Monday, January 29, 2018




          Call it the college contradiction. Just when a major study finds that California is about to fall far behind in producing the college-educated workforce that some of its biggest and fastest-growing businesses will soon need, half the state’s citizens say they don’t think a college degree brings greater success in life.

          Examining the second part of that major contradiction first, information from the Public Policy Institute of California clearly demonstrates that college graduates do better in life than others, at least financially. No, material success doesn’t always produce happiness, and no one would sensibly argue that the wealthy don’t have problems.

          But the PPIC analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau is clear that the more education a person has, the higher his or her annual income tends to be. Yes, there exceptions, like technology titans Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and the late Steve Jobs of Apple Corp., both college dropouts, but for the vast majority, the results are plain.

          The average annual wage for someone with a graduate degree is more than $121,000, while the average bachelor’s degree holder makes more than $86,000. Community college grads average $58,000 and those who attended some college make $53,000. By contrast, high school graduates get $41,000 and high school dropouts just $31,000.

          So there’s little doubt: The 50 percent who say college is unneeded for material success are just plain wrong.

          But they still vote. And while the overwhelming majority of Californians in a just-released PPIC survey (79 percent) don’t want any increases in college and university student fees, no one knows where the funds to increase the number of college graduates will come from. For sure, the survey found most Californians don’t want higher taxes, even though a large majority pronounced themselves likely to vote for a higher education construction bond issue.

          The PPIC’s analysis of Census figures was a foundation for testimony from the non-partisan, non-profit institute before a state Assembly committee considering changes to California’s Master Plan for Higher Education, in place since the early 1960s.

          It concluded that the state’s workforce must include 38.4 percent highly educated persons by 2030, compared with the 29.7 percent that were required in 2000 and the 35.3 percent that will be needed in 2020. Failure to place that proportion of college graduates into the workforce would likely require importing more immigrant workers for high-paying jobs in computer- and technology-related industries or moving significant plants and laboratories out of the state.

          Ironically, some of the same politicians who have long decried a supposed trend of businesses doing just that – setting up new facilities in states from Texas and Idaho to the Virginia suburbs of Washington D.C. – also regularly oppose increased state funding for the University of California and the California State University system.

          But the PPIC information demonstrates they can’t have it both ways – they can’t have continued prosperity without investing at least some more money to enable it.

          Hans Johnson, director of the PPIC Higher Education Center, testified that the increase in demand for educated workers doesn’t come merely from high-tech employers. He said there is also increased demand for educational attainment within longer-established professions. Among nurses, for example, 57 percent were college graduates in 2000, compared with 68 percent in 2015 and even more today.

          The degrees are needed both to get hired and to keep jobs long-term. Reported Johnson, “We find higher labor force participation rates, lower unemployment rates and higher wages for workers with a bachelor’s degree than for those without…overall, the premium for college graduates relative to less educated workers has grown.” And there is no sign the disparity will ever close.

          But that doesn’t stop half of Californians from thinking college is unnecessary. While majorities of African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Latinos say college should be a high priority, only 35 percent of whites agree.

          No one has yet studied why whites are less convinced of the value of education than others.

          But the bottom line is that as long as only half of Californians think college is needed, the majority of voters won’t be very willing to tap their wallets to support it. And yet, they must if California is to prosper. That’s the very dangerous college contradiction now facing this state.

     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




From the time this year’s California political campaigns began taking shape last fall, they’ve had the potential to produce the state’s most viable presidential candidate in almost half a century.

          It may be about time. For California has not provided the nation with a President – nor even a credible primary election candidate – since Ronald Reagan left office in 1989.

          In that time, the strongest run by a Californian for America’s top political job came from ex-Gov. Pete Wilson, who lasted through only a few primaries and caucuses, His abortive 1996 run was hampered both by a throat problem that dimmed his voice and his strong 1994 backing of the anti-illegal immigrant Proposition 187, which destroyed any chance he might have had for getting some Latino support. Gov. Jerry Brown also staged a long run, in 1992, but never had a serious chance against Bill Clinton.

          Since then, this state’s top officials, the likes of Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Brown and Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer have been no threat to national politicians in either major party. Yes, Schwarzenegger might have been a credible candidate and would have loved to run, but his Austrian birth rendered him ineligible.

          So California has not only lacked influence at the top levels of American politics for decades because of its usually-belated primary elections, but also has had no skin in the game.

          Just now, there’s a little talk about the state’s current junior senator, Democrat Kamala Harris. Her shrill anti-Donald Trump tone in several nationally televised Senate hearings has won some support among ultra-liberals nationally, but no poll has shown she has either strong or widespread appeal. Plus, the one time she faced a significantly financed election opponent, in her 2010 election as state attorney general, she barely eked out a victory even in this solidly Democratic state.

          So it’s a safe bet Harris won’t be California’s next major presidential player. But there are some possibilities among this year’s crop of candidates, not to mention Democratic Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who makes noises about a possible 2020 national run even though he’s not running for anything just now.

          The most likely future presidential contenders among the current hopefuls for governor and the Senate are Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and current state Senate President Kevin de Leon, all Democrats. It goes almost without saying that Newsom, a former San Francisco mayor who tried to run for governor in 2010 before settling for his current job, will seek the presidency at some point if elected governor.

          His election emails for much of the last year have been replete with responses to national issues, from the Republican tax bill passed in December to environmental complaints raised by Trump administration actions. So Newsom could bring a national perspective to Sacramento. And he’s never been shy about acting on his ambitions and ideas.

          If both of them should win this year –  neither is an early favorite – either Villariagosa or Senate candidate de Leon could seek to become the first legitimate Latino presidential contender.

          Villaraigosa has not seriously discussed a presidential run, but would have an immediate large-scale base among the Latinos who are one of the largest constituencies in the national Democratic Party. De Leon, who helped hire a former U.S. attorney general to aid the state Legislature in resisting Trump initiatives, plainly has a national perspective and makes it obvious he would love to lead the Democratic opposition to Trump.

          But de Leon, from eastern Los Angeles, is hampered in his current campaign both by the fact that he remains largely unknown to many Californians and by his denial that he knew of the sexual harassment allegedly conducted regularly by his Sacramento housemate, state Sen. Tony Mendoza, in their abode. To many, his denials of knowledge and seeking to lead the drive for more effective prevention of such conduct in the Legislature suggest he may have taken a see no evil, hear no evil approach to Mendoza.

          Just now, none of these folks draws much national attention. But, as Reagan did, anyone elected either governor or senator here can use California’s sheer size and its huge representation among national political convention delegates to fuel a credible run for the White House.


     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, January 22, 2018




          It’s not often that an obscure state official manages to lay a serious defeat on the President of the United States. But that’s what Alex Padilla pulled off early this year, and he did it without any gloating.

          Padilla’s victory came when President Trump just after New Year’s celebrations ended announced the dissolution of his controversial anti-voter fraud panel, which had become mired in multiple lawsuits and resistance from many states.

          The resistance was led from the get-go by Padilla, California’s secretary of state and top election official. When a federal commission demands copious information from every state and the most populous state refuses to provide any, it’s difficult to see how that commission can succeed. When more than 20 other states follow this lead, the commission’s task gets even harder.

          So from the moment Padilla declared he wouldn’t cooperate, the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, nominally chaired by Vice President Mike Pence and actually led by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, seemed doomed to irrelevancy at best.

          To understand all this, it’s necessary to think back to Election Night 2016, when Trump won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote by more than 3.1 million. He lost California by more than that, meaning this state caused the popular vote defeat Trump has been denying ever since.

          His denials often take the form of allegations of widespread voter fraud, which he claimed on Election Night were especially egregious in California. Of course, neither he nor his staff nor his commission ever produced any evidence for this.

          The fraud charge insulted Padilla, who insists California elections are clean. No investigation of alleged vote fraud in this state – not even one conducted in the late 1990s by a Republican-controlled Congress – ever found more than a minuscule number of violations. In short, the illegal immigrants Trump believes provided his margin of popular vote defeat have never been proven to affect the outcome of any election.

          But less than a month after assuming office Trump set up the supposedly bipartisan commission to examine his claims. His administration without any examples still insists “there is substantial evidence of voter fraud,” as Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed even while announcing the commission’s demise.

          Padilla probably would have cooperated with this commission had it conducted a simple investigation on whether illegal immigrants registered to vote in large numbers or on questions about possible dead persons kept on voting rolls.

          But Kobach went much farther, reminding observers of his past as a lawyer for the Foundation for American Immigration Reform, a strongly anti-immigration group. Within a month of the commission’s swearing in, he demanded from election officials in every state a list of all registered voters, their birth dates, party identification and voting histories, plus the last four digits of all voters’ Social Security numbers. So much for the old-fashioned secret ballot.

          So sweeping were Kobach’s demands that, acting as Kansas’ top election official, he refused to turn over Social Security numbers to his own commission. It was OK to demand them from everyone else, but not from the constituents he hopes will elect him governor later this year.

          Padilla’s immediate reaction, “I will not provide sensitive voter information to a commission that has already inaccurately passed judgment that millions of Californians voted illegally.” And that was that. The commission was an instant dead duck, even if it took months to become official.

          Fortunately for voters who could have been at risk for rampant identity theft, the Kobach group had no subpoena powers.

          When its end was announced, Padilla reacted without gloating. “It’s no surprise,” he said, “that a commission founded on a lie of widespread voter fraud proved to be a fraud itself…No taxpayer dollars should have been wasted on (this).”

          But Trump still insists he lost the popular vote because of voter fraud, and it’s all but certain that if he’s not reelected in 2020, he’ll claim it was also because of that.

          But his claims were never more than a flailing denial of reality, so his defeat by Padilla was inevitable and deserved.


    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




          After the contentious, sometimes raucous first debate of this year’s primary election season, it became clear that issues like offshore oil drilling, affordable housing, President Trump’s tax changes, immigration and border control would likely not be the central themes of the campaign to succeed Jerry Brown as governor.

          The Democrats who dominate California politics essentially agree on all those.

          That left single-payer health care as the likely theme for contention. It’s an issue gaining prominence every day as Trump systematically hacks away at the Affordable Care Act (also known as either Obamacare or the ACA) and its links to Medicaid, known here as Medi-Cal.

          The emphasis on single-payer is just fine with Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the former San Francisco mayor and early frontrunner in this race.

          Newsom may be best known for his pioneering 2004 order that saw his city begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, a practice that courts shut down months after it began but still set a pattern for the rest of America.

          Yet, in an interview earlier in the campaign, Newsom made clear that while he thinks what he did for gay couples was a major achievement, he considers what he did with health care just as important.

          “Same sex marriage was profound,” Newsom said. “We changed the whole trajectory of the debate on that. But I’m at least as proud of what we did providing universal health care in San Francisco. As the ACA is reduced, our plan will address people’s uncertainty. It makes San Francisco uniquely situated to weather the health care storm. These kinds of causes drive me. That’s why I’m running. Some things are bigger than politics. I consider health care a civil rights issue.”

          So you can count Newsom, who had a lead of about 10 points over second-place Antonio Villaraigosa, the former Los Angeles mayor, as a supporter of the single-payer plan that’s knocked around in the state Legislature for the last decade.

          The idea also gets support from candidate Delaine Eastin, the former state schools superintendent, while Villaraigosa and state Treasurer John Chiang, the fourth major Democrat in the running, like the general idea, but made clear in the mid-January debate that they want to see many details before backing any such plan.

          Villaraigosa, 14 years older than Newsom, allowed that while he is “philosophically for it,” he also worries about seniors being suddenly switched off the proven national single-payer Medicare plan without knowing what a new system might look like. “You have to have a plan,” he chided Newsom.

          The two Republicans in the debate, Orange County Assemblyman Travis Allen and John Cox, a San Diego County businessman, both were clear in opposing single-payer because of the large payroll taxes it would need to levy. San Francisco employers this year will pay $2.83 per hour worked for all employees earning below $97,000 per year.

          Said Cox, “Why stop at health care? Why don’t we have single-payer food? Why don’t we have single-payer housing?”

          Of course, Medicare depends heavily on payroll taxes, too, and most backers of a state single-payer plan suggest that Californians’ contributions to that system could be switched to a new state organization, which – like San Francisco – would also tax covered persons based on their incomes.

          This roused an objection from Chiang, who asked “How much are you going to increase payroll taxes?...Are we going to make it difficult to do business in California?”

          While Newsom did not get into specifics of the San Francisco plan during that debate, it’s clear his city’s single-payer plan has not chased away companies like Mozilla Firefox, Twitter and more, part of a long-running business boom mostly fueled by high-tech companies and their talented workforce, largely drawn from area universities like Stanford and UC Berkeley.

          But Newsom did chide his rivals, saying California needs a governor who’s not afraid to act. He made the same point in the earlier interview. “I want to be known for looking around the corner,” he said. “I will not be timid. We need sustainable political thinking, not politics as usual.”

          One thing that first debate made clear: On single-payer health and other issues, this year will not likely play out as politics as usual.

    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, January 15, 2018




          Democrats were gloating in mid-January, almost assuming victories in two once-solidly Republican California congressional districts and figuring that could help assure their retaking control of the House of Representatives after eight years of GOP domination there.

          But hold on one minute. The twin departures of two longtime House grandees and committee chairmen also present some problems for Democrats, even if many don’t see it.

          That’s because both those GOP retirees, Orange County’s Ed Royce and Darrell Issa, whose district includes most of northern San Diego County and some of Orange County, have had very prominent targets on their backs ever since Democrat Hillary Clinton carried both their districts in 2016, when Issa won reelection by the slimmest margin of any House incumbent.

          Now Democrats will have no one local to target, likely making the campaigns there almost exclusively about how loyal the Republicans running might be to President Trump.

          What’s more, the departure of the two incumbents opens both districts to the vagaries of California’s top two primary election system, where only the two leading primary vote-getters win spots in the November runoff regardless of party.

          So neither Democrats nor Republicans can now feel absolutely assured of making the fall ballot.

          With Issa and Royce on that ballot, Democrats would not have to worry about splintering their votes in the primary and possibly giving the GOP both runoff slots, as happened earlier in this decade in a predominately Democratic district in San Bernardino County.

          In that district, now represented by Democrat Pete Aguilar, Republican Gary Miller got two additional years in office because so many Democrats ran. The same could happen in the two newly-open, incumbent-less districts, among 29 being vacated nationally by GOP retirees so far. Democrats need to hold onto all their seats and take 24 GOP slots in order to win back a House majority.

          There is a chance the GOP could suffer from splintering this year, too, especially in Royce’s district, centered on Fullerton. The likes of former Assemblywomen Ling Ling Chang and Young Kim quickly entered this race, as did Orange County supervisor Michelle Steel and former state Senate Republican leader Bob Huff. Former county GOP chairman Scott Baugh and county Supervisor Shawn Nelson also might run. Half a dozen Democrats got in the race before Royce dropped out and more may now declare, with the March 9 filing deadline well over a month away.

          Royce, whose tenure as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee was due to end next December anyhow, quickly endorsed Kim, his former longtime aide. That may net her a big share of the $3.5 million war chest Royce possesses.

          All this could see two candidates who each pull fewer than 20 percent of the primary vote facing off in November.

          Things could also get complicated in Issa’s district, where Republican Assemblyman Rocky Chavez entered the House race within hours of Issa’s retirement announcement. Chavez, a moderate and one of seven GOP legislators who last year helped pass an extension of the state’s cap-and-trade system for cutting greenhouse gases, has a chance to win over some no-party-preference voters who might have turned thumbs down on Issa. Other prominent Republicans also could enter this race, including state Senate Republican leader Pat Bates and Diane Harkey, chair of the recently scandal-ridden state Board of Equalization.

          Four Democrats were already seeking to oust Issa, a longtime ultra-conservative who as chairman of the House Oversight Committee incessantly dogged ex-President Barack Obama with unproven claims of wrongdoing. Among the Democrats is retired Marine Col. Doug Applegate, an Iraq war veteran who almost beat Issa in 2016. That forced Issa to adopt more moderate public stances in the last year. He even altered his conservative voting habits slightly, opposing Trump’s controversial tax changes at the last moment, after it had become clear they would pass without his help.

          The GOP’s congressional campaign chief, Rep. Steve Stivers of Ohio, expressed hope Democrats would splinter in the June primary, leaving their eventual nominees “black and blue, and broke.” But there’s almost as much chance of the GOP splintering, which leaves plenty of uncertainty for both parties.


    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




          Florida escaped from President Trump’s plan to sell new offshore oil drilling leases because it has a Republican governor who called in a favor. There was also the fact that Trump owns ocean-view property there.

But not to worry, California. This state has the California Lands Commission. This usually obscure agency rescued California almost 11 years ago, the last time part of California’s coast was as seriously threatened as some areas now feel. Both Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the federal administration of President George W. Bush then avidly wanted a floating platform off the coast of southern Ventura County to bring liquefied natural gas (LNG) into California and commit consumers to pay billions of extra dollars each year for cooking and heating.

          It never happened thanks to the Lands Commission, a three-person board with control over the state’s tidelands out to three miles offshore.

          And today it’s largely because of that same commission that Trump’s plan draws only lukewarm interest from the oil industry.

          Almost 11 years ago, on a 2-1 vote with then-Lt. Gov. John Garamendi and then state Controller John Chiang, both Democrats, voting no and Schwarzengger’s representative voting yes, the LNG proposal died despite a multi-million dollar effort from the Australian energy giant BHP Billiton.  California consumers were spared at least 30 years of depending on high-priced foreign energy.

          Environmentalists and consumer advocates insisted California didn’t need LNG, just as they now say offshore oil is not unneeded. They proved right, as fracking and shale deposits in the Rocky Mountain region created a surplus that American companies are now exporting.

          The Lands Commission didn’t actually ban LNG then, just as it can’t ban new offshore wells today. It did, however, forbid pipelines carrying the gas from crossing tidelands and beaches. It would almost certainly do the same with pipelines carrying oil from offshore derricks.

          For even if the federal government sells oil leases in federal waters more than three miles offshore, the Lands Commission would still have to let oil companies connect to onshore transport centers, refineries or other oil holding stations.

          Such permits won’t happen as long as California remains a Democratic-dominated state. Whoever succeeds current Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom next year will serve on the Lands Commission. So will Controller Betty Yee and a representative of the next governor.

          There are ways other than pipelines to bring the oil ashore, or it could be exported straight from platforms. Tankers could bring oil to refineries here and abroad, for one example. But that would add vastly to the cost of drilling, making new leases unattractive as long as the price of oil remains well below $100 a barrel. Prices this month have hovered just above $60 per barrel.

          Meanwhile, the odds of the Lands Commission voting in the immediate future to facilitate offshore oil are infinitesimal. Adding new drill rigs to the coastal scene has been anathema here since the infamous Santa Barbara Channel oil spill of 1968. The beach-fouling, wildlife-killing Refugio State Beach spill northwest of Santa Barbara in 2015 reinforced that already strong opposition.

          So new oil leases off California are not very attractive. Oil companies also know the available oil isn’t exactly copious. Known reserves are estimated sufficient to power the country for about 20 days at the most. That’s another reason there’s been little interest from the industry for the last few decades.

          And there’s an unspoken industry fear of political backlash. If they do anything as radically unpopular and environmentally irresponsible as drilling new offshore wells, oil companies fear they could spur consequences from politicians.

          Yes, Gov. Jerry Brown has talked a good game on conservation and climate change and renewable energy. But his administration has also issued 238 new drilling permits in existing leases since 2012, the number of active oil and gas wells rising 23 percent in the state since Brown became governor. Most of those new wells are on shore.

          The expansion could quickly end if the next governor is unfriendly to Big Oil, one possible consequence of new offshore leases.

          But the base of the state’s ability to resist new offshore drilling still resides in the Lands Commission, and there is every reason to believe it would act the same now as when it stymied LNG.

     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, January 8, 2018




Any time traveler revisiting the California of 1978 would have an easy time understanding why Proposition 13 passed so handily that year, lowering property taxes throughout the state to 1 percent of the latest sale price or 1 percent of the 1975 assessed value.

Such a traveler would enter a land with skyrocketing property taxes based on the latest market value of each property. Not the latest sale price, but an arbitrary market value assigned to every piece of property by county assessors basing their numbers largely on “comparables,” the prices of similar homes in the same or nearby neighborhoods.

          Many senior citizens and others on fixed incomes lived in dread of the annual assessment letter informing them of their home’s purported new value. Plenty (no one knows the exact number) felt compelled to sell.

          Then along came longtime Los Angeles gadfly Howard Jarvis and his Sacramento-based pal Paul Gann with Proposition 13, which they sold as a measure to give homeowners financial stability and predictability. So long as a property stays in the same hands, that initiative still dictates, basic property taxes on it can rise no more than 2 percent per year.

          One major result: California has had systematic tax inequality for the last 39-plus years, with neighbors in similar houses or condominiums paying radically different taxes, mostly based on when they bought and not on current values.

          There is no significant move today toward changing those provisions. But some change nevertheless may come to the sacred-cow law later this year.

          That would be in the form of a “split roll,” where commercial and residential properties are taxed at different rates.

          This has some basis in history, for anyone going back to view the Jarvis-Gann campaign of 1978 would not hear much about commercial or industrial property taxes. Yet owners of those kinds of properties enjoy the same benefits as homeowners and their share of the overall property tax burden has dropped by several percent since 1978.

          Advocates of more funding for public schools and other local services have long contended the split roll is the best way to make up what those causes lost under Proposition 13. The idea has been kicked around in Sacramento and elsewhere for a generation, but never went anywhere.

          And yet, a 2015 survey of 104,000 likely voters found 75 percent favored withdrawing Proposition 13 protections from non-residential property.

          As the 40-year anniversary of Proposition 13 approaches in June, proponents of the split roll have for the first time submitted a proposed initiative to make this change. One reason they chose the initiative route rather than trying to get the state Legislature to put the change on the ballot: Democrats – usually more sympathetic than Republicans to the idea of taxing businesses – have narrowly and at least temporarily lost their two-thirds majority in the state Assembly because two members felt compelled to resign when charged with sexual improprieties and another left for unspecified health reasons.

          Advocates of the change say it could raise billions of dollars to improve public schools and colleges.

          “I think the cumulative effects of the unfair tax system have gotten to the point where it’s created crippling…impacts on the state,” said Melissa Breach of the state’s League of Women Voters.

          The measure has not yet been assigned a title by Attorney General Xavier Becerra and so petitions are not now being circulated for signatures.

          But it’s for certain the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., named for the Proposition 13 co-author, will fight it vigorously. As with previous tentative moves toward a split roll, the hard-fighting organization will brand this measure as an attempt to crack the solid protections homeowners get from Proposition 13. The Jarvis group and its allies usually claim that once any Proposition 13 provision is changed, it will be only a short time before homeowner protections would be lost.

          While the 2015 poll makes it look easy to get this passed via an initiative, looks can deceive. The fears of California homeowners, who already pay far more than average state and local income and sales taxes, are not difficult to stoke.

          All of which means this may be the year Proposition 13 changes. But don’t yet bank on it.


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




          Climate change, if you ask most state experts, has already created a wildfire crisis in California. In the process, it’s causing a fire insurance predicament.

          “All hell is breaking loose,” was Gov. Jerry Brown’s sum-up on national television of the effects climate change and its wildly variable and unpredictable weather patterns have had in fire-ravaged parts of the state.

          Anyone who tuned into broadcast press conferences by top-level firefighters during the blazes of both September and December also heard them bemoaning the changes global warming has brought to their jobs. As Brown noted, with only slight exaggeration, “The fire season used to be a couple of months in the summer; now we’re in December.”

          Before 2017, California sometimes saw major wildfires as late as early- to mid-November, but almost never deep into December, a time when the annual rainy season has usually been well under way. But all fall a persistent atmospheric high-pressure ridge prevented rain clouds from moving into much of the state.

          One result was fires that lasted weeks, feeding off vegetation that mushroomed after last year’s unusually wet winter and then dried out almost completely, leaving huge amounts of fuel for fires.

          Most of the more than 2,000 homes and other structures destroyed in this year’s far longer than usual fire season were insured, some owners paying extra-high premiums because they’re in known fire areas.

          At the height of the infernos, state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones warned the new year-round threat to homes in many parts of the state could change the entire fire insurance marketplace.

          This crisis is real, but it’s not yet widespread even though some homeowners have already gotten notices of non-renewal from insurance companies. Those are likely harbingers of many more to come.

Jones noted in an interview that insurance companies can’t cancel policies during their term. They must also renew policies for homes in fire disaster areas for at least one more year after any current policy expires. But they don’t have to renew policies in non-disaster areas when they expire and they don’t have to renew homes in disaster areas more than one year beyond current policy expirations.

          These rules mean there is a crisis, spurred largely by new weather conditions that have broadened areas rated as fire-prone. But this insurance availability crisis won’t look like what happened after the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, when property insurance companies refused to renew many existing policies and stopped writing new home and business insurance in the state. That impasse ended in 1996 with creation of the California Earthquake Authority and elimination of an old rule under which companies writing any property insurance also had to offer quake coverage. The state-run CEA now writes the vast majority of earthquake policies.

          “It’s possible some insurers will reduce their willingness to write policies in areas at risk for fires,” Jones said. The state’s Fair Plan, roughly equivalent to the CEA in that it must insure anyone who applies, is the fallback for homeowners in places now deemed fodder for future burns. Fire insurance through the Fair Plan costs more than ordinary policies, although by law prices cannot be excessive. But rates vary according to home replacement values and fire risk.

          Before last year’s blazes, the number of Fair Plan policies was rising by about 1,000 per year, Jones reported. That figure climbed in 2017 and likely will again this year. He added that homeowners should view the Fair Plan as a fallback option to be used only if no commercial insurer will cover them.

          One factor pushing some insurance companies to stop writing policies might be the 1988 Proposition 103, which forbids them from packing all their costs from last year’s fires into this year’s rates. Instead, compensation for those costs must be spread over 20 years to avoid big financial shocks to homeowners.

          Overall, said Jones, “insurers are using more and more sophisticated (computer) models to determine risk factors. Some of those models might cause them to back off writing insurance in some areas.”         

          All of which means climate change now is impacting wallets, forcing an insurance crisis in both proven and potential fire disaster areas.

     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