Monday, November 13, 2017

BROWN STILL HELPING DEVELOPERS EVADE CEQA

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, DECEMBER 1, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
      “BROWN STILL HELPING DEVELOPERS EVADE CEQA”


          “I’ve never seen a CEQA exemption I don’t like.” – Gov. Jerry Brown.


          Brown made that observation shortly after starting his second go-‘round as California’s chief executive in early 2011, reacting wryly to his 1990s experience as mayor of Oakland, where the California Environmental Quality Act often forced him to battle for pet housing and school projects, including a military academy he still cherishes.


          So ever since Brown resumed the governor’s office he previously held for eight years in the 1970s and ‘80s, he’s okayed one exemption after another to CEQA, passed in 1970, signed by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan and still the state’s key environmental law.


          He’s gone along with the developer- and union-influenced Legislature time after time, especially on sports-related projects. These include the Sacramento Kings’ new arena, another arena in the works for the Golden State Warriors in the Mission Bay section of San Francisco, the abortive Farmers Field professional football stadium once proposed for downtown Los Angeles and another failed football venue in Carson.


          The largest project to circumvent CEQA so far is the under-construction 70,000-seat football stadium and commercial development on the Inglewood site of the former Hollywood Park racetrack that will house both the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers starting in 2020 or 2021.


          That stadium evaded most CEQA issues via a local ballot initiative in sports-mad Inglewood, the former longtime home of basketball’s Los Angeles Lakers. The measure took advantage of an earlier CEQA change which allows developers to qualify local initiatives okaying the projects for a local ballot and then lets city councils adopt those initiatives with no public vote or debate. There’s also no prohibition on voting by city council members who have taken campaign donations from developers involved. Only existing laws banning direct and provable quid-pro-quos apply here.


          The emphasis has been on sports projects when it comes to CEQA speedups and exemptions under Brown, but it also includes heavy pushes for items like the so-called Crossroads of the World development near the already jammed intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue in Los Angeles.


          Now Brown has approved yet another major CEQA exemption, this one carried in the Legislature by Democratic Assemblyman Miguel Santiago of Los Angeles. The new measure would allow speedups in the approval process for both a planned expansion of Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park and twin skyscrapers near the existing landmark round Capital Records building in Hollywood.


          Santiago’s measure entitles any project that costs more than $100 million and meets union-level wage standards, plus standards for greenhouse gas controls, to get final resolution of any CEQA-related lawsuit within nine months. Objectors to many proposed projects attempt to use CEQA strictures in filing lawsuits aiming to stop developments, big and small.


          But after local citizen groups objected, legislators did not send Brown another measure that would have largely exempted from CEQA a new Inglewood arena for the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team.


          It’s also a truism in modern California that the more transit projects like light rail are built, the more apartment buildings will quickly go up near it, including both affordable and market-rate housing.


          Brown, who styles himself a worldwide environmental leader because of his strong backing for renewable energy and his constant battles to stem climate change, had no problem with any of these exemptions. Essentially, he has facilitated some of the most significant building projects in recent California history with little environmental review.


          But Brown’s past frustrations with delays in Oakland are no justification for depriving citizens of their right to input on big developments near their homes and businesses, as Brown has now done repeatedly.


          It’s almost as if Brown has a severe case of amnesia, forgetting his 2010 campaign promise to devolve more government authority to local citizens and away from state government.


          All this is sure to go down in state history as one of the least green and least positive legacies of his long political career.



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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 tdelias@aol.com. For More Elias columns, go to www.californiafocus.net

HOW ABOUT INCENTIVES IN BULLET TRAIN CONTRACTS?

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE:  TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 28, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
   “HOW ABOUT INCENTIVES IN BULLET TRAIN CONTRACTS?”


          Reports rise almost weekly about missed construction deadlines and other time problems for California’s embattled bullet train project, which hopes to see passengers move between Los Angeles and San Francisco in well under three hours sometime around 2030.


          But the state’s High Speed Rail Authority, charged with spending almost $10 billion in state bond money approved by voters nine years ago, along with federal grant money and other funds from state sources like the cap-and-trade program, denies it has missed a single deadline.


          “We have not missed any completion dates,” insists project spokeswoman Lisa Marie Alley. The authority even issued a press release announcing it met all federal timing requirements for more than $2.55 billion in 2009 grant money, while generating $4 billion in economic activity in the state.


          And yet, no portion of the project, which will eventually also see terminals in Anaheim and Sacramento is anywhere near completion. It’s possible none will be completed if the myriad lawsuits against the project ever succeed.    


          That’s one reason a report on the Breitbart News California website looked credible at first glance the other day, when it said the authority had extended a deadline for prime contract work by the Tutor-Perini/Zachry/Parsons (TPZP) consortium on the 32-mile first stretch between Madera and south Fresno. Breitbart also said the consortium got an 18 percent raise amounting to almost $8 million for that stretch.


          Well… not exactly. The HSR directors actually increased the contingency fund for work on their first segment by $35 million; none earmarked for the TPZP group. The money, said the directors, will “address short-term needs and avoid delaying…critical activities through November.” As of early November, Alley said, the contractors had received none of that money. Nor were any deadlines extended.


          So much for the accuracy of “fake news” critic Stephen Bannon, the former top adviser to President Trump who heads Breitbart.


          All this, however, begs the question of whether the project can really be on time, as officials claim, when not even one short segment is finished more than two years after construction began.


          Which leads to a simple question: Why not put time incentives into bullet train contracts? This is perfectly legal (“We could opt to do that, but… have not done so,” said Alley) and has been effective when the state did use it.


          The best examples of incentives speeding work without increasing costs, while boosting local economies far more than the expenses involved, came immediately after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and the 1994 Northridge shock.


          After Loma Prieta, incentives were written into a contract with the C.C. Myers construction firm of Rancho Cordova, which rebuilt two bridges on California 1 near Watsonville in 55 days – 45 days less than what was allotted for the job. Myers got an incentive bonus of $30,000 for each day it was early.


          It was the same five years later, when two key bridges collapsed along  the world’s busiest road, the I-10 Santa Monica Freeway in Los Angeles. Exactly 66 days later and 74 days ahead of deadline, that freeway reopened and commuters stopped using detours that cost them about 30 minutes in each direction they drove. That ended daily costs to the local economy estimated at well over $1 million per day for delays to goods and services. Myers again did the work, pocketing about $14 million in incentive bonuses, part of which it spent on extra workers and overtime.


          The outcome was similar on five other incentive contracts to rebuild earthquake-damaged bridges.


          Despite the proven effectiveness of incentives, Caltrans and other state agencies let the practice lapse. The bullet train has no plans to use them, either. “We have and plan to continue to use design-build and or design-bid-build (contracts) that do not include an incentive,” the authority said.


          The HSR authority gave no reason for such rigidity, and perhaps it will change its mind and do the logical thing if it ever falls behind a legally-mandated deadline.


          But history shows incentives get work done more quickly and create more jobs, even if they are temporary like most construction work. If California’s next governor is smart, he or she will insist on this tactic as a condition of appointment to the authority’s board, whenever vacancies come up.

                  

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     Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, go to www.californiafocus.net

Monday, November 6, 2017

PROP. 54: A BALLOT INITIATIVE THAT WORKED

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 24, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
          “PROP. 54: A BALLOT INITIATIVE THAT WORKED”


          There’s nothing politicians and lobbyists in this state hate more than the ballot initiative process to which they all pay hypocritical verbal homage every chance they get.


          It’s easy to see why they don’t like lawmaking by the public, the essence of initiatives: The process takes important issues out of their hands. It can alter their working conditions in ways they don’t like.


          Sure, politicians will occasionally make use of initiatives, as Republican businessman John Cox and Orange County GOP Assemblyman Travis Allen are doing now in making pet initiatives the centerpieces of their underdog campaigns for governor. Cox is pushing a measure to multiply by 1,000 the number of state legislators, while Allen has virtually appropriated the effort to repeal the state’s new gas tax increase.


          Similarly, ex-Gov. Pete Wilson used the anti-illegal immigrant Proposition 187 to prop up his reelection campaign in 1994 and current Gov. Jerry Brown used the 2012 Proposition 30 tax increases to balance his budgets.


          But politicians generally hate ballot initiatives unless they’re making such use of them. Brown, for example, opposed the landmark 1978 Proposition 13 property tax cuts because they interfered with his own efforts at tax reform. Most legislators fought tooth and nail against Proposition 20, which created the Coastal Commission and has limited development near beaches and view areas.


          But it’s hard to find an initiative that has affected legislators more than Proposition 54, which passed just over one year ago and requires that proposed laws cannot be passed unless they’ve been available in print or via the Internet for at least 72 hours before passage.


          Because of Prop. 54, voters could see the final form of Brown’s proposal for California to join a Western regional electricity grid before it actually passed, rather than having to react after the fact as has happened with many last-minute bills in recent years. Because of that notice and the possibility this plan might cause a new energy crunch, opponents could organize loud protests and the proposition died – for now.


          Similarly, a plan to exempt a new Inglewood arena for the Los Angeles Clippers from provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act also was shelved because it became obvious when the plan was exposed to a little daylight that it could set a bad precedent, despite Brown’s distaste for CEQA. His signature was a virtual certainty if this one had passed, like several prior stadium and arena exemptions favoring developers and big business.


          No one can be sure just how many lousy measures Prop. 54 spared Californians, because the notorious gut-and-amend proposals that have been common in recent decades were drastically lessened this fall. In that process, legislative proposals which already have a name and number have often been totally changed to cover subjects unrelated to those affected by the original bill. When that’s done at the last moment, the public has no chance for any input.


          By forcing legislators to make such changes at least three days before final votes are taken, Prop. 54 moved up the amendment process, often by months. The result ought to be better legislation, although only time will tell how that will pan out.


          All this does not mean California’s lawmaking process is now perfect. With legislators voting on hundreds of bills during the final week of their session, it’s impossible for them to cast informed votes on most items. One result is that party-line votes become more common, with members of the Assembly and state Senate taking their cues from their leadership.


          It’s a problem very similar to what went on with health care this fall in Washington, D.C., where Congress members and senators were forced to vote on Republican proposals to repeal and replace Obamacare – the Affordable Care Act – without knowing how many Americans they would deprive of health insurance.


          Here’s a suggestion for a future initiative to further improve state lawmaking: Stagger the deadline for bill passage, with firm limits on the number of bills legislators can consider during any one week. Yes, this might cut down the number of bills proposed in any one session, but does anyone really believe we need all the proposed laws now being put forward each year?


         
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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 tdelias@aol.com 

PARTISAN SCHISMS THE RESULT OF ONE-PARTY RULE

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 21, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “PARTISAN SCHISMS THE RESULT OF ONE-PARTY RULE”


          Some of the 25 surviving Republicans in the state Assembly – a politically endangered species in today’s California – rebelled against their minority leader this summer because he went along with Democrats in authorizing a continuation of the state’s cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gases and fight climate change.


Those Assembly members were not alone: Earlier in the year, the board of directors of the state GOP voted 13-7 to ask Redlands Assemblyman Chad Mayes to resign as the party leader in the Legislature’s lower house. His offense: Mayes wanted his party to reach out to non-Republicans now that GOP voter registration has fallen to third place in half a dozen legislative districts, behind Democrats and independents.


          This represents a full-fledged party schism, with the Republican right wing led by former gubernatorial candidate Tim Donnelly and other hard-liners insisting on full-out support of President Trump and ideological purity on social issues like gun control and abortion.


          The Democratic Party also has a divide. Democrats dominate voter registration as no political party ever has in California and hold every statewide elected office from governor to insurance commissioner.


          While many Republicans feel some of their representatives are insufficiently conservative, a lot of Democrats believe their party is too wishy-washy, too deeply in bed with large corporate contributors and not as “progressive” as they would like.


          So during party caucuses last winter, the left-wing – led by devotees of Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders – turned out in big numbers and sent hundreds of grass roots members as delegates to the springtime state party convention where the Democrats’ longtime Los Angeles County chief Eric Bauman was narrowly elected to succeed San Francisco’s John Burton as state chair.


          Richmond-based party organizer Kimberly Ellis lost that race by 57 votes out of almost 3,000 and immediately challenged the result. Party committees later affirmed Bauman’s election, but Ellis vowed a court challenge, claiming party committees were biased.


          There’s also Democratic Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon of Paramount in Los Angeles County, who in early summer essentially killed a Senate-passed bill setting up a single-payer health care system for the state. His move so angered some liberals for whom that is a pet cause that they quickly made him the target of a recall effort.


          And five Democratic Assembly members were targeted by full-page ads in local newspapers for being undecided for awhile on a bill to create a statewide immigration sanctuary policy.


          All this is in many ways the result of the Democrats’ stranglehold on state government and voter preferences. Among Democrats, there’s little sense of peril in challenging party leaders. Their voter registration numbers are so much larger than Republicans’ and their success among independents is so much greater than the GOP’s that they have no worries about party splits somehow producing Republican victories.


          In fact, the most dramatic races now shaping up for governor and other statewide offices pit Democrats against one another. For example, no Republican has yet indicated interest in opposing Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s reelection or in getting into a race to replace her if she retires at 84. But other Democrats are in.


          Nor do Republicans act as if they have much prospect, or even hope, to improve their position here during the Trump presidency. So Ronald Reagan’s “11th Commandment” – “Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican” – is all but forgotten. The essence of many Republicans’ approach: If you’re going to lose anyhow, you might as well be pure.


          So far, few Democrats show signs of worry about their split, a leftover from last year’s bitter primary battle between Sanders and Hillary Clinton.


          But some Republicans, including Mayes, want to improve their party’s position. “We can remain in denial and continue to lose elections, influence and relevance,” he wrote in a recent essay. “Or we can…articulate our principles in a way that resonates with a changing California.”


          The party’s nominal top-ranking officeholder, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, added that Republicans “must focus first and foremost on fixing California” and “regain (its) role as the party of freedom.”


          None of these party schisms would exist if state Democrats were not so dominant. But one-party rule creates movements toward ideological purity in both parties, and no one can be sure where that might lead.

         


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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 tdelias@aol.com 

Monday, October 30, 2017

DEMS CAN’T ASSUME TRUMP MEANS AUTOMATIC CONGRESS WINS

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 17, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
   “DEMS CAN’T ASSUME TRUMP MEANS AUTOMATIC CONGRESS WINS”


          It’s not by accident that Jeff Denham, David Valadao, Devin Nunes, Ed Royce, Mimi Walters, Darrell Issa, Dana Rohrabacher and Steve Knight, all California Republicans now in Congress, have survived and thrived through multiple terms in spite of frequent indicators that they were endangered in their very disparate districts.


          Democrats downplay this political and personal reality this fall, as they gear up for hotly contested primary contests where the prize is the opportunity to take on one of those Republicans.


          The assumption among most Democrats is that because of sometimes-looney behavior and words by President Trump, next fall will see many, many Democratic victories, perhaps enough for them to take back the House of Representatives for the first time since 2010, when Republicans won a sweeping majority.


          The GOP margin now stands at 241 members to 194, after Democrats gained six seats in 2016, still falling 47 shy of taking over. That means Democrats must flip 24 seats next year to regain control of the House, and they see most of those eight sometimes embattled California Republicans as ripe for the ousting.


          The have no such illusions about this state’s six other Republicans in Congress: the likes of Tom McClintock, Paul Cook, Doug LaMalfa, Kevin McCarthy, Ken Calvert and Duncan Hunter all appear safe from any sudden Democratic storm because they represent essentially rock-ribbed Republican districts. Not even their votes to kill Obamacare – the Affordable Care Act whose health insurance covers many thousands in their districts – are enough to threaten any of them.


          But things seem different in those other eight districts, one reason why multiple hopefuls have risen up in almost all those places in hopes of taking on long-established incumbents like Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Democrat Hillary Clinton carried his 39th District straddling parts of Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino counties in 2016, putting a target on Royce’s back for the first time in many years.


          Rohrabacher’s coastal Orange County district was also long considered safely Republican, but his reputation as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “favorite congressman” renders him unusually vulnerable next year. Still, Rohrabacher has often won with very large margins, and the several Democrats seeking to take him on next November would be foolish to assume he’s a lame duck.


          The same for Issa, whose district covering parts of northern San Diego County and southern Orange County was long a safe GOP area. True, he won reelection by just 1,600 votes last year, the smallest margin of any Republican in Congress, but his car-alarm fortune has so far provided all the funds he’s needed to repel threats once he took them seriously. Issa, reputedly the richest man in Congress, is clearly scared. Yes, he voted for Obamacare repeal, along with all his California colleagues, but he also plumped for a plan of his own offering all Americans the same health insurance options open to members of Congress.


          He’s moderated other of his stances lately, too, becoming more of a physical presence in his district than he’s perhaps ever been.


          Meanwhile, the huge Latino pluralities in the Central Valley districts of Denham, Nunes and Valadao have never seriously threatened any of them, but could this time because of their health care votes. Nunes, the committee chairman,  also could be dogged by his forced recusal from the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian involvement in Trump’s 2016 campaign.


          And Knight, a narrow winner last time in his Palmdale-Santa Clarita district, will face at least as formidable a challenge next year as in his last campaign, itself a close call, even though it’s uncertain who will be his runoff opponent.


          Each of these races is different, but all have the common theme of voters possibly wanting to crimp Trump’s power, while other voters will not forgive the incumbents for their health care votes.


          Still, every one of these Republicans has faced concerted opposition before, and none has lost yet. If Democrats assume they can easily oust any or all of them, they could be in for a surprise and another national defeat.


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    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net


ANOTHER BIG UTILITY UNDER SUSPICION IN FIRE DISASTERS

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


EDITORS: TO ENSURE TIMELINESS, DISREGARD EMBARGO DATE


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “ANOTHER BIG UTILITY UNDER SUSPICION IN FIRE DISASTERS”


          As disastrous and deadly wildfires raged through once-lovely residential areas in the Wine Country and other Northern California points this fall, there were signs that the aftermath could play out similarly to a scene that began almost exactly 10 years earlier in Southern California.


          Loud claims were heard this time that negligent maintenance of power lines and poles, together with insufficient brush cutting near them by Pacific Gas & Electric Co., were among reasons for the fast spread of those flames, which consumed well over 8,000 homes and buildings and took several dozen lives.


          If that’s ever proven, one state senator demanded, PG&E should be broken up. Said Democrat Jerry Hill of San Mateo, a persistent thorn in utilities’ sides, “If we find that in this particular case – and we don’t know the cause yet – then frankly I don’t think PG&E should do business in California any more,” he said. “They’ve crossed the line too many times,” he added, referring to the company’s federal negligence conviction in the multi-fatal 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion. “They would need to be dissolved in some way, split.”


          Suspicions against PG&E result in part from what happened in October 2007, when winds up to 100 mph whipped arcing power lines owned by San Diego Gas & Electric Co., eventually starting a small fire near Ramona, in eastern San Diego County. Known as the Witch Creek Fire, this blaze grew exponentially and reached the San Diego city limits. It combined with two other fires, and burned down whole neighborhoods. More than 1,125 residences were destroyed as at least 197,000 acres burned in some of California’s highest-priced neighborhoods.


          Like this fall, evacuations were ordered over the almost three weeks those fires burned in cities like Oceanside and Encinitas, Del Mar Heights and Carmel Valley, Rancho Santa Fe and the heavily afflicted Rancho Bernardo. The evacuations eventually involved about half a million persons, still the largest ever in this state.


          But nothing untoward happened to SDG&E afterward. In fact, the state Public Utilities Commission right now is evaluating a rate case that could have consumers pay 90 percent of the utility’s $379 million in fire-related costs. The PUC’s long history of favoring utilities over consumers suggests the company will get at least a good part of what it’s asking.


          Like PG&E, the San Diego company is obliged to serve fire-prone areas, so it says having customers pay 90 percent of its costs is consistent with past PUC  rulings involving hazardous wastes and other problems.


          If PG&E’s equipment is eventually found to be a proximate cause for this year’s hugely destructive fires, don’t bet on it being punished any more heavily than it was over San Bruno, even if there proves to be truth to allegations that PG&E has helped stall a PUC effort to map where power lines pose the greatest wildfire risks.



          One newspaper’s review of documents from that mapping project showed utilities have repeatedly asked to slow down the effort, saying some proposed regulations would “add unnecessary costs to construction and maintenance projects in rural areas.”


           “The sad part,” Hill told one reporter, “is the (maps) didn’t arrive before these fires…It’s an outrageous example of negligence by a regulatory agency.”


          For sure, with knowledge from the Witch Creek Fire long in hand, there should have been no delays in mapping utility line danger points all around California and forcing power companies to mitigate them. But that didn’t happen, and the strict new regulations likely to follow completion of the maps do not yet exist.


          Meanwhile, PG&E officials weren’t saying much about these issues, instead insisting they’ve focused on restoring power to the hundreds of thousands of residents who lost electricity and natural gas service during the Northern California firestorms.


          The bottom line is that the PUC will most likely be exposed again as lax in its regulation of major utilities in this state. It’s probably too late in Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration to expect him to suddenly start pressuring the commission to change course. But the next governor, to be elected in just under one year, should push major reforms, possibly even press to make PUC members elected officials and not political appointees.


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    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net


Monday, October 23, 2017

ONE YEAR OUT – BIG ELECTION YEAR ON TAP FOR DEMOCRATS, NOT GOP

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “ONE YEAR OUT – BIG ELECTION YEAR ON TAP FOR DEMOCRATS, NOT GOP”


          Pity the poor California Republican Party. While its national brethren control both houses of Congress and the White House and might as well control the U.S. Supreme Court, chances are no California Republican will even make next November’s ballot in either of the top-of-ticket races
whose outcome will be known about one year from today.


          It’s quite the opposite for California Democrats, who exert even more control here than Republicans do in Washington, D.C. While it looks like the next year will be dreary for the state GOP, trying desperately to hold onto the meager 14 California congressional seats it now holds, multiple Democrats lead all polls and fundraising in the race to become California’s next governor – perhaps the second most powerful job in America. So far, only Democrats are among major prospects to oppose longtime California Democratic grandee Dianne Feinstein for the Senate seat she’s long held in what promises to become a classic intraparty spat.


          Even in down-the-ticket races, it’s similar. Example: It now looks like the November runoff for attorney general will match the appointed incumbent Xavier Becerra and current state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, who did not flinch or drop out when Gov. Jerry Brown last year named veteran Congressman Becerra to replace new Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris.


          No significant Republican candidate has yet risen for any statewide office except governor, where Orange County Assemblyman Travis Allen and Republican businessman John Cox both hope ballot initiative fights can propel them to the ballot.


          Allen seeks to ride a tide he believes will lead to repeal of the state’s new environmentally-motivated gasoline tax increase, while Cox is again pushing a measure that would expand the Legislature a thousandfold.


          No one knows yet if either putative proposition will draw the fervent support these men hope for, but others have ridden initiatives into office, an example being ex-Gov. Pete Wilson, who attached himself to the 1994 Proposition 187, which aimed to take almost all privileges away from undocumented immigrants, including emergency room service and public schooling. Most of its provisions were later tossed out by federal courts, but the vast majority of the 65 percent of Californians who backed 187 also voted for Wilson as he beat former state Treasurer Kathleen Brown, sister of the current governor.


          Because both Allen and Cox have polled in the vicinity of 8 percent in every major survey, if Republicans want a spot on the gubernatorial runoff ballot, they will likely need to convince one or the other to bow out. Things could get even tougher for them if Chad Mayes, the former leader of GOP members of the state Assembly, makes good on a hint he will also run.


In the land of political egos, though, it can be difficult to get determined candidates to quit a race merely out of party loyalty. Meanwhile, both leading Democrats in the race, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and ex-Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, poll at least as much as Cox and Allen together. In the land of Top Two primaries, that almost guarantees an all-Democrat race even if one Republican drops out.


          Over on the Senate side, only Democrats so far have mounted anything like credible early campaigns against Feinstein. There is as yet no public polling on this race, but no Republican figure with name recognition akin to what Kevin de Leon acquired during three years leading the state Senate has entered the race. Meanwhile, Democratic billionaire Tom Steyer, mulling a Senate run, can write himself a check for however much he wants or needs.


          It’s true that largely self-funded candidates aside from muscleman movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger have not had much luck seeking California office. The defeated include former Northwest Airlines chief Al (Checkbook) Checchi, financier William Simon, Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman and shipping heir William Matson Roth.


          Unlike them, Steyer, with the large mailing list of his NextGen environmental organization readily at hand, would have no trouble raising significant money from others.


          Put it all together, and it looks like many California Republicans will be mostly occupied in the next year staving off congressional challenges fueled by massive California hostility toward President Trump and anyone backing his agenda.


          This should keep the races for top offices largely in the hands of Democrats, who could have major intra-party warfare.


         
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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 tdelias@aol.com 

HIGH TIME FOR PUC TO FIX ITS SAN ONOFRE ‘SETTLEMENT'

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “HIGH TIME FOR PUC TO FIX ITS SAN ONOFRE ‘SETTLEMENT’”


          The California Public Utilities Commission now says it wants closure on its most contentious, most questionable decision of the last few decades.


This comes more than four years after a clandestine meeting between the commission’s then-president Michael Peevey and officials of the Southern California Edison Co. set parameters for “settling” the division of costs for shutting down the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, on the coast near the Orange-San Diego county line.


          The so-called settlement among the PUC, Edison, San Onofre part-owner San Diego Gas & Electric and a so-called consumer group called The Utility Reform Network (TURN) saddled electricity customers with about 70 per cent of the expense of the 2012 shutdown, caused by an Edison blunder. That came to $3.3 billion out of the $4.7 billion total cost.


          Edison tried to recoup some costs of the shutdown by suing the maker of the failed steam generator that caused the problem, Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries for hundreds of millions. But the utility won only a fraction of what it sought. So a promise in the San Onofre settlement giving half the lawsuit proceeds to consumers became essentially meaningless.


          Even before that court decision, the commission in May 2016 conceded there may have been something fishy about the decision spurred by that secret meeting, which violated even the PUC’s own loose rules.


          It’s taken since then for the commission to schedule a new set of public hearings – the first ever in the case – at which consumers and others can speak out about the possibly illegal settlement, which came before any hearings on the issue could be held.


          “This matter is long overdue for resolution,” wrote current PUC President Michael Picker and PUC Judge Darcie Houck in the order setting up the hearings.


          You don’t say, Mr. Picker. Picker, then merely one of the five commission members, voted for the settlement, never saying whether he knew of the irregular meeting between Edison and Peevey, not coincidentally a former Edison president. He’s refused ever since to divulge why he voted yes.


          Now ordinary citizens can at last speak out. Between now and the end of January, opinions and new information can be sent to the PUC public advisor at 505 Van Ness St., San Francisco, CA 94102. Public hearings start in Los Angeles in February, with more the next month in San Diego. A supposedly final PUC decision will come later.


          Clearly, the commission wants this stain on its record to fade away at last, after it has inflamed public opinion about the agency for years. At the same time, Edison and SDG&E will fight to keep the settlement as is.


          The PUC also wants closure on the related criminal investigation that’s been hanging over it since subpoenas and search warrants were issued and carried out against it and Peevey in early 2014 because of their actions in this case.


The investigation began under former Attorney General Kamala Harris, now a U.S. senator, and may have continued under her appointed successor Xavier Becerra. Becerra’s office has refused to answer questions from this column and others about the investigation, not even indicating whether it is still ongoing.


          “The Attorney General’s office has sent mixed signals concerning the status of its investigation,” griped PUC lawyer Pamela Naughton in a court filing.


          Naughton is among the private criminal lawyers hired by the PUC at public expense of more than $10 million because it was up against the attorney general, who normally represents the commission. Neither the PUC nor anyone else has ever cited any law allowing the PUC to hire private lawyers with public money to defend actions by individual commissioners or staffers. This may be another PUC scandal waiting to break.


          But Naughton, no matter the legality of her retainer, is correct that the public deserves to know whether there is still an investigation. After all, no one has yet been punished, even though the sometimes comedic PUC did absurdly fine Edison $16 million in 2015 for not reporting meetings with the commission’s own members.


          The bottom line: Closure is long overdue on San Onofre, but not at the expense of whitewashing any part of this plainly unjust use of public authority and funds.
         


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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 tdelias@aol.com

Monday, October 16, 2017

NO MORE DOUBT: CLIMATE CHANGE HITTING CALIFORNIA

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE:  FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
 “NO MORE DOUBT: CLIMATE CHANGE HITTING CALIFORNIA”


          President Trump might want to play ostrich about climate change and place his head in the sand near his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida whenever the subject comes up, much the same pose he adopted toward white supremacists after their notorious rally in Charlottesville, VA.


          Regardless of his pose, there can no longer be any doubt that man-made, worldwide climate change is greatly affecting California and will affect it much more in the next half century unless there’s major action.


          It’s not merely the five-year drought this state endured before record rains replenished water supplies last winter. It’s not merely the run of record-level temperatures much of the state experienced last summer or the blast furnace of this month’s deadly, devastating fires in the Wine Country and elsewhere. And it’s not just the threat of low-lying coastal areas suffering repeated and perhaps permanent flooding if climate change persists.


          Even more pernicious are future prospects if the warming trend continues to be worst in equatorial areas. That could drive new waves of illegal immigration as residents of Central America, Mexico and the north coast of South America look northward, where the hotter temperatures California is already experiencing would look positively balmy.


          That’s when the “invasion of illegals” so often invoked by many of the far-right politicians and pundits who also deny climate change could become very real. In fact, the Pentagon reportedly long ago began war-gaming a variety of scenarios for beating back waves of immigrants attempting to storm U.S. borders when extreme heat drives them from their homelands of thousands of years.


          But this kind of extreme human event isn’t likely for decades to come.


          The far more immediate prospect is outlined in a new National Climate Assessment leaked to the New York Times by federal scientists who feared Trump administration climate change deniers would suppress it.


          The assessment, required by law every four years, was written in part by independent academics and scientists who have since left U.S. agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department as the Trump appointees now heading them accelerate efforts to subvert the intended purposes of those organizations.


          Here’s what the report sees for California, which may not be as seriously affected as some other parts of the world:


          Average annual temperature will rise across California by more than four degrees over 50 years if the current acceleration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continues. If there is no action to stabilize temperatures, they will likely increase by as much as 10 degrees here by this century’s end.


          That would have major impacts on almost all areas of California life. It could reverse current trends toward increased population in inland areas where temperatures are highest and real estate prices lowest.


          It would likely spur major flooding in coastal areas currently at sea level, including places like Venice Beach, Malibu and much of the Orange and San Diego county coast. That would raise the price of already high-priced housing on nearby bluffs and hilltops.


          The federal report, produced by 13 agencies and approved by the National Academy of Sciences, says these trends may already be underway.


          “One of the clearest signals…is that California is already a warmer place than it used to be,” Daniel Swain, a UCLA climate scientist whose work is mentioned in the study, told a reporter. “That’s not a future prediction anymore.”


          But President Trump’s appointees appear determined to prevent any action. Yes, California is fighting to stick with its climate change initiatives, like a strong mandate for renewable energy sources and tough auto and industrial emissions standards. But any good that does will be overwhelmed by gases the rest of the nation might produce if Trump appointees persist in delaying or canceling limits on coal-fueled power plants and other polluters.


          And there will be more drought. “It’s very clear that temperatures (here) are increasing the risk of severe drought,” said Noah Diffenbaugh, a Stanford University scientist. “During the recent drought,” he noted, the state had its warmest years ever, with its warmest winters and its lowest recorded snowpack. “These are all linked with high temperatures.”


          So it’s not merely at his own peril that Trump ignores the danger – yes, Mar-a-lago could become a flooding victim. But the consequences also figure to damage many other parts of the nation Trump now leads. As he might say, “sad.”

                  

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     Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, go to www.californiafocus.net

AGE A BIG FACTOR AS YOUNGER DEMS CIRCLE FEINSTEIN

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, OCTOBER 31, 2017, OR THEREAFTER


EDITORS: TO ENSURE TIMELINESS, DISREGARD EMBARGO DATE


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “AGE A BIG FACTOR AS YOUNGER DEMS CIRCLE FEINSTEIN”


          They see her as road-kill, the younger California Democrats hovering over longtime Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein this month just before and just after she announced her bid for election to a sixth term.


          “She no longer reflects the experiences or core values of Californians…and she isn’t willing to step up and lead on resisting (President) Trump…” went one endorsing statement approved by state Senate President Kevin de Leon of Los Angeles, who will be termed out of his current job next year. Would he OK anything similar if Feinstein were 64, not 84?


The relative youngsters (aged 60 and under) might be surprised when  Feinstein turns out to be as fierce as a mother bear whose young have been threatened once her reelection campaign gets going. Her cubs: the things she says still need doing – ending gun violence, combating climate change and ensuring access to healthcare.


Feinstein is anything but new to challenge. Once a little-known San Francisco supervisor, she witnessed the 1978 City Hall assassinations of then-Mayor George Moscone and fellow Supervisor Harvey Milk, a gay-rights icon, by another supervisor, Dan White.


Under horrendous circumstances, Feinstein assumed the mayor’s office by virtue of being the county board president. Her career in major office has lasted almost 40 years. She’s done it with achievement, from stabilizing the traumatized San Francisco to sponsoring new women’s rights, championing environmental and gun controls and crusading against government-sponsored torture.

         
Past achievement apparently means little to de Leon and others in her party; earlier this year, they almost handed its state chairmanship to a community organizer from Richmond who’s done little to make the party the dominant force it is today in California.


Feinstein, those folks claim, is a “DINO,” Democrat in name only, the abbreviation itself imitating Republicans who deride the few moderates in their own party as RINOs, Republicans in name only.


“On the big issues of our time, she’s been on the wrong side…,” griped Silicon Valley Rep. Ro Khanna before Feinstein formally declared, failing to name a single objectionable vote in her last two terms. Neither did de Leon. Translation: Feinstein is too old for them. Khanna, of course, won his seat two years ago largely by making and issue of the age (75) of veteran Rep. Mike Honda.


The younger Democrats forget Feinstein pioneered women’s rights, that she stood almost alone against torture during the George W. Bush administration, protected abortion rights and large swaths of the California desert with equal fervor, while helping create several national monuments in the state. They pooh-pooh her decades of steadfast fighting for gun control, saying she hasn’t been tough enough. Plus they forget how strongly she’s fought climate change.


On all those issues, Feinstein has been tough enough to get things done by working with Republicans in the Senate, rather than so adamant that all GOP senators would reject anything she says – as they now do with the far younger California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris. Harris, as it happens, quickly endorsed Feinstein for reelection, just as Feinstein was one of her early 2016 endorsers. Harris also contradicted de Leon.


“Since joining the Senate, I have found few better allies in our fight to stop the radical agenda of Donald Trump than Dianne,” said Harris.


De Leon began his campaign by blasting Feinstein for suggesting that given some time, Trump might become reasonable. And after this month’s Las Vegas massacre, he tore into her for being soft on gun control – at virtually the same moment she introduced the first bill banning bump stocks like those used in that attack.


Nor does Feinstein’s record mollify potential candidate Tom Steyer, the billionaire hedge fund mogul who is the national Democratic Party’s biggest donor and founded the NextGen organization to combat climate change.


“It is clear for all to see,” Steyer wrote a month after Feinstein’s August remarks on Trump, “there is zero reason to believe he can be a good president.”


Chances are Feinstein will match up next fall against one of those two, in the second consecutive all-Democrat Senate runoff election, no major Republican having yet stepped forward.


Then California voters can decide if they want bombast or achievement, a loud voice unlikely to get much done or someone who gets results even if she has some gray hairs.



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    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It" is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net