Monday, April 29, 2019





          For Gov. Gavin Newsom, there’s been an almost unprecedented mix of adulation and approbation for his bold moves granting reprieves to more than 700 inmates on California’s Death Row and ordering the state’s legal killing chamber dismantled.

          From the left came huzzahs and expressions of admiration from folks who believe that because very occasionally an innocent person has been executed, no one should be, no matter how cruel, evil or heinous their crime, no matter how strongly the sentencing jury may have felt.

          This school of thought has never been a majority preference in California, no matter how liberal its politics have become, although the margins by which capital punishment is favored are narrowing. Where Proposition 17 passed by a 2-1 margin in 1972, enshrining executions in the state constitution, 44 years later in 2016, the Proposition 62 measure aiming to end capital punishment lost by only a 52-48 percent margin. That was about the same edge by which voters passed Proposition 66 the same year, trying to speed up the legal process for executions.

          So while death penalty advocates blasted Newsom’s reprieves as defying popular will, it’s clear popular will on this issue isn’t nearly as strong or singular as it was almost half a century ago.

          Nevertheless, the electorate’s wishes were expressed and Newsom ignored them, despite campaign promises last year to be “accountable to the will of the voters.” He also asserted that “I would not put my personal opinions in the way of the public’s right to make a determination of where they want to take us…”

          But Newsom has defied the will of California voters before and won. His short-lived 2004 order as mayor of San Francisco fostering same-sex marriages there clearly defied public sentiment around the state, as measured by the easy passage of the 2008 Proposition 8 that briefly banned gay unions. But Newsom won out in the end when courts all over America ruled same-sex marriage legal, such unions becoming almost routine today.

          That sequence of events made Newsom a liberal icon and eventually sent him to the governor’s office.

          But Newsom is far from alone in defying the public will, as expressed via its votes. The courts do it fairly regularly, on issues from public exposure to chemicals to the best-known example: the piecemeal legal dismantling of the 1994 anti-illegal immigrant Proposition 187, struck down one provision at a time over the five years after it passed, despite winning by about a 2-1 margin. The measure would have banned the undocumented from virtually all public benefits, from public schooling to emergency room care.

          This spring it was state legislators led by Democratic Assemblyman Richard Bloom of Santa Monica attempting to overturn last fall’s public “no” vote on Proposition 10, which would have spread rent control to virtually all parts of the state. Bloom, however, withdrew his bid, without apology, when it went nowhere.

          Meanwhile, a spate of bills hailed by Newsom would change the status quo on rents, which Proposition 10’s defeat left unchanged. There’s a bill to spread rent control to single-family homes and apartments more than 10 years old even in cities whose rent-control laws specifically exempt them. There’s one to ban what sponsoring Democratic Assemblyman David Chiu of San Francisco calls rent gouging and another aiming to limit evictions.

          All this reopens the rent control debate a mere six months after it appeared resolved. As it turns out, virtually nothing was resolved.

          Perhaps it’s one-party rule that makes officials from Newsom down to back-bench legislators feel empowered to scorn the clearly expressed public will. Democrats hold every statewide office and control both sides of the Legislature by margins of more than two-thirds. Who’s going to stop them when they want to counteract what the voters want?

          They know the Republican label is so toxic today in most parts of California that merely defying or ignoring what the public wants will cost them nothing, and so they do it without hesitating.

    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




          For the last few decades, California’s largest utilities and the state’s Public Utilities Commission have conducted an elaborate kabuki-style dance every two or three years, whenever the utilities applied for general rate increases.

          Now the amounts at stake in these dramatic farces are rising to absurd levels, with all three of the state’s big privately-owned utilities suddenly asking that shareholders get rates of return on investment approximating what they could net from risky junk bonds.

          Pacific Gas & Electric Co., the largest of these, asked in late April to increase shareholder returns from about 10 percent to 16 percent, essentially trying to reward itself and its investors for negligence that led authorities to hold it largely responsible for two huge blazes in less than a year’s time. Southern California Edison, No. 2 in state electricity sales, is gunning for a leap from 10.3 percent to just under 17 percent, while San Diego Gas & Electric seeks a jump from around 10 percent to more than 14 percent.

          Customers around the state would pay an extra $11 to $12 per month for these ill-gotten rewards, if the PUC grants them. Add in the approximately $2 each company will seek to get in increased profits from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and the added tab goes to about $14 per month for the average customer.

        This mere concept outraged Gov. Gavin Newsom, who opined of PG&E’s bid for 16 percent that “They’re not going to get it, period…It’s jaw-droppingly wrong.”

          Newsom, unlike his long-serving predecessor Jerry Brown, at least wants to protect consumers. Trouble is, while he can appoint new PUC members, he can’t fire anyone on the commission once they’ve been confirmed by the state Senate for six-year terms. So Newsom won’t make the vital upcoming decisions; holdover Brown appointees will do that.

          It appears these cases will proceed in the old-fashioned way, via a Japanese-style kabuki-like charade. If past is prologue, it will work this way: After months of public hearings and massive paper filings, the utilities will get something above current profit rates on facilities and equipment, but less than they’re asking. The PUC will brag about its toughness, while the utilities cry all the way to the bank – or to Wall Street investment houses. As with an elaborately acted out and costumed kabuki dance, everyone in the cast and audience knows this outcome in advance.

          The utilities say they must offer shareholders junk-bond level payouts to draw investors while their corporate futures are in doubt due to fire responsibility and liability. Virtually all fire-related lawsuits against the companies have not yet been decided or settled, but the firms are desperate to protect themselves.

          “We are having to make significant investments to harden the grid and make it more resilient to wildfire…,” one Edison executive told a reporter. “To attract the capital we need (for this), we need a return on investments that reflects the operating risks we have today.”

          As usual, the big utilities expect customers already paying some of the highest rates in America to foot the bill. Employees are not being dunned, no matter how negligent. Just customers, most of whom live nowhere near fire areas and will get no new benefits for their higher rates.

          Essentially, these companies seek to deflect responsibility for their actions or lack of action away from management and ownership and onto consumers.

          No matter what Newsom says, there’s little reason to doubt the PUC will act differently from how it predictably has in the past, rewarding utility ineptitude and error with increased revenues.

          Rather than sticking with that course, the better path for state regulators would be to cut rates and punish the utilities for their cavalier attitude about past errors.

          This could encourage formation of more publicly-owned Community Choice Aggregations, which already supply power to dozens of cities and counties around the state, and are answerable to elected officials, and thus to voters.

          But utility rate cases have long followed the same path. Chances are the new kabuki dance will play out like the old ones, with the big utilities again making out like bandits.

    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 22, 2019




          Since the early 1970s time of ex-Gov. Jerry Brown’s first term in office, California officials from the top down have tried to coax Californians out of their cars.

          It began with Brown’s installing as his highway czarina the highly touted “transportation genius” Adriana Gianturco, a Harvard Graduate School product whose first step was to turn two existing lanes of the world’s busiest roadway – the I-10 Santa Monica Freeway in Los Angeles – over to carpools only.

          This won her the determined enmity of most local motorists, who soon hounded Gianturco from office and away from California, while the lanes went back to general use and the “Giant Turkey” became a cautionary tale for bureaucrats who followed.

          This 44-year-old lesson appears all but forgotten today, as state and local governments obsess over the notion that mass transit and dense development can somehow lessen traffic gridlock.

          That’s one rationale behind all the bicycle lanes appearing in cities large and small today, often at the expense of traffic lanes and parking spaces. It’s also the reasoning that drives efforts to force dense housing near light rail stations and heavily used bus routes, on the presumption that new occupants will not add to traffic, using mass transit instead.

          The problem: Among California cities, only San Francisco has anything like the comprehensive public transportation system needed to accomplish this. As a result, gridlock is now worse than ever in most cities, including San Francisco, where one recent study showed ride-sharing vehicles from outfits like Uber and Lyft make up 30 percent of all traffic.

          Which means some residents have indeed been driven from their cars – right into other cars. There is no reduction in smog from this; in fact, narrowed streets produce more greenhouse gases than before as cars idle far longer at stoplights because of slower traffic flow caused by transformed traffic lanes. The current profusion of sport utility vehicles doesn’t help, either, as they take up significantly more space than sedans and slow things even more.

          Even the presence of new rail lines doesn’t guarantee more mass transit riders. Last year, the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Southern California (MTA) found opening the new Expo Line from downtown Los Angeles to the beach increased train ridership – but bus occupancy on parallel routes was down by similar amounts. A net of virtually no cars were taken off the road by this huge investment, leaving the I-10 as congested as ever.

          But the anti-automobile campaign persists. In San Diego, city officials voted to eliminate parking requirements in new construction, even large apartment and condominium projects. Their theory is that residents will use buses, ride-sharing and bicycles if they don’t have their own parking spaces. This ignores the reality that in cities with parking shortages, a lucrative rental market already exists for what spaces there are.

          Meanwhile, state government, spurred by the same unproven theories, pushes cities to dedicate more and more land for new housing, even where developers have expressed little or no interest in starting new projects.

          Local governments which know the preferences and needs of their residents best are taken to task for failing to report progress toward the state’s housing goals. One recent state report singled out 31 Southern California cities for failing to file such reports. The same study showed that 100 out of 539 cities statewide filed no such reports over the last five years.

          At the same time, MTA directors ordered their staff to write a regional analysis of so-called “congestion pricing.” That’s a concept used in a few cities worldwide – London among them – which sees drivers charged either a per-mile use tax or an entry fee for heading into the most congested areas. The study will also try to determine what might happen if for-hire ride-share vehicles had to pay fees for using city streets.

          The politicians pushing all these measures ought to heed some of  California’s political history and see for themselves what happened to Gianturco, who pioneered in their mode of thinking. Along with her boss, then-Gov. Brown, she learned painfully that letting unproven theories or ones known to be false determine public policies and actions can prove personally and politically disastrous.

    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 unspoken concept was conspicuously missing the other day, when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a wildfire mitigation plan he had loudly touted: responsibility. Instead, there were multiple forms of passing the buck.

          The Newsom-spurred plan has at least three prongs. Even though he didn’t quite endorse them, the governor wants the proposals acted on long before the next potentially massive wildfire season arrives in summer and early fall.

One plan element would see some mitigation of liability for utility companies when their electric lines start fires, especially if the companies are not found at fault. Another envisions a new state wildfire fund created with state money and funds from utility customers statewide, with needy fire victims somehow able to benefit. A third would let insurance companies refuse to sell policies in fire areas or charge more there.

It’s fair to sum up these three plan portions as two bailouts and a license to gouge.

          Incentives are also recommended for utilities switching to renewable energy sources faster than now required, hopefully reducing the climate change that helped the swift spread of disastrously huge fires in 2017 and 2018.

          One group that could benefit from all this: The victims, even though most knew or should have known just what they were getting into. The biggest blazes of the last two years occurred in or near areas that have burned before. People living there had every reason to know the dangers they faced.

          Wrote one local columnist in a fire area: “I told (my wife), ‘This neighborhood is going to burn to the ground someday.’ We bought the house anyway.”

          But the proposed plan would have taxpayers and utility customers who deliberately refuse to live in fire-prone areas share the cost when homes there burn. Already, prices for everyone’s property insurance tend to climb when insurers make multi-billion-dollar payoffs on existing policies.

          That’s just one feature of the Newsom task force plan for a wildfire disaster fund. But why should taxpayers in historically safe areas pay into this?

          Newsom’s response is that “We’re all in this together…” But he doesn’t explain why that should be true for folks who deliberately avoid fire areas. They don’t live in lovely forests, with scenic streams and gullies and thick woods, sweeping mountain views or ocean vistas.

          Reporters who visit just-burned fire areas often hear residents say something like this in virtually every fire-prone part of California: “We love the lifestyle and the ambience here and we won’t be driven out by any disaster.” Most taxpayers and utility customers get neither those vistas nor their ambiance. Why should they subsidize a lifestyle they don’t have and usually can’t afford? If people voluntarily help homeowning fire victims, that’s admirable, but why use tax dollars?

          Deploying tax money after earthquakes and hurricanes is very different, since they can hit almost anywhere and can’t with any certainty be avoided like fire areas.

          Then there’s the Newsom task force approach to the big privately owned utilities, Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric: A suggested lessening of their liabilities in big fires. All have lately been found at fault or admitted fault in fires.

          Legislators last year refused to let them completely off the hook, and likely also won’t this year. Instead, lawmakers should clear the way for relatively new publicly-owned Community Choice Aggregation electric providers to buy up transmission lines and other equipment, so long as they maintain it safely. Existing utilities could use money from this to pay for damage they caused.

          Newsom said “No single stakeholder created this crisis, and no single stakeholder should bear its full cost.” He called for costs to be shared by, among others, local governments (read: taxpayers) and utility ratepayers in general. But while no single group created the crisis, plenty of taxpayers and utility customers deliberately avoid fire danger. Newsom didn’t adequately or credibly explain why they should pay.

          In a way, this scene stems from today’s societal reluctance to hold individuals and companies responsible for their actions and behavior.

          But passing the buck eventually stops somewhere, sometime, and California might now be at one of those seminal moments.

    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 15, 2019




Gov. Gavin Newsom has long prided himself on taking a holistic approach to government, realizing the connection between key issues like transportation and climate change, fire management and the makeup of corporate boards of directors.

He also likes bold approaches, like his sudden decision in March to issue reprieves for all 700-plus murderers, rapists and arsonists on California’s Death Row.

          So it’s rather odd that Newsom has not followed up since assuming office on one of the more interesting statements he made while a candidate last year.

          Asked during an interview about the state’s hyper-controversial high speed rail project, Newsom made a strong link between California’s huge housing deficit and the potential of bullet trains to help solve or at least mitigate it.

          His remark of about one year ago was very different from the plan he espoused during his winter state-of-the-state speech, where Newsom proposed limiting the bullet train to a relatively short run between Bakersfield and Merced.

          In real life, that might be a decent starter route, but as a stand-alone project, it does little or nothing for the vast bulk of taxpayers footing the bills. Nor would it help an iota in solving the housing shortage.

          But Newsom, who called during the campaign for building 3.5 million more homes in the state within the next seven years, had a different vision before he took office.

          “I think the high speed rail project has become far too expensive,” he said back then. “But it could be very useful in helping with housing.”

          Newsom suggested then that running bullet trains to the Central Valley from the Los Angeles area, the East Bay and the Silicon Valley could make both home ownership and long-distance commutes viable for people living in places like Modesto, Merced, Madera, Tracy and Bakersfield. He did not imply this could solve the very different problem of homelessness.

          Newsom noted that land is exponentially cheaper in the Central Valley than in coastal counties, making homes far less expensive. Some workers already commute between two and four hours daily from there to jobs near the coast. High-speed trains could cut those commutes by half or more, he said, thus making the more affordable inland locations newly viable for many thousands.

          Estimates of the cost of building “affordable” housing run between $330,000 and $450,000 per unit today in projects of more than 100 apartments or condominiums in coastal counties. That expense could plummet in the lower-cost Central Valley.

          Newsom’s proposed budget includes about $1.3 billion as a state contribution to getting started toward his massive housing goal, almost half in the form of tax credits for developers. That’s just a start-up estimate for the massive build-up envisioned. But the eventual tab could likely be cut by tens of billions of dollars if most building occurred in rural areas, where resistance to new construction might also be far less.

          The only way that can work is if there’s fast transportation to locales with masses of jobs. Enter high speed rail.

          Applying the savings in housing costs to the bullet train could also solve many of its financial woes, and the project might proceed at least close to its original concept of serving cities from San Diego to San Francisco and Sacramento.

          Looking at this holistically, it would also cut greenhouse gases and climate change by putting commuters in trains, not cars. The same commuters would then use public transit within the big employment areas (read: cities) unless they kept an extra car near bullet train stations. Cost and inconvenience ensure relatively few would do that.

          Which means the link candidate Newsom saw between housing and the bullet train could become very real if Gov. Newsom pushed it with anything near the zeal he’s shown for getting rid of the seldom-used death penalty.

          “I want to be known for looking around the corner, seeing potential and not doing politics as usual,” candidate Newsom also said.

          It’s time for the still-new governor to act on his words and make linkage between bullet trains and new homes real, something that won’t happen unless he supports it vocally.

     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




          The more credible challenges are raised against their claim that vaccines cause autism and other problems in children, the more aggressive becomes the anti-vaccination camp in California.

          During the very same week that Danish researchers released a study of 650,000 youngsters over 10 years that found absolutely “no association” between autism and vaccines for diseases from polio and measles to whooping cough and hepatitis, the anti-vaccine camp again raised claims there is such a link.

          That contention – often repeated by America’s most visible anti-vaxxer, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. – is based on a thoroughly debunked British study from early in this century.

          Nowhere are the anti-vaccination folks more active than in California. In the last two months they’ve gone after Democratic state Sen. Richard Pan of Sacramento, co-author of the state’s newest law demanding vaccination as a condition of public school registration, and attacked a legislative effort to prevent a repeat of a deadly hepatitis A outbreak in San Diego.

          The bill by Democratic Assembly members Todd Gloria and Lorena Gonzalez, both from San Diego, doesn’t mention vaccinations, but would demand that local authorities take “any action the health officer deems necessary to control the spread of (a) communicable disease.”

          Anti-vaxxers responded that this could allow county health departments to order adults vaccinated, not just schoolchildren. “This is a pretty scary bill if they don’t make any amendments to it,” anti-vaccination activist Denise Marie said in a Facebook video that got thousands of views. Denise Marie does not provide her surname.

          Her video was one factor inducing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to promise the social medium will remove false anti-vaccine information from its service.

          Other anti-vaxxers are at least as vocal. The Voice for Choice activist group released a public statement attacking Pan for “invading the doctor-patient relationship.” Early this year, Pan, the Legislature’s only pediatrician, complained that some doctors are falsely writing medical exemptions from vaccination for their young patients in exchange for payments of about $300.

          Pan also wrote the U.S. surgeon general reminding him that compulsory vaccinations are a longstanding American tradition. “George Washington mandated smallpox inoculation of his army during the Revolutionary War to ensure our country’s freedom,” he said. “I call on you to protect our right as Americans to be free of preventable disease…”

          All this came against the background of a major outbreak of measles in counties in southern Washington hosting wealthy suburbs of Portland, Ore. More than 55 cases were recorded just west of Vancouver, Wash., an area where vaccination rates had lately fallen below 90 percent.

          When those rates drop below about 95 percent, vulnerable persons can be more easily infected by others who unknowingly carry the disease.

          But outbreaks of hepatitis in San Diego and measles among Disneyland patrons, New York residents and Portland-area suburbanites don’t deter the anti-vaccination campaigns. They don’t acknowledge it, but they’re putting their unfounded fears ahead of the possibility of deadly disease outbreaks.

          Pan’s 2015 bill ending the religious objection exemption to vaccination for new public schoolers – mostly kindergarten pupils – was supposed to stop the debate.

          It had the reverse effect, firing up opponents who now turn out in significant numbers for legislative hearings here and around the nation. It also expanded the “doctor’s recommendation” market that began with the 1996 Proposition 215 allowing medical marijuana use with such a note.

          The bottom-line fact in all this is that measles can kill, while vaccines never have. Not even when a few persons have had strong reactions to them.

          Here’s what has to happen: Lawmakers must stand up to the anti-vaccination crowd, a very small minority according to every poll. They must pass the Gloria-Gonzalez bill for starters. They also ought to create and pass a new law requiring more than a mere doctor’s note claiming potential ill effects in order to exempt a child from vaccinations. Perhaps a requirement for some sort of laboratory tests demonstrating a vaccine allergy would be appropriate along with a doctor’s note.

          Anything short of this leaves the door open for evasion of the vaccination requirements needed to once again make California free of diseases that formerly plagued the entire world, but are now under control except in areas with low vaccination rates.

    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 8, 2019




          Jog your memory back just nine years to 2010 and you’ll find California’s Big Three privately-owned electric utilities spending more than $70 million – $46 million from Pacific Gas & Electric Co. alone – trying to pass a ballot proposition making it almost impossible to create new publicly-owned utilities.

          Imagine the outcry today if PG&E and its allies at Southern California Edison Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric Co. spent that kind of money on a measure designed to keep their monopolies intact.

          All three have been implicated in the ignition of several of the largest wildfires in California history, causing tens of billions of dollars in damage to their customers. So the outcry against any repeat of the big-money utility company effort to pass the 2010 Proposition 16 – it failed – would come not only from consumers, but also from victims of fires admittedly started by the electric firms’ equipment, who see any utility spending for political donations or lobbying as essentially theft. It would take money away from the cash reservoir available to compensate victims.

          The utility company effort of nine years ago aimed to require a two-thirds public vote before any new Community Choice Aggregations could be started. Such a huge margin would be virtually unattainable, the utilities knew.

          If that measure had passed, it’s doubtful places as diverse as Marin County and Manhattan Beach, San Francisco and Simi Valley would have the CCAs now serving them. These publicly-owned electricity suppliers buy power where they want, then transmit it back to their customers on power lines owned by the utilities.

          The results include far greater use of renewable energy in California than before, lower prices in many places, and lower utility company revenues.

          It’s that last item that the big regional power companies fearfully anticipated. Because they are publicly-owned, CCAs don’t pay or pass through the same taxes as other utilities. So even if the juice they use costs them a tad more, it ends up costing most consumers a bit less, besides being better for the environment and the planet.

          What’s more, the utilities will never be bankrupted by this, as PG&E has declared it will be by its own negligence in power line maintenance and wildfire prevention.

          The biggest of the CCAs resulting from Proposition 16’s failure is the Clean Power Alliance of Ventura and Los Angeles counties, which serves their unincorporated areas, plus 31 cities. More can join if they wish.

          The first invoices from that brand new CCA went to customers within the last few weeks. These invoices include power transmission charges from Southern California Edison, with all the funds collected via Edison’s existing billing system.

          A typical invoice shows the majority of the money charged still goes to Edison, even under the CCA’s most expensive option, which uses power drawn exclusively from renewable sources like solar, wind, geothermal and hydroelectric dams.

          But the debut of the Clean Power Alliance and other CCAs was delayed by onerous rules set up two years ago by the state Public Utilities Commission, which has long done what it could to aid the companies it’s supposed to regulate. One rule passed in 2017 set up new, higher levies on CCA customers as a way to compensate utilities for their expenses in building power plants – which customers already fund via their rates.

          But neither the PUC nor the utilities are now now focused on CCAs, obsessed instead with lawsuits both filed and anticipated in the wake of the massive Camp, Thomas, Woolsey and other hugely damaging fires of the last two years.

          Especially with a new top management and board of directors coming to the largest of the utilities, PG&E, this change in their concerns creates an opening for new CCAs like the one now desired by San Diego and its Republican mayor, Kevin Faulconer.

          It’s small consolation, especially to burned out homeowners, but this could mean there will eventually be some long-term consumer benefit after all from California’s vast firestorms.

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




It’s never easy to convince Californians they should reverse decisions made by the legislators they elect, as Republicans led by the failed gubernatorial candidate John Cox discovered last fall.

          Cox made his pet proposition, a referendum to repeal a 12-cent gasoline tax increase passed in 2017, the centerpiece of his run for governor, but saw it lose by a 57-43 percent margin, not even close.

          But California referenda – the term for propositions aiming to overturn laws passed by the Legislature – can win, as sponsors of a 1982 measure proved when they overwhelmingly killed a plan called the Peripheral Canal, designed to move Northern California river water south around the Delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers.

          And now, anyone looking for a nearly guaranteed winning proposition in next year’s election should check out an already-qualified measure to repeal last year’s law eliminating the centuries-old cash bail system from California criminal courts.

          This law, quickly signed by ex-Gov. Jerry Brown after it passed last summer, appears doomed by the new referendum sponsored by the state’s more than 3,000 bail bondsmen. They, of course, have a vested interest in keeping the present system: If cash bail goes, they would lose established businesses, jobs and income amounting to about $2 billion per year.

          Ending cash bail looks like a loser not for legal reasons, but because it draws opposition from both the left and the right. Republicans like Cox and the GOP’s defeated candidate for state attorney general, Steven Bailey, instantly condemned the new law, passed as SB 10, claiming it was both soft on criminals and unconstitutional.

          Their claim won’t be tested unless the bail bond industry’s proposition fails in late 2020. That’s because the no-cash-bail system SB 10 set up is now in abeyance even though Gov. Gavin Newsom tentatively budgeted $75 million to get it going.

          So strong is the support for cash bail that this referendum qualified for the ballot in near-record time. Sponsors had 90 days to gather the 365,888 valid voter signatures needed to put their proposition on the ballot. They took just 70 days and collected more than 576,000.

          Support for keeping cash bail, at least for now, comes from both liberals and conservatives. The American Civil Liberties Union and others on the left initially supported SB 10, but were turned off by the system that would replace cash bail if the law ever takes effect. This plan was added into the bill in the last hours before it passed, and criminal justice critics fear it might result in keeping more pre-trial defendants in custody than cash bail ever has.

          The planned new system, called “risk assessment,” would rate all persons bound over for trial in California for their likelihood of disappearing or committing more crimes if left free while awaiting court appearances. People accused of misdemeanors would have to be freed within 24 hours no matter their background.

          The ACLU, for one, fears the new system could give judges new power to hold felony defendants indefinitely before trial, and might perpetuate racial or religious prejudices, leading to more persons languishing in jail than now do.

          While Republicans opposed the no-cash-bail law, Newsom and other Democrats praised it, saying money should never decide whether a defendant stays in jail, isolated from family and friends.

          Without doubt, money can do that now: If a defendant cannot make bail or afford the 10 percent down payment on bail usually required by a bondsman, that person stays in custody.

          The bail industry also claims the new system would be unsafe. “Where it has been used, (some) violent offenders have been declared “safe,” while others with minor blemishes on their records have been deemed “high risk” and left stuck in jail,” said Jeff Clayton, executive director of the American Bail Coalition.

          Another factor: While California is as solidly “blue” politically as any state in America, it also has a long history of passing tough anti-crime measures like “three-strikes-and-you’re-out,” and by large margins.

          Taken together, all this makes the new referendum almost a sure thing for passage, which would send would-be criminal justice reformers back to their no-cash-bail drawing boards.

    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