Wednesday, July 29, 2015




          California consumers can be excused if they’re beginning to wonder whether Gov. Jerry Brown cares a whit about blatantly corrupt conduct by some of his appointees to very high state offices.

          That feeling grew more intense the other day with the appointment of Mark Ferron to the governing board of the state’s Independent System Operator, which manages the electric grid serving all of this state and part of Nevada. Essentially, its job is to keep the lights on, with a major voice in what kinds of power generation California will use.

          Why should the appointment of Ferron, a former managing director of the London-based Global Markets Division of Deutsche Bank, ring alarm bells?

          It’s because Brown previously put Ferron, a 56-year-old resident of bucolic Mill Valley in Marin County, on the troubled state Public Utilities Commission in 2011, about two years after he left his former job in England. While Ferron professes love for California, he’s spent most of his working life elsewhere.

          Ferron served three years on the five-member PUC, whose members get five-year terms and cannot be removed even by the governor who appoints them. He resigned early last year to deal with a serious case of prostate cancer, but during his tenure cast no votes disagreeing with disgraced former PUC President Michael Peevey on any significant issue.

          He was part of the commission when it went easy on Pacific Gas & Electric Co. over the 2010 San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion, which led to the company’s indictment for criminal negligence. He failed to dissent on the deal by which consumers will pay most decommissioning costs of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, even though the facility’s closure was caused by Southern California Edison Co. decisions the company knew were flawed before it acted on them.

          He voted for every proposed solar thermal project that came before him, essentially endorsing hugely expensive desert-based solar panel arrays over far less costly rooftop solar. The desert solar farms also require massive investments in power lines to bring their electricity to cities where it’s used.

          And he cooperated in the formative stages of the PUC’s electricity price restructuring, originally proposed by PG&E, which will increase utility company revenues at the expense of the smallest, poorest power users.

          So Ferron’s votes will contribute to billions of dollars in extra consumer costs. He did not respond to repeated attempts to reach him by phone for explanations.

          Ferron also was among Peevey’s most vocal supporters when the former agency boss departed amid still-ongoing state and federal investigations into alleged criminal conspiracy to hoist utility rates.

          Peevey, Ferron told one reporter, “has done a fantastic job for this state” and “is a guy who wants to get things done.”

          That somewhat echoed Brown, who remarked about the same time that Peevey “certainly got things done.”

          It’s true that Ferron might have consented to some Peevey-pushed rulings because commissioners essentially must go along to get along while serving. Vote against the commission president, who assigns cases that individual commissioners supervise, and you’re likely to be put onto the Podunk Water Co.’s rate increase request, rather than far more interesting and wide-reaching cases from Edison, PG&E or other large utilities.

          Brown press secretary Evan Westrup explained the appointment in boiler-plate language: “Our focus is on appointing individuals with the knowledge, experience and judgment to make sound decisions and serve the state well. We expect Mark will do just that in his new role.”

          Ferron’s new job requires state Senate confirmation, but he can serve a full year before there’s a vote. “I will be watching closely,” said Sen. Jerry Hill, a San Mateo Democrat and frequent PUC critic. “Some things he’s said could be significant or have positive potential. We often wait to see how people perform before holding hearings on their appointments.”

          Of course, one problem with appointments both to the PUC and the Independent Service Operator is that they seldom get concerted legislative attention. Maybe the scandal involving Peevey and possibly some other, current PUC members will change that, as there’s increased public awareness of the agency’s importance.

          But the bottom line on this appointment is that the onus is on Ferron to prove that his new gig is not just a reward for going along with corruption in the powerful post he previously held.

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




          On June 25, just one week before many California motorists began paying upwards of $4.30 per gallon for gasoline, the Bahamian-flagged tanker Teesta Spirit left Los Angeles headed for ports on the west coast of Mexico carrying more than 300,000 barrels of gasoline refined in California.

          The Teesta Spirit was just one of nine large tankers that left California ports carrying gasoline to places like Mexico and Chile between June 25 and July 23 at a time when oil companies were raising prices by as much as $1 per gallon in some regions.

          Altogether, oil companies like Chevron and Phillips 66 shipped about 100 million gallons (42 gallons per barrel) of gasoline out of California during that time span.

    The industry explained its huge price increases, levied this time primarily in Southern California, by citing a shortage caused partly by a February explosion that disabled a pollution monitoring unit at Exxon Mobil’s refinery in Torrance. No one explained why it should take more than five months to fix that machinery.

          Executives of the industry’s Western States Petroleum Assn. did not respond to repeated telephone attempts to get their explanations for this and for the gasoline exports, which amounted to sending away almost three full days’ statewide supply of gasoline.

          As the oil companies were shipping out that fuel, they reaped unprecedented profits reportedly approaching $1.50 for every gallon of gasoline they sold at the higher prices.

          Prices, said WSPA President Catherine Reheis-Boyd in a letter responding to a previous column that alleged gasoline price gouging, are a result of supply and demand.

          This may be true, but there’s ample evidence the oil firms she represents create some of the shortages they cite as a cause of pricing volatility.

          It’s not just the continued exports and any problems at Exxon Mobil in Torrance. They ascribed another price spike earlier this year to shutdowns at refineries in the Martinez/Benicia area northeast of San Francisco. Labor issues, they said, forced those shutdowns. But former employees of one of those plants reported they’ve been kept open during previous, similar labor disputes and could have stayed open this year, too.

          Said Reheis-Boyd, “All of the many government investigations…in recent years have concluded that supply and demand are the primary reason (sic) gas prices go up and down.”

          Shipping information makes it clear any recent shortage was created at least in part by the companies themselves. Here are some examples: The Atlantic Queen left Long Beach headed for Mexico on June 25 with a capacity of over 398,000 barrels of gas. The Iver Exact, only slightly smaller, left San Francisco Bay heading for Mexico on June 28. The larger Pudu left Long Beach for South and Central America on July 7.

          Several other tanker departures from both Northern and Southern California ports were scheduled through the first week of August. How can the industry claim it has short supplies while it’s shipping gas to foreign countries?

          Why should California residents suffer the pollution produced by gasoline refineries if the owners of those plants manipulate prices by sending gasoline to foreign users?

          Said Jamie Court, president of the Consumer Watchdog advocacy group, “Oil refiners have kept the state running on empty and now they are sending fuel refined in California abroad just as the specter of low inventories drives huge price increases.”

          One thing is certain: Because the latest price spikes began just as the new fiscal year started on July 1, the refineries' record-level profits won’t show up for months in financial reports. To reduce public fury and obfuscate the issue, it’s all but certain the companies, which appear to operate like a cartel as prices at all major brands rise and fall simultaneously, will lower those prices a bit before the third quarter ends Sept. 30.

          So far, as Reheis-Boyd notes, the refiners have gotten away with it. They’ve reported record profits for the last two years or so, but even those profits have not been at today's reported California levels. Besides, profits generated in this state generally are not broken out separately in company reports.

          The bottom line is that many California drivers for much of the summer have paid about $1.50 per gallon more than the American average. So far, no government agency shows interest in doing much about it.


    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

Tuesday, July 21, 2015




          There is no need – at least not yet – for total abandonment of the humane aspects of the immigration “sanctuary” laws now on the books in 276 American cities, counties and states. But in the wake of the seemingly random murder of a 32-year-old woman on San Francisco’s touristy Pier 14, not far from the landmark Ferry Building, there is surely a need for new sanity in sanctuary policies.

          What’s done now ought to reflect the spirit of a letter written just after the murder by Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who as mayor of San Francisco for most of the 1980s accepted her city’s charitably-intended sanctuary law. Its intent is to prevent dividing families via deportations and to allow otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrants to live without fear.

          “I strongly believe that an undocumented individual convicted of multiple felonies and with a detainer request from ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) should not have been released,” Feinstein wrote to Mayor Ed Lee, her successor four times removed. “The tragic death…could have been avoided if the Sheriff’s Department had notified ICE prior to the release of (the immigrant), which would have allowed ICE to remove him from the country.

          Had that happened, of course, there is every likelihood the immigrant, seven-time felon Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, would have returned to this country, and soon. He did that after five prior deportations. Even so, the victim, Kathryn Steinle, would be alive today.

          Feinstein’s eminently sane solution: San Francisco and other sanctuary cities like Miami; Austin, Tex.; New York City; Boston and Baltimore should join the Department of Homeland Security’s new Priority Enforcement Program, set up last year via an executive order from President Obama.

          Doing this, Feinstein said, would see the sanctuary cities “provide notice to ICE before releasing aliens with long criminal records.” She noted that Los Angeles County supervisors have asked their sheriff to participate in the same program.

          This makes eminent sense. For in all the arguments at the time cities passed their sanctuary laws, no one seriously contended foreign felons with long records should be allowed the freedom of American streets.

          But San Francisco has so far shown little interest in joining. The local sheriff, Ross Mirkarimi, has tried to fob blame off on federal authorities. If they wanted to deport Lopez-Sanchez on his release from jail, he said, they should have obtained a warrant.

    But ICE did request Lopez-Sanchez be turned over for possible deportation. But the agency issued an immigration detainer order and did not get  warrant. A detainer, Mirkarimi said, is a request, “not a legal order to extend an individual’s incarceration.” That was Mirkarimi’s excuse, and a slim one it is, at best.

          But it was really up to the city’s board of supervisors and the mayor to enter the new federal program, and they have not. Nor do they show much inclination to do so, even now.

          The reason they and officials in other cities often don’t is a na├»ve belief that doing so would in effect make them immigration agents. They contend police and sheriff’s deputies should not be questioning suspects on their immigration status.

    But this case did not involve a mere suspect. This was about a known, repeat felon not known for doing anything constructive in this country. The sane thing to do is for jailers to contact federal officials when someone like Lopez-Sanchez is nearly ready for release, so immigration officers can pick up and deport him or her.

    Would that be inhumane? Or has a repeat felon tacitly given up any human right he or she might have to remain in America?

          Under Obama, ICE has developed a record of concentrating on high-priority prisoners like Lopez-Sanchez, who first admitted to "accidentally" shooting Steinle with a gun he allegedly found on an outdoor chair, then recanted when assigned a sharp lawyer.

          So the sane move now is for sanctuary jurisdictions to stop refusing ICE detainers.  California counties like Los Angeles, Santa Clara, Alameda, and San Diego are among the top five agencies nationally in such refusals.

          Keep up that practice and there may be more murders like Steinle’s. Which would be completely senseless when there’s now a sane and humane way out of this onetime dilemma.


    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




          As Donald Trump, real estate mogul, TV star and Republican presidential candidate, made a whirlwind mid-July trip around the West in his private, blue-painted Boeing 767 jet, it almost seemed like he was trying to sabotage his own party. This was before he went off on the military record of the GOP icon, Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

          It’s been 21 years since Trump’s party mate, ex-Gov. Pete Wilson, campaigned for reelection against illegal immigrants, his TV commercials incessantly showing illegals streaming across the Mexican border at San Ysidro and all but endorsing the anti-illegal immigrant Proposition 187.

          Wilson was reelected, Proposition 187 passed with a 65 percent vote and California has been solidly Democratic ever since, the difference-maker being  2.5 million legal immigrants who gained citizenship as a self-defense tactic over the next three years. Every poll since then has found immigration is the key issue keeping Latinos in the Democratic column and this state solidly blue.

          But the last decade or so has seen some slippage in Latino loyalty to Democrats. Republican ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger twice took more than 40 percent of their vote and surveys have shown Wilson – once complete anathema to Latinos of all ages – is all but forgotten.

          But now comes Trump to blare the same sort of prejudices Wilson only voiced by implication. He’s essentially renewed the anti-Latino label Wilson hung on the GOP.

    When Trump formally announced his candidacy in mid-June, he said he was running to stop illegal immigrant “criminals, drug dealers and rapists” from entering America. He was aided by the untimely, seemingly random murder of new California resident Kathryn Steinle by a five-times-deported illegal on San Francisco's Pier 14.

          But her murder was an aberration. It turns out the illegal immigrant crime so decried by Trump and others who like to lambaste the almost defenseless undocumented is largely a myth.

          The newest U.S. Census and FBI statistics (dating from 2013) show crime rates among Hispanics, citizens or not, are lower than for any other major ethnic group. One reason may be that Latinos fear deportation more than other ethnics, many of whom have legal status because of when forebears arrived here.

          Ron Unz, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur who in the 1990s came closer than anyone else to knocking off Wilson in a Republican primary,  classically compared two cities with very different ethnic makeups in a lengthy article in The American Conservative magazine.

          Matching Seattle, one of America’s whitest cities at 70 percent Anglo, with San Jose, 50 percent larger but one-third Latino, he came to this conclusion: “Seattle’s crime rate is indeed low, but the crime rate in San Jose is actually much lower: One third lower for homicide or violent crime in general, with less than half the robbery rate. In fact, none of the most heavily white major cities in America have crime rates anywhere near as low as one-third Hispanic San Jose.”

          The evidence, thus, is that Latinos, including the undocumented, are more law-abiding than many of their neighbors, whatever the reason.

          Trump’s blathering, then, is completely untrue.

          But where the damage Wilson did to the Republican brand among Latinos was largely confined to California, Trump could harm the party far more widely. That’s because as he swung through the West during July, he visited states like Arizona and Nevada, with large numbers of legal Latino residents who have not yet been galvanized into applying for citizenship en masse.

          Trump’s rhetoric – which drew huge, enthusiastic crowds, much as Wilson did in 1994 – has the potential to get them started, which could convert not merely those in Arizona and Nevada into registered (Democratic) voters, but also about 3 million latent potential Latino voters in the dead-red Republican stronghold of Texas, last won by a presidential Democrat when Jimmy Carter ran in 1976.

          That’s why GOP figures like South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham call Trump a “wrecking ball” for the GOP, one that he plainly hopes will go away. If his party doesn’t resoundingly reject Trump’s views, “we will have lost our way,” said Graham.

          But Trump won't quietly disappear, and if he makes a respectable run in the GOP’s primary elections next spring, he could produce an epic, lasting disaster for his party. Just like Wilson.


    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

Tuesday, July 14, 2015




          "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley."  Robert Burns in his 1785 poem “To a Mouse.”

          Bobby Burns couldn’t have known it, but as California approaches what many experts forecast to be the worst wildfire season on record, his description of how good intentions can go awry, not always turning out as planned, might come into play here soon.

          Nothing but good intentions were contained in last year’s Proposition 47, which passed by an overwhelming 59-41 percent margin and has since seen the release of almost 4,000 inmates from state prisons and about the same number from county jails. They were paroled or otherwise freed because the initiative converted drug use and possession, plus some other previous felony crimes, into misdemeanors with much lighter sentences.

          Each year down the line, too, about 40,000 offenders who would otherwise have been convicted of felonies will now be found guilty of misdemeanors.

          What does all this have to do with the impending fire season, to be fueled by millions of acres of wildlands thoroughly parched by almost five years of drought?

          It’s this: While fire engines heading hundreds of miles from their home bases toward serious blazes are familiar sights to anyone driving California highways in fire season, every county and the state’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, better known as CalFire, also depend on thousands of state prison and county jail inmates to battle the worst conflagrations. About 4,000 participated last year.

          These crews draw from the trustiest of prisoners. They must be serving a minimum of 15 to 18 months to make training them worthwhile. They must have no history of gang-related, sexual or violent crimes.

    Because fire bases are much less secure than prisons, jails or other penal camps, they can’t have any history of escape attempts. These are almost exclusively low-level offenders. Basically, the very sort of prisoners most likely to see sentences shortened by Proposition 47.

          No one is quite certain yet how much that will cut into the pool of suitable prisoners available for fire duty, which sees inmates leaving secure facilities up to four days a week even when there’s no fire crisis. If there’s no fire to work, they often clear brush and perform other fire prevention and mitigation duties.

          It’s an aspect of convict life few if any voters considered before voting on Proposition 47. Yes, they heard a lot of about possible recidivism, speculation about how many of the newly-released prisoners would be back in the justice system again soon for new offenses.

          Predictions differed on that one, and so far, recidivism has varied widely, from as few as 9 percent of those released to some counties in the law’s first three months of operation up to 60 percent in others.

          The fear is that offenders smart enough to keep each haul of shoplifted goods or forged and deliberately bounced checks under $950 will be back again and again, released each time because their crimes are small enough to be considered minor.

          Of course, even if some of these folks slip up and steal enough to go back to jail or prison for a low-level felony, there’s some question whether they’d be allowed onto fire crews, with their relative ease of escape. That’s often judged case by case. So recidivism may not help replenish the inmate firefighting pool depleted by Proposition 47.

          And there’s the fact that the initiative was sold in part as a money saver. Shifting thousands of prisoners away from the penal system was supposed to save untold millions of dollars. But more misdemeanor prosecutions have meant increased workloads for city attorneys who often handle those lower-level criminal cases, increasing pressure to expand their staffs.

          If it reduces inmate fire crews, as expected at this time of anticipated great need for them, there will also be costs for hiring and training new civilian firefighters.

          It all adds up to a classic situation of the sort Bobby Burns decried. For sure, Proposition 47 is turning out to have wrinkles and expenses no one anticipated when laying its very well-intentioned plan.

    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




          It’s time once more to roll out the lyrics of The Who’s classic 1971 song, Won’t Get Fooled Again when examining the California Public Utilities Commission, which nominally exists to make sure monopoly utility companies don’t overcharge their captive-audience customers.

    “Meet the new boss; same as the old boss,” went the words written by Peter Townshend. And with the PUC these days, nothing could be more descriptive.

    Get rid of Michael Peevey, the conventional wisdom went last winter, and the PUC would likely return to its basic mission and stop constantly favoring utility companies over their customers in every decision related to rates.

          And Michael Picker, the former adviser to Gov. Jerry Brown whom the governor named as PUC president after Peevey stepped down amid a still-ongoing investigation of corruption, made pious noises about transparency and openness.

          But the first major decision under his aegis reveals that nothing has changed. The PUC, founded in the early 20th Century to limit monopolies like Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric Co., has once again given the utilities just what they want.

          This decision essentially codifies a practice known as “robbing the hood.” Where for decades, the largest California electricity users have paid higher rates for their excesses, now they and small users will soon begin paying roughly equal amounts.

          This was explained by Picker’s PUC (although the idea originated during Peevey’s tenure) as a means of ending the “subsidies” small users living in apartments enjoy at the expense of wealthy folk who use wads of electricity to power their hot tubs and Teslas.

     Although specific new rates were not immediately set when the PUC early this month unanimously voted for the change, it is eventually expected to cost small users about 20 percent more each month, or approximately $10 extra for starters, the tab to rise as power costs go up. So it’s a reverse Robin Hood kind of thing, harming the poor and helping the rich. That’s how it earns the “robbing the hood” sobriquet.

          Of course, the PUC didn’t mention that the really big beneficiaries of the change aren’t residential customers of any kind, not even the wealthiest energy hogs. The largest benefits will go to big businesses like oil refineries and computer chip makers, which use enormous amounts of power.

          This proposal originated with PG&E, the same company indicted for criminal negligence in its fatal mismanagement of natural gas pipelines. The utilities will make billions of dollar more under the new system than they do now; just how much has yet to be determined.

          The sad part of all this is that there appears little hope the PUC will anytime soon diverge from its longtime pattern of favoring big utility companies over their tens of millions of customers.

          This pattern extended to natural gas during the early 2000s, when PG&E and Sempra Energy, parent of both Southern California Gas Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric, got the Peevey-led PUC to push hard to bring liquefied natural gas (LNG) from places like Indonesia and Australia to California at enormous expense.

          This state needed LNG, said both the utilities and the PUC, because a domestic natural gas shortage was impending and the PUC arranged for the state to give up most of its reserved space on two of the three big pipelines bringing natural gas here from Texas, Oklahoma and the Rocky Mountain region.

          That plan was nixed when the state Lands Commission, then led by ex-Lt. Gov. John Garamendi and current state Treasurer John Chiang, refused to allow construction of pipelines across state-owned tidelands in Ventura County. Since then, hydraulic fracking has produced a surplus of domestic natural gas, putting the lie to all the PUC and utility company claims of impending shortage and consumers have saved billions compared to what they’d be paying if the companies were buying LNG.

          Still, almost no one heeded the PUC’s constant favoring the utility companies over consumers. Similarly, there were no large-scale protests when the PUC this month changed the electric pricing system, to the great detriment of most customers.

          Apparently, not even a criminal investigation can get reporters and the public they serve to see through the subterfuges used by PUC members and their utility company cronies.

          Which brings to mind the classic observation of Thomas Jefferson: “In a democracy, the people get precisely the government they deserve.”

    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, July 8, 2015




          “A foolish consistency,” the philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson once noted, “is the hobgoblin of little minds,” and no one has ever accused Gov. Jerry Brown of being small minded. So why be surprised when he completely reverses himself as he did the other day on vaccinations?

          Less than three years ago, Brown signed into law a plan allowing parents to place in public schools children who had not been vaccinated for diseases like polio, measles, mumps, smallpox and whooping cough. These once were plagues that killed thousands of children yearly, but by the end of the last century they had been virtually eradicated from industrialized countries. Vaccinations did that job.

          The bill Brown signed in 2012 required parents not wanting to meet schools’ vaccination standards to present written proof they had heard from a health professional the pluses and minuses of getting the shots, which are often dispensed free, at public expense. But he attached a signing message that essentially negated the law he had just helped create: it ordered public health officials to craft a form where parents could simply claim vaccinating their children violates their religious beliefs.

          Never mind that no organized or even quasi-organized religion, from Roman Catholicism to Christian Science to Orthodox Judaism to Hinduism, Scientology and Wiccanism, opposed vaccination then and only the black Muslim Nation of Islam does now.

          The next 30 months saw two outbreaks of pertussis (whooping cough) and one – much more publicized – burst of measles that allegedly began at Disneyland, which has no vaccination rules.

          No one blamed Brown for those disease flare-ups. But there’s no doubt he keeps track of the news and realized that if a similar outbreak ever reached epidemic proportions, he would be blamed. Disease, not construction projects like bullet trains or water tunnels, could become his most prominent legacy.

          So when a much tougher public school vaccination law reached his desk this month, he signed it instantly. It takes effect next year.

          “The science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infectious and dangerous diseases,” went his latest signing message, “…the evidence shows that immunization powerfully benefits and protects the community.”

          Where in 2012 Brown spokesmen rationalized his move by saying he aimed “to take into account First Amendment religious freedoms through an extremely narrow exemption,” this time there was no mention of either religion or an exemption, other than for home-schooled kids and children with medical reasons not to be vaccinated.

          No form this time where parents too lazy or too fearful to get their kids vaccinated can easily lie by checking a box saying they are religiously opposed to the shots.

          No foolish consistency here from Brown, who has not just vacillated, but completely reversed himself in the space of three years. It’s not the first time he’s done that, the most famous prior occasion coming after the June 1978 passage of the Proposition 13 property tax limits. Back then, Brown had spent the spring as the chief opponent of the initiative, sponsored by anti-tax gadflies Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann.

          When it passed – by a margin of about 30 percent – Brown instantly became its most active proponent, quickly meeting with Jarvis and Gann and signing enabling legislation that still plagues the state with nonsensical definitions of what constitutes a change of ownership.

          Back then, there were no crazies to dog Brown’s path toward embracing Proposition 13. This time, there are plenty of misinformed parents still determined not to vaccinate their kids. They may qualify a referendum for next fall’s ballot, trying to cancel the new law. They’re still staging vocal protests.

          But don’t expect Brown to change his mind again. He’s far too practical (some call it opportunism). He knows, as he did when he issued his signing message in 2012, that opposition to vaccination is based primarily on the widely circulated myth of a link to autism, since recanted by the British academic whose flawed study is at its base.

          Also, don’t expect Brown ever to acknowledge his signing message of three years ago was a big-time error. While he’s prone to reversing himself, public mea culpas are not a habit for this former seminarian.

          This reversal was strictly a practical matter, and as Jarvis and Gann discovered long ago, Jerry Brown can be pragmatism (or opportunism) personified.


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 




          Water flows downhill. It’s a basic reality now playing out 500 feet below the surface of California’s farmland everywhere from the fertile Central Valley to the citrus orchards of Riverside and San Diego counties.

          But it’s a physical fact to which government so far pays no apparent heed. That's one big reason crops from Valencia oranges to nectarines, Santa Rosa plums and both yellow and white peaches seem smaller than usual this year.

          Here’s what’s happening: As surface supplies from the state Water Project and the Central Valley Project grow ever more scarce, farmers who can afford to are drilling their wells lower and lower, to the point where many bores now stretch more than 550 feet below the surface, reports the U.S. Geological Survey.

          Because most older wells reach depths between 50 and 150 feet below the surface, when deeper wells are installed, water from shallower aquifers flows to them when geologic formations permit.

          With well drilling costs now reaching about $225 per foot, and some wells as deep as 1,200 feet, a new well can cost much more than $200,000,  far more than many family-owned farms can pay. Which means large corporate farms are hogging a lot of water, decreasing crop sizes and yields from smaller operations.

          Under current law, there’s nothing any farmer can do about it when a deeper well is sunk under nearby property, draining supplies that in some cases have lasted generations.

          “They’re taking my water,” says Jack Balama, a longtime fruit farmer on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. “Basically, they’re drilling under my wells and I can’t stop them. So my nectarines and peaches are sweet this year, but not nearly as big as usual. It’s sad.”

          That’s why there’s a distinctly hollow ring when Gov. Jerry Brown touts California’s new groundwater regulation law as one of the signal achievements of his second run as the boss in Sacramento.

          Not only does the timetable for the 2014 law mean that significant limits on pumping groundwater won't be enforceable until about 2030, when supplies could well be even more depleted than today's, but at least until then no one will know who is using the most of this essentially irreplaceable resource.

          Which highlights the need for another new groundwater law, this time one that forces quick metering of ground water use. If the public knew for sure who is drawing the most water from the state’s limited underground streams, lakes and ponds, better known as aquifers, customers could react in whatever way they want, from boycotting water hogs to gravitating to their more conservation-minded neighbors.

          But this won’t happen soon. Corporate farmers are often big political donors; they saw to it that not a single legislator from the Central Valley region voted for even the weak ground water law passed last year.

          Plus, there has long been resistance to water metering of any kind in the Central Valley. Many Valley communities have just begun metering water use in homes and businesses, and some don’t have meters yet, even though they will soon be everywhere.

          The drought this year will see farmers around the state fallow 560,000 acres, the most in recent history, report researchers at UC Davis. This will mean 19,000 fewer jobs than without the drought. It means drivers traveling the major north-south highways through the Central Valley, I-5 and U.S. 99, will see vast vistas of bleak and vacant brown earth, some dotted with political signage casting blame for the scene on just about everyone but the farmers themselves.

          The signs indicate conflict, but this time it’s not just cities vs. farms or fish vs. people, as drought battles are often cast by political spin doctors, but it’s farm against farm.

    The trouble is that farmers whose wells suddenly run dry can’t always tell where their water has gone. All they know is that it has flowed downhill somewhere away from them, and the lack of any metering means no one can be held responsible.

          Which makes it high time for politicians from the governor on down to stop bragging about passage of a very meek law and start acting to pass a tough one that might actually bring some equity to California’s water scene.

    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