Friday, February 16, 2018

ZONING NULLIFICATION: THE END OF LOCAL CONTROL?


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, MARCH 9, 2018, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “ZONING NULLIFICATION: THE END OF LOCAL CONTROL?”


        Gov. Jerry Brown, a former mayor of Oakland who often griped about state government’s interference with local issues, ran in 2010 on a platform of stronger local control. He’s delivered on that for the most part, with the strong exception of pet projects like high speed rail and his putative water tunnels water project, both facing strong opposition from people and local governments in their direct paths.


        But now cities and counties around the state face the strong possibility of a new law that would essentially nullify local land use and zoning plans crafted through years of public hearings and detailed analysis.


        This comes in the guise of fighting homelessness and California’s severe housing shortage, which has contributed to driving up rents and real estate prices to the point where many California employers have trouble retaining workers because they can live elsewhere much more cheaply.


        The proposed plan takes the form of a state Senate bill sponsored by San Francisco Democrat Scott Wiener that would essentially take all zoning and land use authority away from cities and counties in areas close to mass transit.


        Known as SB 827, this bill would prevent localities from regulating housing construction within half a mile of a light-rail train station or within one-quarter mile of a frequently used bus route. Those rules would cover about 95 percent of the area of some cities. They would also mandate housing density seldom seen outside the downtown areas of San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, setting minimum heights of 45 feet to 85 feet in such areas and making eight-story high-rise buildings standard in many parts of California.


        This plan already has the backing of many high-tech moguls, including the CEOs of companies like Salesforce, Twitter, Lyft, Yelp and Mozilla, all headquartered in or near San Francisco. A corps of 130 tech executives and their venture capital backers signed a letter this winter griping that “the lack of homebuilding in California imperils our ability to hire employees and grow our companies.”


        But few of those executives live in areas likely to be impacted by the proposed rules. There are few rail stations or heavily-used bus lines in places like Hillsborough, Los Gatos and leafier areas of San Francisco like St. Francis Wood and Sherwood Forest.


        The Wiener bill draws strong opposition from residents and governments in places as geographically diverse as Mill Valley and Santa Monica.


        One Marin County blogger described the measure as “draconian,” because it would “remove local control of zoning and planning.”


        It could do that, if passed in its present form. Passage seems possible since the bill will have backing from powerful forces including developers and building trade unions.


        But the reasoning behind it is fundamentally flawed. For example, Wiener would make objections to projects on the grounds of vastly increased traffic irrelevant, presuming that proximity to mass transit prevents most new traffic problems and congestion.


        But new figures from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in Southern California demonstrate that’s not so. Despite introduction of billion-dollar new light rail lines over the past five years, ridership on buses and trains in the region was down 15 percent last year from levels of five years earlier. That represented a drop of 72 million trips. Yes, the new lines led to rail ridership increases – up 4 million, but that was far lower than the reduction in bus trips.


        At the same time those lines were added, so were numerous apartment buildings near them. This has neither cut road traffic nor led to increased mass transit ridership, as planners often assume it will.


        So the prevailing reasoning among planners seeking greater housing density is false. They’re wrong to believe Californians will easily abandon their cars.


        This is also a major part of the reasoning behind Wiener’s proposal.


        Because of its flawed logic, this measure would likely cause at least as many problems as it solves.


        “California’s housing shortage is a threat to our economy,” Wiener told a reporter, insisting his plan can fix things. But even the mayor of ultra-liberal Berkeley objects, calling it an “extreme reactive approach” that would lead to more teardowns of existing housing and more evictions of longtime residents.


        In short, this plan amounts to pure panic in the face of a problem. And panic rarely produces good results.

       
-30-
    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


IF UNDISCIPLINED, GOP WON’T MAKE FALL BALLOT


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, MARCH 6, 2018, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
        “IF UNDISCIPLINED, GOP WON’T MAKE FALL BALLOT”


        It’s well established that the California Republican Party has been almost without influence in the state’s public affairs for years, but at least until now it has always placed someone on the fall runoff ballot running for at least one top state office.


That streak of more than 140 years’ standing seems about to end. It is almost certain, for one example, that no Republican will seriously contest Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s reelection bid this November, the role of prime challenger going to fellow Democrat Kevin de Leon, longtime president of the state Senate. Mere days before the filing deadline, no significant Republican had entered the race.


        Things are almost as sad for the GOP in the run for the ballot’s other top slot, the governor’s office. Recent polling shows all three of the decently-funded declared Republican candidates for governor – Orange County Assemblyman Travis Allen, San Diego County businessman John Cox and former Sacramento-area Congressman Doug Ose – trail three of the four Democrats in the race.


But if the putative vote totals of those three are combined, they total 18 percent in those polls, with 24 percent of all voters still undecided. As long as the GOP remains splintered, that makes it likely November will match Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, each drawing support from more likely voters than all three Republicans together.


This means the GOP needs the kind of discipline it often displayed in the last century, when hot intra-party contests were rare for Republicans.


In those years, Democrats often staged heated primary election races, just like this year’s. But back then every officially-recognized party was guaranteed a November ballot slot, no matter how few votes its candidates might pull in the primary.


        Passage of the 2010 Proposition 14 and the advent of the top two primary changed all that. Now candidates for all parties must earn their runoff election slots. If you don’t finish in the top two in the spring, you won’t contest anything in the fall.


        So reality at times demands discipline from both major parties. There have been races where so many Democrats ran that they splintered the vote and allowed two Republicans to contest the runoff even in districts where Democrats led in voter registration.


        If Republicans exhibit some discipline and coalesce around one candidate this spring, some Democrats would have to drop out in response, or risk letting the GOP get at least get one ballot position.


        So far, there are few signs of any such party survival instinct for the GOP in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 45-27 percent margin.


Those numbers scared off potentially strong candidates for governor like former Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin and current San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer.


  This leaves the GOP with a trio of previous unknowns who have spent some of their early debates sniping at each other more than at the Democrats. More of this behavior appears likely to make the November vote the first since the mid-19th Century without a Republican running for governor.


        But this doesn’t have to end up being the second single-party runoff election for a top-of-ticket office since the advent of top two. (The first matched Democrats Kamala Harris and Loretta Sanchez in the 2016 Senate race.)  That’s up to the GOP. If the party’s voters had one candidate to rally around, they might combine with some independents to total even more than their current registration percentage. If Republican voters were motivated, they could easily tally 30 percent or more of the total vote, probably enough to win a ballot slot. And once someone reaches the ballot, upsets can happen.


        The risk to Republicans is that if they don’t quality a runoff candidate, they will become even less relevant than they’ve been lately in California, and their registration numbers would very likely drop beneath the 24 percent of state voters who now declare no party preference.


So the question now is simple: Will two of the three current GOP candidates put their egos aside for the good of their party and drop out? At this writing, that looks unlikely.


    -30-
     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, February 12, 2018

TRUMP IGNORES CALIFORNIA, UNLIKE PREDECESSORS

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, MARCH 2, 2018, OR THEREAFTER
  

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
“TRUMP IGNORES CALIFORNIA, UNLIKE PREDECESSORS”


When devastating wildfires whipped through both Northern and Southern California last fall, state requests for emergency declarations that would open federal purse strings to assist in paying for firefighting, cleanup and recovery were almost immediate.


          But President Trump took almost a month to approve each request, far longer than for similar declarations after deadly hurricanes struck places like Texas and Florida.


          It’s not supposed to be like that. It’s almost as if California were less American than Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory where Hurricane Maria earlier in the year did billions in damage. At least Trump went to Puerto Rico, even though he offended much of the populace by tossing rolls of paper towels to victims whose homes had been destroyed, acting as if paper would be a big help.


          So California gets less presidential attention these days than Puerto Rico. Maybe that’s because Puerto Rico didn’t vote against The Donald by a 3.5 million vote margin, as California did.


          But California still pays more taxes into the federal kitty than any other state. It still receives far less back in federal spending than it pays in. So it’s no wonder Californians feel entitled to plenty of federal help when disasters strike.


          Contrast the Trump reaction – he said virtually nothing about the wildfires in California, but took post-hurricane helicopter tours over parts of Texas and Florida – with what happened after the significant California earthquakes of 1989 and 1994. In both those years – one with a Republican president and one with a Democrat in office – help arrived quickly. The Federal Emergency Management Agency set up offices in affected areas within less than two weeks, distributing recovery funds to both individual victims and local governments.


Trump’s performance may stem from his apparent obsession with 2016 election results. He won both Texas and Florida, but California provided all the votes needed to deprive him of a popular vote victory.


          While President, Trump often visits his properties in Florida, New Jersey and elsewhere, but has yet to make an appearance at his golf club on California’s Palos Verdes Peninsula.


          Maybe that’s because the attorneys general of those other states haven’t filed dozens of lawsuits trying to negate his executive orders, nor have their legislatures passed laws defying his stated priorities, as California’s did when it made the entire state a sanctuary for most illegal immigrants.


          For sure, California hasn’t precisely endeared itself to Trump, who was here plenty during his years as a television celebrity.


          Meanwhile, Trump has flown over California on his way to foreign stops in Asia. But his steady absence from America’s biggest population center contrasts sharply with every President since the advent of air travel.


          Harry Truman flew to San Francisco less than three months after ascending to the presidency upon Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death in 1945. Dwight Eisenhower arrived here during his 13th month in the White House, getting in some golf in the Palm Springs area to which he later retired. John Kennedy was nominated for the nation’s highest office in the old Los Angeles Sports Arena and returned to Southern California often, for walks on the beach and reported trysts with Marilyn Monroe and others.


          Lyndon Johnson spoke at the dedication of UC Irvine less than a year after becoming President, and Gerald Ford was often here, while Richard Nixon made San Clemente his home. Bill Clinton visited so often he might as well have been a resident, while even the often-confused George H.W. Bush came here several times, once declaring how happy he was to be in “North California.”


          Ronald Reagan actually did live here, hosting many foreign dignitaries at his ranch in Santa Barbara County, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth among them. Both Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama made this state their fund-raising base.


          But Trump ignores California whenever he can, even though he has described the state as “out of control.” By which he means, out of his control, at least to a large extent.


          Trump’s absence doesn’t matter much except when he promotes policies that affect California in ways he doesn’t understand because he pays it so little heed, and in times of emergency when the federal aid California is sometimes entitled to can be crucial.

         
              -30-
    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

GENDER GAP THE KEY TO DEMS’ AIMS IN CONGRESS


CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2018 OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
          “GENDER GAP THE KEY TO DEMS’ AIMS IN CONGRESS”


          The most dramatic news in the year’s first big round of political polling, out a few days ago, was that Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, once the prohibitive leader in the run for governor, has fallen into a virtual tie for first place with former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in the seven-candidate field of significant candidates.


          Villaraigosa has gained about 10 percentage points in the survey of the Public Policy Institute of California since serious campaigning began at mid-2017, while the former San Francisco Mayor Newsom lost about five points and other candidates showed no significant gains.


          That’s somewhat ironic in this year of #MeToo revelations of sexual harassment in politics and business, since both ex-mayors have had well-publicized sexual incidents that both say they now deeply regret.


          The poll findings become more ironic when paired with the details of an almost simultaneous poll by the UC Berkeley Institute of Government Studies (IGS).


          That survey, examining two long-Republican Southern California congressional districts that are now in serious play, found a large gender gap that’s likely to be duplicated in the other five or six districts where Democrats hope to flip seats in November. These races are vital to the current strong Democratic hopes of retaking control in the House of Representatives for the first time this decade.


          Republican congressional incumbents are unpopular all over California, found the IGS survey, heir to the polling organization of the longtime, but now defunct, Field Poll. That’s no surprise when the GOP congressional majority steadfastly does President Trump’s bidding at a time when his approval rating in the nation’s largest state sits at just 29 percent.


          The IGS study concentrated on two very different districts with previously secure Republican incumbents. In the coastal Orange County district of Dana Rohrabacher, who has held the seat 30 years, he gets an approval rating of just 38 percent, while 51 percent of voters there say they are inclined to vote against him, no matter which Democrat he might face this fall. They indicated they are more influenced by national issues than local concerns.


          It’s much the same in the variegated district of Steve Knight, stretching from ultra-suburban Simi Valley in Ventura County through booming Santa Clarita to the high desert area around Palmdale, where Knight was once a city councilman. The two-term congressman gets a mere 37 percent job-approval rating, while 56 percent of his constituent voters say they oppose his reelection.


          Most striking among the components of those big disapprovals is the gender gap. In Rohrabacher’s district, 59 percent of women voters said they lean toward opposing his reelection, while an almost identical 60 percent of women voters in Knight’s district say they won’t vote for him.


          Those are huge edges, not easily erased when national Republicans, including Trump, strongly oppose abortion and the environmental and workplace safety and fairness issues generally favored by women. And when Trump refuses to condemn former White House staffer accused of domestic abuse.


          While Rohrabacher voted against Trump’s tax changes, which set a $10,000 cap on what individuals or couples can deduct for state and local taxes (well below the amount of property tax paid by many residents of both districts), Knight is paying for backing that bill. About 32 percent of voters – most of them women – said that vote inclined them to oppose him. Meanwhile, Rohrabacher’s disapproval among women was strengthened by his votes to cripple the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.


          Like other Republicans in contested districts, Rohrabacher and Knight also trail Democratic opponents in fundraising.


          There’s a strong likelihood these poll findings on Knight and Rohrabacher come close to matching the feelings in several other districts.

  
          Said IGS poll director Mark DiCamillo, the former Field Poll chief, “Republicans should be worried about the effect Trump is having on California. There’s an undercurrent that what’s happening in Washington is negatively affecting California.”


          His survey suggests it’s a strong tide, not merely an undercurrent. And the strongest component is the firm anti-Republican sentiment Trump has aroused among women voters in this state – who will also help decide the futures of Newsom and Villaraigosa.

         

    -30-
    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, February 5, 2018

REBUKE FOR PUC AS CONSUMERS GET HALF A WIN

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE:  FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2018, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “REBUKE FOR PUC AS CONSUMERS GET HALF A WIN”


          The bottom line on the 2012 shutdown of the San Onofre Nuclear Power Station was that by all sensible logic, consumers should never have had to pay anything for its eventual scrapping.


          And yet, customers of two of the three largest electric utilities in California have paid for its closure every month since early 2014, when the state Public Utilities Commission – without so much as a public hearing – assessed consumers almost 70 percent of the $4.7 billion costs. So far, customers of the Southern California Edison Co. and the San Diego Gas & Electric Co. have paid more than $2 billion.


          But the incident has ended up as the first time in modern memory where the scandal-ridden PUC essentially admitted a mistake of billion-dollar proportions. This one resulted from a well-documented secret meeting during a 2013 trade conference in Poland which saw Edison executives and former PUC President Michael Peevey agree on terms of the 2014 decision and evade public hearings. An ongoing criminal investigation has so far yielded no indictments.


          The monthly payments by consumers will now end, under terms of a new settlement agreed to early this month by Edison and several consumer groups. Customers will save about $873 million over the next four years, eliminating the “nuclear decommissioning charges” item on their monthly bills. The average customer will be spared paying a total of more than $100.


          The new deal should serve as a warning to both the PUC and other major California utilities like Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and the Southern California Gas Co. that commission decisions are not necessarily final and can be altered if consumer interests are sufficiently persistent and if those decisions are not reached with integrity.


          Most persistent in pursuing cancellation of the secretive earlier settlement were former San Diego City Attorney Mike Aguirre and his law partner Maria Severson, who endured frequent mistreatment from PUC commissioners as they represented a group called Citizens Oversight in pursuing the new deal.


          “Consumers should feel good about not paying for this anymore,” said Aguirre. “But we’re well aware that stopping future collections is not the same as recovering all the money that’s been collected.”


          In all, consumers who were assessed about 70 percent of the total shutdown costs in the original settlement now have paid about 53 percent of those expenses and won’t pay more.


          That doesn’t alter the moral reality that in a perfect world, consumers would have paid nothing beyond the approximately $500 million worth of replacement power the companies provided after San Onofre was disabled.


          This morality is clear because the plant had to be closed due to failure of a steam generator built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries whose design Edison knew could fail.


          In a 2004 letter to Mitsubishi executives, Edison Vice President Dwight Nunn wrote that “I am concerned that there is the potential that design flaws could be inadvertently introduced into the steam generator design that will lead to unacceptable consequences (e.g. tube wear and eventual tube plugging). This would be a disastrous outcome…”


          Despite that foreknowledge, Edison installed a steam generator that produced precisely the “disastrous outcome” of which Nunn warned, leading to closure of San Onofre many years before its lifespan was expected to end. Edison later sued Mitsubishi for the full costs of the shutdown, but got only $125 million, a small fraction of what it sought.


          Since consumers had nothing to do with the conduct of either Edison or Mitsubishi, it made no sense for them to pay any of the decommissioning costs. But they will not be getting back what they’ve already paid.


          The new settlement thus represents a sort of compromise, with consumers ending up out only about two-thirds of what the first settlement called for. It also spells relief for Edison, whose corporate fortunes have been uncertain as long as the San Onofre case hung over it.


          But it’s a defeat for the PUC and its current president, Michael Picker, who voted for the 2014 deal and later pledged transparency, while steadfastly refusing to explain his reasoning, even to legislative committees demanding details. The PUC also faces the possibility of an FBI investigation of this entire fiasco.

         

              -30-       
     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

FEINSTEIN GETS MORE POLITICAL, FIRMING UP HER LEFT

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 2018 OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “FEINSTEIN GETS MORE POLITICAL, FIRMING UP HER LEFT”


          U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, long a personal friend and colleague of California’s longtime Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, pronounced himself confounded the other day, when Feinstein released previously secret testimony about a controversial dossier on Donald Trump’s pre-presidential Russian connections.


          Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, couldn’t understand why Feinstein, the committee’s senior Democrat, released the document after years of being circumspect about keeping government secrets.


          Here’s some help understanding, Chuck: You and Feinstein may have cooperated with each other steadily over the last 25 years, even socializing at times, but Feinstein never had serious Democratic opposition in her reelection efforts until this year.


          Now she faces a challenge from the left, with outgoing state Senate President Kevin de Leon, a Los Angeles Democrat, blasting her continually and demanding she act more like a doctrinaire leftist or “don’t come home.”


          That makes life more political for Feinstein now than it’s been since she first ran for the Senate in 1992 against an appointed Republican, John Seymour, named in 1990 by then-Gov. Pete Wilson to replace himself in the Senate.


          So Feinstein has been shoring up her left flank, since that may be the only direction from which she’ll be challenged this year. Long a moderate with strong support from California’s business leaders, Feinstein’s approach has evolved since de Leon announced his challenge last October.


          De Leon won’t go away soon, even if he’s underfinanced so far and even if he loses badly to Feinstein in the June primary election. Under the state’s top two “jungle primary” system, even if de Leon is trounced in June, he’ll get another chance in November just by finishing second in the primary.


          That now seems assured, with no significant Republican having yet entered the race and the March 9 filing deadline looming. Things might be different had the liberal financier Tom Steyer gotten in, but he took himself out in January, announcing he had bigger fish to fry – leading an effort to impeach Trump.


          De Leon’s strongest criticism of Feinstein came after she counseled the Democrats’ state convention last fall to be more “patient” with Trump. That didn’t sit well with ultra-liberal delegates whose strong wish is to get rid of the President.


          So Feinstein released testimony harmful to Trump, a perfectly legal move since the transcript was not classified. Days later, after Trump’s notorious “s---holes” remark about African and Latin-American countries, she warned that Trump’s never-denied comments about not wanting African immigrants, but instead wanting “more immigrants from countries like Norway” must be called out for what it is: a wish to move this country back generations into a homogeneous white society.


          “We all need to stop pretending that there are no consequences when the most powerful person in the world espouses racist views and gives a wink and a nod to the darkest elements in our society,” she added.


          That was far stronger language than she used about Trump last summer, when he claimed there were “good people” among white nationalists and neo-Nazis who rallied in Charlottesville, VA, where one counter-demonstrator was killed. Of course, de Leon was not yet a candidate then.


          Feinstein, who always tries to keep open lines of communication with the other major party, signaled that things had gone too far for her with Trump.


          Things have also gone farther for Feinstein in the current campaign than they ever have in her previous four reelection bids. She may be coming to realize, as her longtime colleague in the Senate, former Sen. Barbara Boxer, said during her 2010 reelection bid, that “six years (the standard Senate term) is a long time not to run, so you have to reintroduce yourself to California voters in every campaign.”


          Feinstein doesn’t want de Leon to be the one introducing her, with constant hints that at 84, she’s too old to be effective, besides not being liberal enough for California. So as her situation becomes more political, so does she.


          And anyone who’s ever run against her, whether for mayor of San Francisco or governor or the Senate, knows that when Feinstein becomes political, she can be a strong political force. There’s the explanation you might want, Sen. Grassley.

                  
    -30-
    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