Tuesday, October 29, 2019




     Build 3.5 million new dwelling units across California by 2025 and this state’s housing shortage will be solved, Gov. Gavin Newsom prescribed during his campaign last year and many times since.

       But it’s not happening, and the problems of affordability and homelessness have grown no easier to solve under Newsom than before his election, despite many months of talk and a slew of new laws designed to make permitting and building new units easier and less bureaucratic.

       If there’s a culprit here, it appears to be market forces. For years, the common nostrum was that easier permitting and lower prices could solve the problems, which see more than 130,000 homeless persons around the state and many more who can’t afford the American dream of owning their homes, which in California has been a path to wealth for generations.

       It appears not even a drastic measure like this year’s proposed (and later scrubbed) SB 50 can do the trick. The measure aims to mandate high-rise housing in job and transit centers and near the busiest bus lines regardless of what neighbors or local officials desire.

      SB 50’s likely failure was implied last spring, when the Irvine-based real estate information firm MetroStudy reported that 3,700 newly-built homes went unsold in Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties during the first quarter of this year.

       That left unsold housing inventory up 22 percent from last year and 37 percent above the five-year average. It caused a slowdown in construction at the very time Newsom and others wanted more building, with new home development in the state’s most populous region down 18 percent year over year.

       That reduction in housing sales and construction would hardly get California 3.5 million new units in the next six years. It might generate one-sixth that many, at best.

       This was market forces at work: Even though builders dropped the price of new housing below the regional median price, they could not drop it below the $425,000 average cost of building an apartment or condominium in a typical 100-unit project. Instead, most new units must be sold for about $600,000 in order to push the price of “affordable” new units in each development down to $350,000 or less.

Such numbers are needed for developers to make any profit, a prerequisite if anyone expects them to build anything. But at those prices, there aren’t enough buyers to sustain the kind of building boom California needs.

       That was the Southern California situation, and things were similar in the Central Valley, where prices are significantly lower – but so are average incomes.

       Now a similar market-driven malaise affects the San Francisco Bay area, the state’s employment leader thanks to Silicon Valley. That area’s sustained success has driven up the average cost of Bay area housing.

       The steady upward drive of housing prices in the region began to flag earlier this year, with prices stabilizing at least for while. That now has developers in the entire region leery of building very much, according to a new study of California builders by UCLA’s Anderson School of Management and the law firm Allen Matkins. The report focused on multi-family housing, as well as new office and retail construction.

      Essentially, builders think the economy will be worse in 2022 than today, and 2022 is about when construction whose planning starts now would be ready to occupy. Developers thus have pulled back on some new apartments and condos over the last six months and more than half those surveyed said they planned no new multi-family home project starts over the next 12 months.

       Survey authors said this was due in part to a rise in new Northern California housing inventories, similar to what began earlier in Southern California. Essentially, if rents and home prices are stable or falling, developers won’t risk their capital.

      But at the same time, California needs home prices and rents to drop if it’s to resolve the housing crunch.

       It adds up to a plain need for the state to adjust its goals and tactics to reasonable levels. For no one knows just yet whether or how the state can maneuver or legislate its way past this problem.

    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




       Phil Ting is adamant about it. California needs to triple its subsidies for electric vehicles right now. But he might have to reduce his goal for the subsidy if he expects his bill to pass the Legislature when it returns from its current recess.

       For sure, the subsidy expansion plan from Ting, a Democratic assemblyman from San Francisco, will be back. As proposed, it would triple a typical car buyer’s rebate for buying an electric auto to $7,500, with reductions over time as California gets closer to its stated goal of 5 million zero emission vehicles on the road by 2030.

       Said Ting, a former county assessor/recorder of San Francisco reelected to the state Assembly with an 80 percent majority last year, “California still has a long way to go – at the beginning of 2019, there were only 550,000 clean cars…on our roads.”

       But tripling the state rebate for EVs raises other questions, mostly about fairness and equity.

       Because electric vehicles generally cost thousands of dollars more than comparable gasoline models, the Ting proposal amounts to a subsidy for the well-to-do. In fact, it would make up for the federal EV and plug-in hybrid subsidies President Trump has set out to eliminate as early as next year.

       Already, federal subsidies for Tesla and General Motors EVs have run out, because those companies long ago passed the 200,000-unit sales level at which the U.S. support ends, intended as it was to jump-start new concepts into public acceptance.

       Ting may not have thought much about the issue of fairness – why should someone who can afford a $50,000-plus Tesla get a subsidy for driving a luxury car while the less wealthy struggle to buy conventional used cars for $5,000 to $10,000?

       But remember, Ting was once the property tax assessor in the city that ranks either first or second in America in real estate prices, with no ceiling in sight on those. The high prices of EVs may not look so hefty to him, living as he does in his city’s Sunset District, where it’s hard to find a fixer-upper house for under $1.3 million.

       In fact, a 2018 study by the conservative Pacific Research Institute found 79 percent of electric and plug-in tax credits were claimed by households with adjusted gross incomes topping $100,000 per year, while a 2015 UC Berkeley study similarly found that “the top income quintile (top 20 percent) has received about 90 percent of all EV credits.”

But Ting is convinced putting more EVs on the road is the key to combating climate change.

“Forty percent of greenhouse gas emissions stem from transportation,” he said on introducing his plan, known legislatively this year as AB 1046. “We need bigger incentives now to get more zero emission vehicles on the road and slow our climate crisis.”

Ting said he deliberately designed his proposal so rebates would drop gradually. “There is no real incentive to buy or lease a zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) right now if consumers know the rebate level will be the same year after year,” he said. “But if consumers have certainty that the rebates will diminish as time goes on, they might act sooner rather than later.”

That logic might in fact increase ZEV sales. But it doesn’t speak to the fact government rebates for expensive products mean that poor and middle-class Californians are subsidizing the rich.

Maybe the $100,000-plus income level typical of EV buyers doesn’t look high to Ting, but it surely does to many others. One 2018 poll found two-thirds of voters did not want to pay for wealthier people to buy electric vehicles.

The website of the Washington, D.C.-based Energy Equality Coalition (funded in part by the oil-centered owners of Koch Industries), declares that EVs today are “Built by billionaires, bought by millionaires (and subsidized by the rest of us).”

There’s also the fact that EV owners pay no gasoline taxes, so they do little to help pay for the roads on which they drive.

In short, Ting wants an essentially unfair program in hopes it will make EVs a major automotive factor. But that has not yet happened despite half a decade of subsidies, state and federal.

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

Monday, October 21, 2019




       The effort to encourage California to leave the rest of America behind and become an independent country has so far gotten nowhere. A ballyhooed attempt to put the question before the state’s voters in the form of an initiative didn’t get far, not even making the secretary of state’s current list of potential future ballot measures.

       But that doesn’t keep California from acting a lot like a nation-state right now, even as it tries to fend off one attempt after another by the Donald Trump administration to reduce its autonomy, from controlling air quality to dealing with wildfires and the homeless.

       In fact, this fall California and its leadership – elected and appointed – have acted even more like a country than while Jerry Brown was governor from 2011 to 2019, when he traveled the world signing agreements and memoranda of understanding with several foreign countries and with provinces belonging to others, including Canada  and China.

       So far this fall, action after action has proclaimed California distinct from the rest of America. The most visible of these was a move by the state Air Resources Board that will eventually allow polluting companies to buy carbon-producing credits that aim to stop deforestation not only in California, but in major rain forests around the world, including the Amazon, where the so-called “lungs of the world” are said to be threatened by expanding ranches and forest clearance.

       This action set standards for the emerging carbon market born from California’s pioneering cap-and-trade system to combat climate change in part by paying for programs that demonstrate absorption of carbons, as trees do. The ARB contemplates helping environmental groups buy wooded lands. This was an unprecedented move by a state government agency, coming just when Trump officially began trying to remove California’s unique ability to regulate its own air quality and greenhouse gas production.

       It came as fires both planned and unplanned in Brazil alone last summer put far more carbons into the air than California produces in a full year. Buying up forest land there would keep it from being burned off to make way for new crops and cattle.

       At the same time, California became the first state government to move toward helping finance an interstate bullet train project. This planned railway would initially run from the high desert north of San Bernardino to Las Vegas, a project completely separate from the state’s ongoing, ever-controversial high speed rail plan to eventually run trains between Northern and Southern California.

       Officials led by Treasurer Fiona Ma took the first step toward approving $300 million in tax exempt private bonds backed by the state as a way to get investors to fund the Las Vegas bullet train project, the kind of plan usually backed by the federal Railroad Administration, which first gave money to this state’s high speed rail plan, but has since tried to renege. The bonds would give Virgin Trains, the outfit behind the Las Vegas plan, about half what’s needed to build its project, which will run mostly across desert lands roughly parallel to Interstate 15.

       Next, ex-Gov. Brown made a splash announcing plans for a new joint California-China climate change institute to open at UC Berkeley. It will be one of the world’s first international research institutes, but will actually be a joint effort between this state and the planet’s most heavily populated country.

       And then, current Gov. Gavin Newsom went to the United Nations to sound a bit like a national leader as he pronounced himself “absolutely humiliated by what’s going on” – or not going on – with climate change in Washington, D.C. “I don’t know what the hell happened to this country that we have a President that we do today on this issue,” he added, while maintaining that California will persist in its own efforts, regardless of Trump. While in New York, Newsom also signed a trade agreement with Armenia, then announced a state-owned climate-tracking satellite.

       It adds up to highly visible autonomy, but may end up proving that California really does need to secede in order to pursue what Newsom likes to call its “basic values.”

    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




       The eyes of the nation will be riveted on the presidential race one year from today, with the likelihood that President Trump will be fighting for his political life and also to retain immunity from courtroom prosecution for another four years.

       There’s also the possibility that the impeachment investigation now underway in Washington, D.C., will have forced Trump out, either through conviction (unlikely because of the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate) or through resignation in a deal similar to the one former President Richard Nixon made in 1973, when he was pardoned just after leaving office.

       Even Nixon haters didn’t mind that pardon much, because it completely removed the onetime California senator from politics and government.

       But as the Trump saga and his reelection drive develop, California won’t be much in play. Since the flood of Latino voter registrations of the late 1990s, this state has been solidly Democratic, so candidates in next fall’s runoff election for the nation’s highest office won’t spend much time or money here.

       The action will be on the congressional level, where Democrats took seven formerly Republican seats in 2018, leaving the GOP determined to win at least some of them back next year.

       That’s one reason it was significant when the seven new Democratic incumbents – all from districts either in the San Joaquin Valley or at least partly in Orange County – this fall stopped hesitating and began fully backing Democratic efforts in the House of Representatives to impeach Trump.

       Their getting off the fence on ousting Trump before his term is up was significant because all seven have proved highly capable of reading public sentiment in their districts. All decided the prevailing sense among the folks who will decide their futures a year from now was that it is high time to rid the nation of its most divisive President in memory.

       (That’s saying a lot, considering the strong pro and con feelings engendered by all three of Trump’s most recent predecessors – Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.)

       Of the seven Democratic newcomers, only Mike Levin, representing northern San Diego County and some of south Orange County, can be seen as “safe.” He won by more than six percent last year, while four of his fellow California congressional newbies didn’t see their races decided until well after Election Day, several almost a month after the last votes were cast.

       The tightest races involved T.J. Cox (Selma and vicinity), Josh Harder (Modesto area), Katie Porter (Irvine area) and Gil Cisneros (Yorba Linda and environs). Porter has been aboard the impeachment bandwagon for awhile, but the others just got on shortly before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, herself a California Democrat, declared it time for a full-fledged investigation.

       All were reading tea leaves rather than solid polling information, but all had the sense that at least a plurality of voters in their districts wants Trump investigated thoroughly.

       If they were mistaken, they will suffer the wrath of Republican voters who are about as numerous as Democrats in those districts, people who feel their man is being wronged, despite evidence he released himself that he asked the leader of Ukraine to take measures standing to benefit Trump politically. Some believe Trump has long used his office for financial gain, encouraging diplomatic and other foreign visitors to spend money in his hotels and other properties. But despite hints produced by the Mueller investigation, the Ukraine phone call was the first “smoking gun” that showed Trump using the presidency for his personal interests.

       Porter publicly acknowledged the risk she and her colleagues took by advocating impeachment. “People said (to me), ‘Well, you know this might be risky. You might not get reelected.’ I said, ‘I am here to do what’s right.’”

       We will know just about a year from today whether Porter and the others read their tea leaves correctly. If they’re reelected, you can figure they’re pretty good at reading their districts. If not, the next Congress might look quite different from today’s. With the state’s presidential preference pretty much a foregone conclusion, that will be a main California focus next fall.

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

Monday, October 14, 2019




          There is no public polling on this issue, but anyone who travels around California can sense that many, if not most, electric customers would like to be rid of big utility companies like Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison, yet they fear possible consequences if those firms disappear.

          Reader T.J. in Nevada County put it this way: “PG&E is far from perfect, but when you think of them gone, what have we got left?” The answer is: plenty. 

          T.J.’s letter demonstrates that he understands the perfidy of PG&E, his local utility. But like many others, T.J. fears the demise of big electric providers would automatically mean long blackouts and brownouts, not “mere” power shutdowns to keep the companies’ poorly maintained transmission lines from causing disasters.

          But it’s not necessarily so. The bankrupt PG&E, for one, has been declared both a felon and a probation violator that has caused massive loss of life and property. If it were a person, not a corporation, that person would be imprisoned right now. So much for the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which held that corporations are like people. They’re not. Big corporations are much more privileged than people.

          They can cause wildfires putting thousands out of their homes and flee into bankruptcy to avoid paying the price of their negligence. They can follow up by asking the state to rescue them, and cow legislators into setting up a fund that will eventually amount to more than $20 billion. They can then follow up with a demand for a huge rate increase, as it if were deserved.

           Do we really need companies like this, aside from the fact they’ve donated well over $1 million to candidates including the governor, even while bankrupt? This includes Edison, which is not yet bankrupt, but also helped cause huge fires and has so far not paid for damages. Edison also apparently conspired illegally with since-departed regulators to dun customers billions of dollars for the costs of its blunder that shut down the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

The formal state investigation of that possible crime has essentially disappeared, the state attorney general refusing to say what’s become of the probe started and then buried by his predecessor, current Democratic U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris.

           T.J. and others who fear the loss of familiar utilities should take comfort, however, in the fact that when a corporation disappears, its assets don’t necessarily vanish suddenly. If PG&E and Edison were gone, their hydroelectric dams would remain. Their staffers would not suddenly lose all their skills and knowledge. Power lines would stay up, too.

           So corporate disappearances would not be into thin air. Consumer attorney Mike Aguirre, a former elected city attorney of San Diego, the other day filed with the California Public Utilities Commission a proposed map dividing PG&E’s huge service area into eight distinct, geographically sensible parts, each of which a bankruptcy judge could order sold to the highest bidder. The money could pay off the losses of uninsured wildfire victims. New owners would decide whether to retain current employees.

          Meanwhile, the vast majority of cities and counties that have formed Community Choice Aggregations to municipalize power service are doing just fine, some even wanting to issue bonds they’d like to use for buying electric transmission lines from the big utilities. CCAs now pay to use those lines.

           In short, California could have many publicly owned utilities instead of three huge privately-owned ones and a few government-owned power outfits, like the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power and smaller outfits like Burbank Water & Power, Riverside Public Utilities and the Redding Electric Utility.

          If they can bring cheaper power and other services to their communities without the “expertise” of the big utilities whose territory surrounds them, why couldn’t buyers of PG&E, Edison and their components?

           So take comfort T.J. and others: You have nothing to fear except freedom from corrupt, cheating corporations who survive only by paying off politicians (Gov. Gavin Newsom took $208,000 PG&E campaign dollars last year, for just one example) and gouging the customers they are supposed to serve.

    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




          For the ninth time in the last five years, gasoline prices spiked this fall in California, with per-gallon pump charges briefly leaping above $5.15 at many stations around the state.

       The escalation of more than $1 per gallon of unleaded regular was largely masked by bigger headlines devoted to wildfires and massive blackouts staged or threatened by the state’s biggest utilities, but it was very real and still is far from fully receding.

          Meanwhile, there was some consumer protection for Californians when the electric companies cut them off in the interest of preventing fires sparked by power lines whose maintenance they neglected for many years. When a blackout, fire or earthquake strikes, state law prohibits sudden price gouging by merchants and service providers.

          No such law governs oil companies when they experience gasoline refinery outages, whether they are accidental or deliberately staged – and there is no one now authorized to determine the difference. There ought to be.

          For now, no one can formally prove the recent price increases meet legal definitions of gouging, which happens when retailers and suppliers respond to disasters with prices much higher than usual, sometimes rising to the level of being both unfair and unjustified.

          Things very likely met that definition this month when prices jumped about 20 percent after seven of the state’s 25 major oil refineries either had scheduled maintenance outages or experienced short-term operational troubles.

          No government authority has yet proven collusion between the five big refiners – led by Chevron, Tesoro and Phillips 66 – which control 90 percent of California’s gasoline market, and also own or franchise 80 percent of gas stations. But for them all to raise prices hugely at the same moment suggested some sort of cooperation. They can’t all be running up precisely identical costs at the very same moment.

          Consumers can’t help noticing that when the price rises at a Chevron station, it generally goes up the same amount at the Shell outlet across the street, which often pumps Tesoro fuel. That happened this fall and also in the prior price spikes, including one last spring. Gas station operators can’t be blamed very much – this fall, refiners raised the wholesale price stations pay by about 30 cents per gallon, a cost they pass through to customers.

          For sure, these sudden price increases increase oil company revenues. Yearly profit statements are not yet in for the big refiners, and only two of the top five break out California results separately from the rest of their worldwide operations.

          Still, the last time anyone closely analyzed oil company profits, the Consumer Watchdog advocacy group in 2016 thoroughly documented that record profits for the refiners coincided with record-high pump prices throughout this state.

          Some industry spokespeople have cited as one cause for the latest spike the brief drop in world gasoline supplies following the September drone and missile attack on Saudi Arabia’s largest refinery. Worldwide prices did jump sharply just after that, but quickly returned to near previous levels as the facility went back online sooner than expected.

          Through all this, California oil refiners have kept their inventories low for many years. The rest of the continental U.S., for example, normally has about 24 days’ supply of gasoline on hand at any moment, while California averages between 10 days’ and 13 days’ supply.

          “Because they keep inventories very low, prices rise immediately when anything happens because of concerns over possible shortages,” said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog. “If it’s illegal to gouge after a natural disaster, why not after refinery problems?”

          No one currently watches over any of this. Just after last spring’s gas price spike, Gov.Gavin Newsom asked for an analysis from the state Energy Commission, whose preliminary conclusion was that at least some “market manipulation” was involved. The full report was due out this month.

          What’s really needed is a state agency with authority to track oil company prices and profits and clamp down on them when needed. But so far, no state legislator has stepped up to propose anything like that.             

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

Monday, October 7, 2019




          Corruption and waste quietly abounded during the eight years of ex-Gov. Jerry Brown’s second go-‘round as governor of California, but there are signs current Gov. Gavin Newsom means to clean up at least some of those messes.

          This may be the meaning of two recent reports that should have come down from state authorities years ago, but never did – perhaps in part because of the Brown family’s longstanding ties to the oil industry and to big California utilities.

          One of those reports –  released by the often scandal-ridden state Public Utilities Commission – found that the longest and largest known release of methane gas in an urban area in U.S. history was caused by a corroded pipe casing and other safety failures by the Southern California Gas Co. The other, ordered up by Newsom from the state Energy Commission, found that “market manipulation” may have been one cause of the gasoline price spikes motorists had to endure during the spring and earlier periods of sharp price increases, with prices climbing far above $4 per gallon in many places.

          Neither of these conclusions came as a surprise to consumer advocates or the victims in both cases, and both likely could have been reached years earlier had Brown wanted. But Brown’s family has long had ties to the oil and natural gas industry. His father, ex-Gov. Pat Brown, represented Indonesian energy interests in California for years after leaving office and his sister, ex-state Treasurer Kathleen Brown Rice, still sits on the board of Sempra Energy, parent of SoCal Gas and the San Diego Gas & Electric Co.

          As for waste, Newsom quickly ended Brown’s pipe dream of twin tunnels to bring Northern California river water south through the Delta of the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers. Newsom advocates a single tunnel at most, still not satisfying environmentalists and fishermen who very effectively fought the Brown proposal for almost a decade.

But Newsom's action won’t bring back more than $30 million already wasted on planning the twin tunnels. A federal Interior Department report in 2016 – before President Trump took office – also accused Brown appointees of misappropriating half a $60 million grant intended to improve fish habitats in and near the Delta.

          Meanwhile, Brown’s administration again and again tried to let SoCal Gas – associated with Brown’s sister – off the hook for the four-month 2015-16 methane leak from the utility’s Aliso Canyon gas storage field, which caused years of illness among many residents of the San Fernando Valley section of Los Angeles, especially in the nearly adjacent Porter Ranch area.

          The new report from a private firm said the company should have been able to plug its leak much sooner than it did. Courts will determine how much liability that report may create for SoCal Gas.

          Meanwhile, consumer advocates had noted for years that gasoline prices during periodic spikes coinciding with refinery fires and other shutdowns were much higher than they should have been. These spikes often continue long after refinery repairs and maintenance are completed.

          For sure, oil company profits peaked at those same times, making it pretty clear what was happening, even if there was no proof at the time of industry collusion.

          Brown did not pursue either of these problems with any sense of urgency, paying them as little attention as he could get away with while gallivanting around the globe to push the worthy cause of stemming climate change.

          In interviews during his 2018 election campaign, Newsom firmly promised to go after corruption in state government. He singled out sweetheart contracts of various types as one area he would closely examine, but so far there has been no public effort to clean those up. Firefighters, for example, retain their single-source deal with the makers of PhosCheck fire retardants, while state authorities refuse to examine alternatives that might be more effective.

          Next on Newsom’s agenda ought to be a close look at the rate-making practices of utility regulators, whose tight relationships with electric and natural gas companies have cost consumers billions of dollars.

          But Newsom has at least made a start. That’s both a positive and far more than Brown ever did in his last eight years in office.       

     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 




       There are not many arenas where Donald Trump has failed to press his campaign against California and what Gov. Gavin Newsom calls its “essential values.”

       The Donald has tried to worsen California air quality by overturning its independent smog-fighting authority. He filed a formal complaint that San Francisco’s homeless pollute the surrounding waters. He is trying to undermine, if not eliminate, the Endangered Species Act and thus remake state water policy to favor big corporate farms that are among his major campaign donors. And much more, seemingly some new attack on this state every week or two.

       So it comes as a bit of a surprise that after Trump won a U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing him to take money away from military projects to build the border wall that’s one of his central causes, he didn’t cut much from California.

       Of the $3.6 billion Trump earmarked to be snatched from the military and given to wall construction firms, just $8 million and one project involved California. This, of course, may have something to do with the fact there weren’t many California projects he could raid for money because -- like those of the three Presidents who preceded him -- every Trump budget has short-changed this state.

       Trump triggered his fund diversion by declaring a national state of emergency over illegal immigration after Congress refused to appropriate several billion dollars he sought for a barrier. That’s the same wall which he promised during his last campaign would be paid for by Mexico. Not precisely.

       In California, the $8 million Trump is plucking comes from funds previously earmarked for a flight simulator designed to train C-130 cargo plane pilots in fire fighting techniques. It was to be constructed at the Channel Islands Air National Guard base near Oxnard in Ventura County. The money will instead pay for about five miles of fencing near Otay Mesa in the San Diego area and at the Tecate Port of Entry from Mexico.

       But this money is peanuts compared to the $3.6 billion total he's taking. The bulk of that money ($2.5 billion) will come from Defense Department anti-drug activities, which Trump has said will be unnecessary once his wall is built. Never mind that drug smugglers have never been fazed by walls, always finding ways to skirt them by air or sea.

       Currently planned projects using the rerouted money include wall components in and near El Paso and Laredo, Texas; Yuma, Ariz. and El Centro.

       Among projects to be cancelled as a result are several structures at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, NY, which that state’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer immediately called “a slap in the face” to the U.S. Army. He added that it’s part of Trump’s eagerness to “cannibalize already allocated military funding to boost his own ego…”

       Predictably, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called diverting billions from the military “irresponsible.” She added that “Congress appropriated these funds for specific projects and that’s how the funds should be used.”

       But the U.S. Supreme Court over the summer ruled that in a national emergency, any President can divert funds to where they’re most needed for national security. No one can stop Presidents from declaring emergencies any time they like, even when – like this time – there’s no proof of danger to national security.

       But Congress did receive evidence before making its Channel Islands appropriation that C-130 pilots generally lack adequate wildfire training. So if the planes are mishandled over flaming areas in future midair crises, voters will know precisely where to place blame.

       The bet here is that if there were other major federal military projects under way or imminent in California, Trump would have dried up their funding, too, as this state is the first place he usually looks when he’s in punishment mode.

       The upshot is that California for the most part dodged a bullet this time, but only because Trump found few targets here eligible to suffer his ire.

     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