of which raises the question of exactly what disclosure or repair obligation a company has when it gets numerous complaints about a single problem. “We have no answer to that question,” said Stone. “But our organization believes California already has too many class-action lawsuits, and this will just make them easier. We have a bunch of crazy class-action lawyers here. Class actions should exist to right tremendous wrongs. If there’s no fruit in Froot Loops or no raisins in raisin bran, that’s just not a tremendous wrong.”

          That sort of corporate belittling of class actions doesn’t help, as one example, someone whose cellphone becomes just a paperweight soon after its warranty expires.

          Corporations may not like it, but what’s wrong with preventing them from knowingly building products that won’t outlast their warranties?

     Email Thomas Elias at 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




          Ever since San Francisco’s Leland Yee joined his colleagues Ron Calderon of Montebello and Roderick Wright of Los Angeles on the state Senate’s indicted/convicted list and then all three were suspended, other senators have recognized they must restore the public’s trust.

    That won’t happen if suspensions are all those other senators are willing to mete out against their allegedly crooked brethren. Nothing less than expulsions and quick special elections for replacements can prove the Senate still knows why it exists.

          The proven and alleged crimes of the Senate Three would be enough to justify severe action, just as a state senator indicted for bribery was expelled in 1905.

    Meanwhile, keeping Yee, Calderon and Wright on suspension – with pay, no less – leaves almost one-tenth of Californians unrepresented in their Senate. Remember, all three men purveyed one common message during their many election campaigns: Only they could provide the most effective service available. So much for that.

          Today they provide no service. In sustaining the trio's similar struggles for political survival and personal freedom, other senators appear to have forgotten they were elected not just to collect paychecks and perks, but to represent Californians and further the public good. In each case, the public would be best served by not letting the Senate’s alleged crooks hang on for many months while their cases and appeals play out.

          None of the three has yet shown the slightest willingness to consider stepping down. Calderon, accused of political corruption, and Wright, convicted of using a false address when filing to run for office, are both stonewalling and their mostly Democratic colleagues keep enabling them even though their legal woes reduced the party’s Senate edge below the magic two-thirds majority margin needed to pass some laws.

          With Wright and Calderon first on leave and now suspended while their cases play out, Democrats failed to push through several measures, including a key bill aiming to force revelations of “dark money” contributors to political campaigns. Not one Republican voted for that one, all it would have taken for passage, but if the Democrats still had a two-thirds margin, the predictable GOP solidarity against sunlight would not have mattered.

          Now comes Yee, indicted in late March for both firearms trafficking and political corruption. He may yet resign his post – from which he’ll be termed out by year’s end anyhow. For sure, his candidacy for secretary of state, California’s chief elections officer, ended with his arrest.

          Yee’s absence puts the Democrats another vote shy of the supermajority they reveled in for about a year after the 2012 elections. If the three troubled senators left or were booted, voter registration numbers in their districts assure those seats would remain Democratic. Their stubborn attempts to continue political life make it clear they care less about public policy than personal interest. One thing each retains (besides their salaries) even while suspended is a possible plea bargain negotiating chip: At some point, prosecutors may offer the option of resigning in exchange for lighter treatment.

          Said Yee’s fellow San Francisco state Sen. Mark Leno, “Every indictment, every arrest, every arraignment, even every suspicion or allegation, reflects very poorly on each of us and all of us (in the Senate).”

          Mere words like those are not enough. Until the Senate is willing to expel and not just suspend members when they fall into disgrace, voters will be justified in figuring most senators care more about their own skins and pocketbooks than the policies to which they claim devotion.

          Yee’s case is classic for this. If convicted of the firearms charges against him, the longtime gun-control advocate will be exposed as one of the greatest hypocrites in California history.

          It all raises the question of why other state senators have been so reluctant to throw out their disgraced or convicted colleagues. One possible answer to that question might be that many have skeletons in their own closets or fear they might someday.

          There is, of course, no proof of this, but who could blame voters for believing it?

          The bottom line: If politicians were more concerned about policy than their own skins, they’d be gone the moment they can no longer represent their constituents and further policies they claim to love.


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