Monday, April 16, 2018




          “Never again” is a common slogan popping up appropriately during Holocaust remembrance observances and after repeated fatal shootings in schools or whenever survivors want to comfort each other with the thought their efforts can deter future tragedies.

          But “never forget” might be a more effective motto, where one generation succeeds another in places of high authority and responsibility.

          In fact, “never forget” would be a very appropriate mantra for whoever becomes the next governor of California when it comes to surviving members of the Charles Manson gang and other especially cruel and deliberate mass murderers.

          Forgetting is definitely possible with the Manson “Family,” as his motley and deadly gaggle of followers was known during its heyday in the late 1960s.

          Very few grieved when the sometimes mesmerizing gang leader Manson died in prison last November and not much of a crowd turned out for his funeral this spring in Porterville.

          Manson, understated the pastor presiding over that ceremony, “made choices that brought great consequence and negatively impacted other people for many, many years.”

          The first to be “impacted” were some of the men who hung out with the “Family” during the months the group squatted on the now-defunct Spahn Movie Ranch in the northwest Los Angeles suburb of Chatsworth. One was musician Gary Hinman, whose ear Manson slashed off with a sword before his henchmen killed Hinman. Another was movie stuntman Donald (Shorty) Shea, whose body was found in pieces on the ranch.

          Then, in their more notorious murder spree, Manson’s followers on his orders invaded the Beverly Hills-area home of actress Sharon Tate, brutally killing her along with coffee heiress Abilgail Folger, movie director Voytek Frykowski, hairdresser Jay Sebring and Steven Parent, a friend of the estate’s caretaker. A day later, in the Los Feliz neighborhood a few miles east, they stabbed to death grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary, leaving behind messages scrawled in the blood of the victims.

          Yes, as the preacher said, Manson’s choices surely impacted the lives of all those people. He took however many years they all might have had left, costing at least a century’s worth of human experience, not to mention potential offspring and the friends and families affected by their deaths.

          The roster of infamous Manson Family killers still in prison includes Leslie Van Houten, Bruce Davis and Charles (Tex) Watson, all of whom come up for parole periodically. State parole officials occasionally recommend freedom for them on grounds of good behavior and achievements while imprisoned. But can anything they do ever outweigh the harm they did almost 50 years ago?

          Brown, who lived in the Laurel Canyon section of Los Angeles at the time and experienced some of the horror that infused the area while the gang was on the loose, has vetoed their paroles repeatedly.

          Similarly, he would not be likely to succumb to any temptation to release other killers like Juan Corona, who killed 25 farm workers before his skein ended; or Edmund Kemper, the Santa Cruz area’s “Coed Killer” during the 1970s, or Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris, who raped, kidnapped, tortured and murdered five young women in 1979 in Southern California. But Brown leaves office at year’s end.

          What about his potential successors, folks like Democrat Gavin Newsom, a child at the time of the Manson slaughters, or Republican John Cox, who moved to California in 2011, long after these crimes?

          For them, the “never forget” mantra is crucial.

          That’s because, while most elderly convicts pose little risk on parole, putting this kind of criminal on the streets would justifiably cause many to look over their shoulders while walking down streets or even sitting at home.

          If Manson’s death and funeral do nothing else, they should renew the sense of horror at the crimes he instigated and committed and add pressure to keep his remaining followers and others like them where they can do no more harm.

          Any future governor who does forget that these folks long ago forfeited their right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness will deserve whatever political consequences might follow.

    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




(One in an ongoing series of interviews with significant candidates for governor of California)

          Travis Allen chortles as he boasts that “We took back America in 2016,” then adds the bold and seemingly unlikely prediction that “We’ll take back California this year.”

          Allen believes President Trump is making America great again, just as his campaign slogan promised, and he pledges to “make California the nation’s greatest state again, too.”

          His plan for doing it this starts with a planned social and traditional media campaign “including 13 million pieces of mail” during May, a month when many voters will already have primary election ballots in their hands. Even though fellow Republican John Cox, a businessman who moved from Illinois to San Diego County in 2011, has run ahead of him in several polls this spring, Allen happily notes that “It’s within the margin of error and he’s spent millions of dollars more.”

          He firmly believes “there is a silent majority” that will back any Republican who makes it into the November runoff election, where he expects Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom as the other contestant.

          “This is a race I will win,” Allen declared in an interview. “We Californians have been pushed too far by California Democrats. They’ve gone too far with the gasoline tax increase, their sanctuary state law and all their other crazy laws.”

          Allen, a three-term assemblyman and dedicated surfer from Huntington Beach seeking to become the person to move directly from the Assembly to the governor’s office, has a five-point plan for actions he begun the moment he takes office.

          His first priority, he says, will be to cut taxes, starting with the gasoline tax increase. Central to his campaign is a repeal initiative likely to reach voters in November. Next, he says, he will “make California safe again by getting tough on crime.” He wants to reverse three recent measures some call soft on crime, including the prison realignment plan begun in 2011 that has seen thousands of state prisoners sent back to their home counties for either parole or time in local jails. Allen would also try to reverse the Proposition 47 and Proposition 57 changes in crime classifications which made misdemeanors out of many former felonies.

          He pledges to fix the state’s roads and expand freeways without raising taxes or cutting important programs, though he has some trouble specifying how he’d do that. Again, he says the first step is rolling back the 12-cent gasoline tax increase in effect since last year.

          Allen also promises to “fix our broken education system. We used to have the best public schools in America, and (current Gov.) Jerry Brown’s funding increases for them are not working. Parents must be given the right to send their kids to the very best public schools and charter schools. And we need to test kids early and often to see how we’re doing. No longer will every child get a trophy just for participating.”

          Allen’s other top priority, he says, would be to “complete the state Water Project by building more water storage up and down the state.” He complains that “Brown’s water board is holding up bond money that’s already approved. When I’m governor, every Californian will have a green lawn and take long showers.”

          A lower priority, but still vital, he says, will be solving homelessness, an extremely touchy subject in his Orange County district. “The policies of California Democrats have led to the explosion of homelessness where we have people sleeping under bridges and on sidewalks at an alarming rate.”

          But he says the problem won’t be solved by anything like SB 827, a current proposal from Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco to mandate dense housing near transit stations. “Californians want the ability to own a single-family home and there’s plenty of open space in the state to provide that,” Allen insists.

          To win, he says, all he must do is get on the November ballot and then draw the same 4.4 million state voters who backed President Trump in 2016. Trouble is, this doesn’t account for the 8.7 million who went for Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton.

          Allen has a very steep task, but he’s undaunted so far. “I’ll win,” he insists.

    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

Monday, April 9, 2018




          No one at last month’s meeting of the Board of Administrators of the California Public Employees Retirement System ever said money counts for more than lives, but there were serious questions about priorities after that board voted 9-3 to hang onto its stash of stocks in gun retailers.

          Voting about the same time when millions of teenagers and their adult supporters staged massive pro-gun control marches in cities across the state and nation, California’s largest stock investor chose to hang onto those holdings despite pleas from Democratic state Treasurer John Chiang that it divest from companies selling assault rifles.

          The state’s leading retirement board rejected Chiang’s appeal on grounds stated by board member Bill Slaton, an appointee of Gov. Jerry Brown who is also president of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, second-largest municipal utility in the state.

          “We obviously have a significant (assault weapon) problem in this country,” said Slaton. “We have found engagement is a better alternative in order for us to accomplish something in this area.”

          Translation: the pension board believes its prime job is to maximize investment returns rather than attempting tactics that might save lives.

          This is clear from CalPERS’ persistence in owning stock in companies like Walmart, one of its 10 largest holdings. Until three years ago, Walmart sold guns like the AR-15 assault weapon used in the Parkland, Fla., high school massacre which spurred the so-called “March for Our Lives.” That nationwide protest brought a larger turnout than President Trump’s inauguration to the federal Mall in Washington, D.C. The protests also called for raising the age of eligibility for gun purchases of all types. Only after Parkland did Walmart comply and raise that age to 21.

          Slaton appeared to credit supposed pressure from CalPERS for that Walmart decision, when there’s no evidence of any pressure at all from the retirement system. Walmart did not make any changes until years after earlier school shootings in places like Aurora, Colo., and Sandy Hook, Conn., and CalPERS never moved to divest. Neither Walmart nor CalPERS made changes after the San Bernardino County massacre of 2015, which left 14 dead and 22 other persons seriously wounded.

          In fact, there’s no evidence CalPERS or any other investors ever influenced gun retailers to stop or restrict assault rifle sales.

          So Slaton’s claim looks empty.

          Chiang, running third among Democrats in the current campaign to be California’s next governor, used his anti-gun pitch to the CalPERS board in a campaign mailer, saying he would push the retirement fund and other institutional investors to dump holdings in companies that sell military-style guns.

          In an official statement, he again urged CalPERS and America’s other big institutional investors – outfits like BlackRock, Fidelity Investments, Vanguard mutual funds, PIMCO and the Allstate and State Farm insurance companies – to divest from gun dealers.

          There have been no results yet.

          The CalPERS board specifically ignored divestment appeals from relatives of San Bernardino victims. One such plea came from Arlen Vandehyou, whose wife was killed in that onslaught. “Do everything possible to put a dent in gun violence,” he begged. But CalPERS did nothing.

          Chiang heard that appeal, but made no promises to change things at the retirement system if he becomes governor. By contrast, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, running first in the campaign, implied at a March for Our Lives rally in Orange County that he would.

          “We will be the example (for the rest of America),” he said. “Gun control saves lives.”

          Chiang, a CalPERS board member because of his position, was more specific. “If we don’t take action, nobody is going to take us seriously on this,” he said. “Today, California public employees are inextricably tied to the gun trade through their pension accounts. But…we can build the pressure needed for the nation’s largest pension funds and investors to cut ties to companies that sell assault-style weapons.”

          Only after the San Bernardino shootings did Californians pass Proposition 63, which puts mild restrictions on ammunition sales. Maybe Parkland, combined with the killings of three therapists at the Yountville Veterans Home by a former patient using a semi-automatic rifle, can spur tougher action, including stock dumps by both CalPERS and the state’s teachers’ pension system.

          But it won’t happen soon. That was the signal sent by CalPERS in its late March anti-divestment vote.

    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





          Since the Civil War, no state has resisted the policies of a single President more than California today as it fights to fend off many measures President Trump and his cabinet have ordered.

          From smog control to sales of federal lands, immigration policy to oil drilling, health care, census questions and much more, California is doing all it can to avoid going along with Trump, the second President of the last three to have been elected with a minority popular vote and only the fourth ever to reach office in that dicey manner.

          As of mid-April, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra had filed 32 lawsuits trying to stave off major policy changes by Trump. Then came the announcements of a coming federal attempt to take away California’s unique authority for setting air pollution standards and a move toward selling government-owned land in the state’s deserts and mountains.

          Becerra announced immediately he’s ready to file still more lawsuits over those issues.

          But it’s far from certain the Trump agenda can be drowned by a flood of legal briefs. That’s because the Constitution’s supremacy clause gives priority to national laws and regulations over state ones when they conflict.

          Legally, resistance to a Trump attempt at removing California’s anti-smog powers appears the one case with the best chance of ultimate success, because federal Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt would have to prove California applied for its authority on flawed grounds. This requirement is part of the 1970s-era Clean Air Act signed by then-President Richard Nixon. California has no other powers different from other states.

          This makes it seem that the real hope behind many Becerra lawsuits is to delay matters until voters can oust Trump in 2020 – if they do. Should these cases reach the Republican-dominated U.S. Supreme Court earlier than that (or if Trump is reelected), the resistance movement might hit a wall.

          That’s when the almost-forgotten secession movement known as Calexit might suddenly revive. Sentiment to split from the Union ran as high as 32 percent in polls taken soon after Trump assumed office last year. If the high court should trash cherished state policies that embody what U.S. Senate candidate Kevin de Leon calls “California values,” sentiment could grow stronger than that.

          If this feeling develops, voters might be able to express it at the polls this fall. For the pro-secession “Yes California” group, which claims 44,000 members, will start circulating initiative petitions late this month for a measure called “The California Self Determination Act.” It demands a popular referendum on May 4, 2021 asking voters if they want the state to become independent. If a majority then say yes, the Legislature would have to issue a declaration of independence within one week.

          “After Trump was selected,” says Yes California president Marcus Ruiz Evans of Fresno, “there were two reactions. One was Calexit and the other was resistance. The resistance…has more attention than Calexit now. But the movement feels that’s going to shift dramatically within the next three months.”

          Ruiz claims the resistance movement is “based on the idea that protest can compel politicians to stop…Trump through lawsuits.” None of those suits has yet reached the Supreme Court, he notes, predicting that when they do, things will change. “What happens when the court…shoots down all the California lawsuits? It will be laid bare to the public that California politicians…can’t protect their people as long as they’re part of America and have to abide by federal law.”

          Ruiz thinks that could happen this spring, even as secession initiative petitions are circulating. But odds are it will take longer than that for most of Becerra’s lawsuits to reach the nation’s top court.

          Meanwhile, Calexit backers are unlikely to be dissuaded if they fall short of the signatures needed to put their preliminary measure to a November vote. They’d be sure to come back with another effort, perhaps moving the date of their desired secession referendum back a year or two.

          But Ruiz may be correct in seeing potential here for a significant secession movement so long as Californians feel strong antipathy for Trump and the supremacy clause he’s trying to use to roll back many years of California environmental and social policy.

    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

Monday, April 2, 2018




          President Trump may just have struck his most effective and longest-lasting blow of a seemingly constant conflict with California, the state that cost him a popular vote victory in 2016 and continues to resist his policies most.

          As with many of Trump’s anti-California moves, like his abortive attempt to defund the ongoing construction of an earthquake early warning system, he allowed one of his cabinet members to announce the latest tactic: adding a citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. Census questionnaire.

          California politicians and immigrant rights groups instantly recognized the move for what it is, “an attempt to suppress the political influence of people of color,” in the words of the Los Angeles-based Latino Victory Project.

          State Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the state’s top election official, Secretary of State Alex Padilla, instantly filed a lawsuit to strike the question from the Census, denouncing it as unconstitutional. Twelve other states quickly followed.

          But the states will likely lose that legal battle. For the Constitution says nothing about what questions the Census Bureau can ask, nor even about whether the answers are confidential.

          All it says, in Section 2 of Article 1, is that every 10 years the government must count “the whole number of free persons…excluding Indians not taxed.” The information, it says, is then to be used for setting the number of representatives for each state in the lower house of Congress.Co

          But census information now goes far beyond that. It also determines for the next decade how much money each state gets for education, highways, homeland security, health care, welfare, natural disaster preparation, sewers and much more.

The more people live in your state, the more money it gets for services Congress has decided everyone in America should have. Citizenship doesn’t matter in those distributions.

          That’s why, every 10 years for the last half-century, California has mounted a loud campaign to convince illegal immigrants to let themselves be counted. For neither federal funding nor apportionment of congressional seats is set by the number of citizens in any state, only by the number of people living there.

          In short, the more fear the Trump administration can strike in California’s large undocumented immigrant populace, the less money the state will get for a host of vital functions.

          That’s because illegal immigrants have never completely trusted Census Bureau promises that their information will be confidential and not passed along to immigration authorities. Many fear being counted might lead to deportation, so they avoid census takers.

          They have even less cause for trust today, when Trump’s Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross controls the Census Bureau and didn’t promise confidentiality when he announced the citizenship question for 2020. (A similar query was used in six censuses before 1960, but obvious undercounts became common, so the question was abandoned for the last five counts.)

          But Ross claimed the federal Voting Rights Act requires the government to tally “citizens of voting age to protect minorities against discrimination.”

          He can likely revive the citizenship question because, as the Census Bureau says on its website, “It is constitutional to include questions…beyond those concerning a simple count…” The bureau then lists several major legal decisions, including a 1999 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Census is “the linchpin of the federal statistical system…collecting data on the characteristics of individuals, households and housing units...”

          It’s hard to see how a citizenship question violates that decision, but Becerra says it does. He adds, probably accurately, that the question is an “attempt by the Trump administration to hijack the 2020 Census for political purposes,” including diminishing both the federal money coming to California and its representation in Congress. This state already gets back far less in federal spending than it puts in the Treasury via taxes, and Republican politicians in some other states are crowing that the citizenship question could cost California as many as three congressional seats, plus three electoral votes.

          This all adds up to a savvy move by Trump to strike lasting harm against his political nemesis California, harm that could far outlast his own time in office.

    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




          By the time most folks reach 70, even very impetuous males, they’ve realized the truth of the hallowed cliché, “act in haste, repent at leisure.”

          But apparently not President Trump. By many reports, he announced a massive round of tariffs on foreign materials and goods like steel and aluminum in a fit of pique, angered because his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner could not get a full security clearance.

          Within less than a week, there were already signs of regret. This was prompted not only by loud criticism from some of his fellow Republicans in Congress, but also because some other countries and federations, most notably the European Union, began openly contemplating their own tariffs on American goods, especially those made in “red” states that backed Trump in the 2016 election, goods like blue jeans and bourbon.

          For a businessman widely experienced in the give-and-take of negotiating, Trump surely knew that for every action there’s a reaction. He likely was not surprised when, for example, Canada began openly thinking about tariffs on cars built in states Trump carried, from Nissans (Tennessee) and Mercedes-Benzes (Alabama) to Chryslers (Michigan).

          So Trump began backtracking. He started by suggesting he might relent on tariffs affecting Canada and Mexico if a “better deal” emerges from current talks on revising the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

          But so far, there’s been no backing off prospective tariffs against goods from China, Japan and South America, among the largest buyers of exported California products from high tech silicon chips to movies and food products.

          Even if Europe were to target red-state industries, China and Japan probably cannot. That’s because so much of their trade with America is actually trade with California.

          California rice, grown in the Sacramento River Valley north of the state capital, is a staple of the Japanese diet because population growth long ago outstripped Japan’s ability to grow enough on its own. China is the largest foreign market for American films, mostly produced by California-headquartered firms, even if some of those companies are foreign owned. And much of Asia depends on computer chips developed in the Silicon Valley. Wine and nut exports to China are also substantial.

          If Trump thought retaliation against his proposed tariffs would hurt California, he didn’t say so. But given the context of his seeming vendetta against the Golden State because it has defied him on several fronts, chances are he would not mind that. Of course, if Central Valley farms begin to suffer and fallow fields and orchards because tariffs are cutting down the exports that consume almost half their output, it just might harm the electoral prospects of GOP congressmen like Jeff Denham, Devin Nunes and David Valadao, who have toed almost the full Trump line for the last 16 months.

          And California farmers are expecting big trouble if Trump insists on the tariffs. They now take in more than $21 billion from foreign markets, with California almonds, for example, dominating nut sales almost everywhere. California vintners also would suffer. Wheat growers immediately protested the tariffs, and some large grain farmers were major Trump financial backers in 2016.

          California farms account for much of the world’s crop of table grapes, olive oil, raisins, figs, artichokes, dates, kiwis and canned, pitted fruits like peaches, plums and apricots. China imposed 25 and 15 percent tariffs on some of those items, including grapes, almonds and walnuts.

          Put a serious crimp in the China trade, as the nascent tariff war could do, and rather than helping decrease America’s trade deficit, the new levies could worsen it.

          So if he ever reflects on his insistence on tariffs – by all reports, against the advice of his top economists – Trump may come to regret it.

          But even though he frequently denies saying things days after they were videoed and recorded, he won’t be able to label the consequences of tariffs as fake news. Rather those consequences could include a new recession, loss of millions of American jobs and assured electoral defeat in 2020.

          The bottom line: Trump acted in haste on the tariffs and unless he relents soon, he could regret it the rest of his life. So might a lot of other people.

    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

Monday, March 26, 2018




          Imagine for a moment that California now had a top four primary election system instead of the top two it now uses. In that alternate – for now – world, the four leading vote-getters in this June’s primary election would advance to the November runoff election rather than just the top two.

          With two Democrats – Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa – currently at or near the top of the seven-person field of credible candidates for governor – no one would have to pay much attention to either of them during the leadup to this June’s primary. Instead, attention would be focused on the other five candidates, bunched until days ago in single-digit territory in every poll.

          That’s because the real contest wouldn’t be for the two top slots, but for the other two positions on the fall ballot.

          And if one of the other two Democrats and one of the two current Republican candidates should win those two runoff spots, it would be highly possible that heavily Democratic California could end up with a GOP governor, even though that party now trails Democrats by about 20 percent in voter registration.

          This would happen if the full 25 percent of voters registered as Republicans voted for their party’s surviving candidate, who would likely also pick up some independent no-party-preference voters, while the three Democrats splintered their party’s vote.

          Don’t laugh… something like this actually happened in 2012 in a largely-Democratic San Bernardino County congressional district where Republicans wound up with both November ballot slots because a bunch of Democrats splintered their party’s vote.

          A very improbable scenario, you may say. But it is exactly the kind of situation a currently circulating potential ballot initiative would create.

          The measure, sponsored by Orange County accountant Richard Ginnaty, needs 585,407 signatures to qualify as a November ballot proposition. Since this cause appears unlikely to draw hordes of volunteer petition carriers, and since paid carriers often get $5 or more per valid voter signature they gather, it would likely cost upwards of $3 million to qualify the plan. Ginnaty says he doesn’t have that kind of cash, but might get “outside support.”

          For sure, this is the simplest way yet proposed to give Republicans a chance in many California elections, where Democrats rarely show the discipline to get out of each other’s way for the sake of their party. Of course, neither have Republicans, or one of the current GOP hopefuls might have dropped out of the gubernatorial run by now.

          Ginnaty says his measure is not designed specifically to benefit Republicans, even if it ends up accomplishing that. “Republicans have been monumentally ineffective in making their case (in California) and have ignored the initiative process, a good way to bring ideas before the voters,” said the self-described “old Tea Party guy.” “That ticked me off and I want strong new voices that aren’t heard now to have a chance.”

          Meanwhile, the reaction is lukewarm from other election experts who have been fighting the top two for years on grounds that it squelches minor parties by virtually never giving them a November voice.

          Said Richard Winger, the San Francisco-based editor of the Ballot Access News newsletter and blog, “This definitely could lead to situations like what happened in San Bernardino County. But it could also help minor parties in state legislative races, where there aren’t usually many candidates if an incumbent is involved. But for statewide races, it just wouldn’t work.”

          That judgment doesn’t faze Ginnaty, who is out to clean up what he sees as a “Sacramento swamp.” “We have a swamp because we only have one party with power now,” he said. As an example of what a “swamp” can bring, he cites the state’s bullet train project, whose recent cost estimates are more than seven times higher than the bond amounts originally approved by voters.

          “A responsible Legislature would have put that to another vote of the people long ago,” he said. “Especially with self-driving cars coming, it’s an outmoded technology.”

          The bottom line: Top 4 is unlikely to make the ballot, but if it did and it passed, it could radically change today’s political reality in California.

    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 was a clear-cut case of too little and too late when the California Public Utilities Commission the other day issued its first-ever map showing where the likelihood of utility-sparked wildfires – often followed by mudslides – is highest.

          The cows were already out of the barn months before this long-awaited map and its accompanying regulations made their appearance more than 10 years after the map could have and should have been drawn.

          The blueprint shows not only areas of greatest risk for major blazes, but also rates various locales on their danger levels, with tougher inspections and tree-trimming requirements needed in areas of greatest menace.

          It’s all because big privately-owned utilities must serve all areas, not merely those that are most convenient. That’s part of the deal giving them power-service monopolies over vast regions. With their agreement to serve even fire-risk zones comes responsibility to do it safely.

          The findings are not yet in on whether either Pacific Gas & Electric Co. or the Southern California Edison Co. were in any way culpable for either the hugely-destructive Wine Country fires of last fall or the Thomas fire which ravaged Ventura and Santa Barbara counties in December and early January, followed by massively lethal and damaging mudslides.

          Both companies are now defendants in multiple lawsuits. Some charge sparks from electric wires caused at least one big inferno and others claim a utility work crew spurred another.

          If the areas where those alleged incidents supposedly occurred had been mapped earlier than they were, with tougher regulations applied to them, there’s at least a possibility lives, homes, crops and businesses might have been spared.

          But there was no danger map when those fires broke out. Nor was there one in the months leading up to them, when it might have done some good. Creation of the map was first ordered by the PUC shortly after the 2007 Witch fire destroyed at least 1,500 homes and killed 17 persons in San Diego County. Investigators placed the blame for that fire on arcing power lines of the San Diego Gas & Electric Co., which has failed so far in efforts to force consumers to pay more than $300 million in costs not covered by insurance.

          But one newspaper reported last fall that utilities repeatedly asked to slow down mapping, saying some proposed regulations would “add unnecessary costs to construction and maintenance projects in rural areas.”

          The problem with those objections, apparently heeded by the PUC as it extended the mapping deadline repeatedly, is that when strong winds blow, fires in rural areas can spread to more heavily populated places, as residents of Ventura, Montecito, Santa Rosa and Calistoga learned to their dismay in late 2017.

          As with many government agencies, the PUC moaned that it has insufficient staff to inspect all utility lines. But 10 years was likely time enough for just one inspector to check every power line in every high-risk area of California.

          “The sad part,” Democratic state Sen. Jerry Hill opined just after the Wine Country fires, “is the maps didn’t arrive before these fires…It’s an outrageous example of negligence by a regulatory agency.”

          The good news is that, pressured by the results of its relaxed approach to the mapping project, the PUC has adopted new regulations. This won’t help anyone victimized by fires and mudslides last fall and early this year, but it ought to prevent at least some future damage from arcing and sparking power lines.

          Utilities, led by SDG&E in last fall’s Lilac fire near Fallbrook, also show more readiness to cut off power in potentially affected areas during early stages of fires in hopes of containing damage. That worked in the Lilac blaze, knocked down much more quickly than others that burned simultaneously.

          One problem: New map-related rules take effect only gradually, applying after Sept. 1 to areas where fire peril is highest and not until June 30 of next year in other places. Utility companies will have to file annual reports on their fire-prevention efforts in high-risk areas, but the first isn’t due until Oct. 1.

          These are positive developments that could prevent a lot of future damage. To the PUC’s utter shame, there appears to be no good reason these things could not have happened much earlier.

     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

Monday, March 19, 2018




          U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein took months of heat from the most left-leaning of her fellow California Democrats after she counseled patience with President Trump during a Democratic Party gathering last summer.

          But lately, she has literally jumped for joy, at least partly because of her approach.

          Most vocal in lambasting her since she advocated for patience is former state Sen. President Kevin de Leon of Los Angeles, who also blasted Feinstein for being too old (she’s 84) for another term and too compromised by her past votes for things like the invasion of Iraq and the federal Patriot Act in the wake of the 9-11 attacks.

          But Feinstein’s moderate approach may pay off big on the issue she’s cared about most ever since a few fatal 1978 gunshots from onetime San Francisco Supervisor Dan White suddenly propelled her into political prominence.

          For decades since then, Feinstein has pushed for strict gun control, often not a sexy cause. As an example, immediately after last year’s Las Vegas massacre, she filed a bill to ban the bump stocks used by the gunman in that attack. The day after an AR-15 automatic rifle was used to kill 17 students and teachers in Parkland, Fla., she sought to reinstate the 10-year ban on assault weapon sales she wrote and carried earlier in her Senate tenure. That ban lasted from 1994 to 2004.

          So it was no wonder Feinstein became excited while sitting beside Trump during a White House meeting on gun control when he suggested adding her assault weapons measure to a bipartisan bill for which he had just announced support.

          What are the odds that if Feinstein had been one of his most rabid critics, Trump would have jumped aboard a Feinstein gun control bill unpopular with Republicans in Congress and their sponsors at the National Rifle Association? Slim to none for a President known to act frequently out of pique.

          It’s unknown yet whether that measure will ultimately pass or how long the fickle Trump will keep supporting it. But at least he’s on record favoring it, even if he did pull back support of increasing the age limit for buying assault weapons.

          So, when de Leon’s campaign airs ads showing Feinstein with Trump, it will pay to remember this reward for her more moderate approach, born of a mature recognition that as long as Trump is President she will have to deal with him.

          Call Feinstein a radical practicalist if you like, but at least she’s gotten Trump to support part of her pet cause, far more than the more radically resistant style of fellow California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris has yet achieved.

          That won’t stop de Leon’s carping, also likely to include some re-showing of a Saturday Night Live satire of Feinstein’s gleeful little jump.

          De Leon, whose campaign attacks on Feinstein were labelled “shoddy” by the non-partisan national Bloomberg News service, frequently suggests Feinstein does not hold “California values,” by which he means sympathy for illegal immigrants and unwavering support for labor unions. De Leon also cherry-picks votes to blast, lambasting her okay for the Iraq war, even though all three of the most recent Senate Democratic leaders voted the same way.

          While everyone in politics knows that over 26 years, any senator will cast some controversial votes, de Leon’s attacks cost Feinstein the endorsement of the state’s Democratic Party convention. That likely won’t matter much in November, as she has a huge campaign finance edge and can easily air messages demonstrating that she has, in her words, “always voted with labor.”

          But her emotions become stronger on gun control, at least partly the product of her having been nearby when White assassinated both fellow San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and then-Mayor George Moscone.

          Feinstein has so far avoided even mentioning the fact that de Leon was the longtime Sacramento roommate of disgraced state Sen. Tony Mendoza, who allegedly brought young women he was harassing back to their quarters. De Leon maintains he never saw or heard any such Mendoza activities.

          The bottom line here is that de Leon plainly believes he can only make headway if he attacks Feinstein for being too moderate. But every poll so far indicates this approach will not get him elected.

    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