Friday, December 27, 2019




          When it comes to President Trump’s resentment of California because it swings so heavily against him, nothing seems to matter much: Even when he’s being impeached and mocked by NATO prime ministers, he keeps coming up with new fronts in his seemingly endless war on California.

          He has long seemed to want this state to have dirtier air than it’s earned via decades of tough smog controls. He has blamed California for creating fuel for its frequent wildfires by not cleaning forest floors – even though most of those forest floors are on federal lands controlled by his appointees. He has tried to cut federal grants to police departments if they don’t cooperate completely with federal immigration authorities.

          Those disputes have now raged for years, Trump sometimes seeming bored with them, perhaps because of his notoriously short attention span.

          So to keep things interesting, it seems as if every month or so, The Donald tries to create yet another front in his long-running effort to crimp the Golden State. Sometimes these efforts are not specifically aimed at California: they just happen to affect California more than anyplace else.

          So it is most recently with his plan to keep hundreds of thousands of low-income Americans from getting federal food stamp benefits, announced in December. In this case, Trump the so-called populist wants to cut off food aid to recipients aged 18 to 49 who don’t have dependents. Previous rules still in effect allow such folks who don’t work at least 20 hours a week to get food stamps for only three months in any three-year period.

          But many recipients still can get more food stamps via waivers. Now the Trump-controlled Agriculture Department starting in April will forbid waiver availability in cities and counties with unemployment rates under 6 percent, communities easy to find when the national unemployment rate is well under 4 percent.

          Nationwide, this rule change will deprive 688,000 persons of much of their food supply. About one-third of them are Californians, living in a state where the unemployment rate is consistently below national levels. Which means this crackdown targets California more than anyplace else.

          Then there’s the new Trump plan to encourage new oil drilling on federal lands around the state, including some bordering the Carrizo Plain National Monument in San Luis Obispo County and near Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

          This move came just after Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a state executive order cutting back both oil drilling and hydraulic fracking on private and state-owned lands as part of California’s continuing move toward being less dependent on oil and other fossil fuels.

          Because the federal government controls nearly 46 percent of all land in California, and a far higher percentage of undeveloped California lands, there’s a strong possibility Trump’s administration can make his plan stick, effectively negating anything Newsom might do on this front.

          And then there’s Trump’s continuing criticism of how California handles its ubiquitous problem with homelessness, which sees well over 130,000 persons without shelter most nights in virtually all parts of the state.

          Trump could mitigate the problem if he liked by simply having his appointees issue about 50,000 congressionally authorized Section 8 housing vouchers which county officials could then hand out to homeless individuals and families.

          Said Newsom, “Mr. President, don’t demagogue this issue. Do the right damn thing.”

          But Trump, who has known he could do this ever since he began blasting California homelessness after seeing some sidewalk tent camps while on a fund-raising jaunt around the state last fall, has preferred to hector California rather than act to help homeless persons, many of them recent arrivals from other states. Some, in fact, are sent here by courts in their home states which frequently hand out bus tickets to California instead of jail sentences for minor crimes.

          It adds up to a picture of a President uninterested in helping California solve problems so long as he can make it a verbal whipping boy, even if few of his threats so far have become reality.

     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 happens almost every winter: pundits from eastern news outlets make weeklong pilgrimages to California, interview top officials here and generally report back that there’s something rotten in the state of the Golden State, as Shakespeare might have put it.

          Rarely have they had more fodder for pushing that narrative than this year, when millions of Californians spent chunks of the last few months without certain basics of modern civilization, including electricity and the use of their longtime homes.

          The implication of all this, they say, is that the California Dream, the mythical force which drew millions here over the last 150 years, has somehow died.

          Wrote a longtime contributor to the New Yorker magazine, who fairly recently followed the old path from East Coast to West Coast, “The problem with the dream is that it is one, founded on a lie.” She cited a wildfire historian saying “California is built to burn. And it’s built to burn explosively.”

          No kidding. Most of California famously has stable weather, with seasonal changes not nearly as obvious as in parts of America that often spend their autumns coping with hurricanes and winters digging out from under blizzards. But each year this state has a “fire season.” That’s been true for all time.

          The New Yorker’s Dana Goodyear seems surprised that a fire swept through much of Malibu last year. But this happens almost every year, and for often-repeated reasons like arson, poorly-maintained power lines, high winds, low humidity and high temperatures during most Octobers and Novembers – sometimes earlier.

          “Until recently,” wrote Goodyear, “it was possible to repress a sneaking awareness of the weather fallacy, stuff it in the back of the closet, alongside the earthquake kit, and tell oneself that all was well in paradise.”

          What weather fallacy? While record cold and snow ravaged much of the East and Midwest this fall, temperatures in Los Angeles reached the 90s in late November and even foggy San Francisco saw highs mostly in the upper 60s.

          Earthquakes? No one here hides that. It’s part of the bargain most non-native Californians made when they moved here: They weighed the risk of losing many of their material resources against the benefits of much warmer weather than where they came from.

          At about the same time as the New Yorker took its cheap shot at California, just when it was suffering serious damage, the Wall Street Journal did much the same.

          On the state’s housing problems, “Politicians have bulldozed market forces.” But as documented in this column several times, market forces have not been “bulldozed” at all; rather, they are a big reason for California’s housing difficulties: So many people want to buy in the choicest parts of this state that prices are too high for many would-be buyers. When buyers evaporate, prices normally drop. But there is no sign of that today. This is market forces at work, as expensive properties do actually sell.

          On the “public safety power shutoffs”: “Californians are learning to live like the Amish.” If so, that’s partly the fault of politicians, but mostly of utility executives who redirected maintenance money paid by electric customers for decades, rather than using it to fireproof their transmission lines and other equipment.

          On high gasoline prices, “Blame Democrats.” Are most oil company executives Democrats?

          This is merely the latest installment of eastern-based fiction about California, which is anything but on its knees. In fact, construction is booming all over California, from fire areas where rebuilds abound to big cities where new, large housing projects aiming to ease shortages are underway.

          And what if a few thousand more Californians departed California in recent years than have arrived here? One thing that does is alleviate California’s housing and traffic problems just a little. Not enough, as anyone who has house shopped or driven a freeway in the last year knows.

          But there is no way the California Dream is dead, or even seriously threatened. That’s because the concept of a better life here has never been absolute, but always tempered by the fact that there can be trouble in paradise, as seen lately via high winds, arsonists, degenerating power lines and the big fires they combine to push.

    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

Friday, December 20, 2019




                There are few things most of the minority groups who together make up the majority in today’s California want more than simple inclusivity.

          And yet…When a state panel made up largely of ethnic minority group teachers and college professors last summer submitted a proposed ethnic studies curriculum cobbled together in just six sessions for use in virtually all the state’s public schools, it was anything but inclusive.

          Yes, the plan gave plenty of attention to anti-immigrant rhetoric, violent white nationalism and America’s rising hate crime problem. But the very language of the proposal and its virtual omission of the world’s oldest prejudice raised sufficient hackles to force state education officials into a complete reboot.

          That redo had some informal beginnings during the fall, but starting this winter, officials will fan out among hundreds of school districts to see what students, teachers, parents and just plain citizens want included. The findings will supposedly be refined to better reflect this state’s history and its diverse makeup.

          For example, the rejected draft said not a word about California’s millions of small investors. But the draft did blast capitalism, a major economic foundation for California’s economy, which has expanded far more and far more quickly than the national economy over the last 10 years.

          It’s questionable whether an ethnic studies curriculum should delve into economics at all, but blasting capitalism as a source of evil and poverty ignores all those whom capitalism has uplifted, all those who have used investments to finance their educations, homes, cars and achievements.

          Then there was the matter of stressing alleged oppression of Palestinians (never even a measurable phenomenon in California), while ignoring contributions of Jews and the anti-Semitism that group constantly faces. Never mind that Jews – less than 3 percent of the state’s populace – hold almost half the Nobel Prizes won by Californians and have won many elections in this state. Never mind that Jews were among the municipal founders of the state’s largest cities, including both San Francisco and Los Angeles. They weren’t in the first draft.

          Never mind that the draft was released just days after the state’s single most deadly outburst of anti-Semitism ever, the murderous semi-machine-gun attack on a synagogue in Poway.

          There was also the matter of exclusion by vocabulary. How many Californians know the meaning of words like cisheteropatriarchy (a system where males dominate) and hxrstory (pronounced the same as “herstory”), supposedly a more gender-inclusive form of history? Not many, but the ethnic studies draft was replete with such terms, the writers defending their use by saying chemistry courses also include complex terms. Uh-huh.

          “The jargon in it, the invented words, the language known only to a few academics makes this a model curriculum that is impenetrable for high school teachers,” Williamson M. Evers, a research fellow at the Stanford-based Hoover Institution, told a reporter.

          Which means that had it been adopted, a lot of students would not have understood it.

          But Jews in the state Legislature understood the exclusion of the murderous ages-long persecution endured by their ancestors. “This really reflected an anti-Jewish bias,” said one lawmaker. “It’s pretty outrageous that it omits anti-Semitism.”

          So this document plainly needed revision about as much as any state government proposal in decades. Said Luis Alejo, a Monterey County supervisor who while a legislator authored the bill setting up ethnic studies programs in the state’s schools, “We must get this right for our students.”

          For that to happen, the new program cannot be so soft that it becomes meaningless, punchless pabulum that’s easy for students to laugh off or ignore. It also cannot take on the sort of ideological bent the first version did, with a self-consciously feminist, Third-World consciousness dominating.

          Rather, this should be a hard-hitting, factual analysis of the contributions and roles played by every major ethnic and gender group in California’s history and the obstacles they have faced. It cannot side with one group over others, or it will be disregarded by many.

          It’s a tough tightrope to walk, but if it’s done well, it could make a major contribution to mutual understanding in California for decades to come.

     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




          It might have been Gov. Gavin Newsom’s best move yet, both politically and on its merits: Disapproving the ballyhooed $13.5 billion settlement Pacific Gas & Electric Co. reached in mid-December with lawyers for tens of thousands of homeowners and businesses burned out in fires at least partially caused by PG&E equipment over the last three years.

          But not mainly for the reasons Newsom stated. As critical as Newsom was of the deal, approved in December by PG&E’s bankruptcy judge and possibly assuring quick payment of more than $2 billion in contingency fees to trial lawyers, he ignored the worst parts of the deal. Those could result in fire victims also being cheated.

          One big problem is that a supposed one-half of the settlement ($6.75 billion) would take the form of PG&E shares. This stands to turn fire victims from severe critics of PG&E into the company’s staunchest allies because PG&E’s victims could suddenly have a very strong financial interest in the company’s survival.

          If the victims all sold their new PG&E shares quickly, they could be big losers because share prices would likely drop sharply in a selloff involving multiple millions of shares. As a result, many victims will hang onto them, at least for awhile.

Then there’s the starting value of the shares: The deal sets shares going to fire victims at a minimum of 20.9 percent of PG&E’s total stock. With overall stock worth about $5.8 billion on the day the deal was made, this means the victims’ shares will most likely be worth no more than $1.22 billion unless PG&E stock soars. It would have to quintuple from recent levels for the offering to be worth the stated $6.75 billion. When asked, not even PG&E offered any reason why that should happen soon.

          Newsom mentioned none of this, even as he made other valid points. In his rejection letter, the governor said the plan doesn’t comply with the state’s newest wildfire law, last summer’s AB 1054, which set up a $20 billion consumer-financed Wildfire Fund to pay utilities for liabilities from fires caused by their equipment. While Newsom has no direct power over the agreement, he could influence whether his appointees to the state Public Utilities Commission approve it – and whether PG&E gets to tap the Wildfire Fund.

          The governor also griped the settlement would not “result in a reorganized company positioned to provide safe, reliable and affordable (electricity) service.”

          He demanded that PG&E set up a new board of directors and a financial model letting it function without big new rate increases. He also told PG&E its safety improvement plans must be better.

          But the inclusion of so much PG&E stock of uncertain value has the potential to cheat fire victims more than anything Newsom mentioned. If, for one possibility, PG&E runs up more liability in future fires, the share value would drop, not rise. Which means victims who want to rebuild have no idea how much cash they’ll eventually get.

          It’s fundamentally immoral for the company and the trial lawyers to so grossly mislead people already harmed by the company’s negligence. It was also wrong that some law firms did not tell fire victims what proportions of PG&E stock and cash they would accept to cover their fees.

          But Newsom’s refusal to OK the settlement might make some of this moot. Changes PG&E could propose for the settlement might include less stock and more cash, or might include even more stock. That’s not yet determined, as Newsom’s stance likely will force PG&E to devise a new formula both to settle its liabilities and to include money for much faster equipment fixes than it has so far planned.

          The test for Newsom is whether he will demand truly fair treatment for the victims along with more safety and a major corporate reshaping of PG&E, his longtime financial backer.

          Newsom, just one year into office, is still building a record. Having watered down a needed public health measure passed by legislators last summer to prevent fake exemptions from vaccination requirements for schoolchildren, he cannot politically afford to accept a watered-down utility settlement.

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

Monday, December 16, 2019




          After a year of massive fires and floods, electricity blackouts, utility rate increases and gasoline price gouging, California at last has a good news story to enjoy: The state’s teenage birth rate has reached a new modern-era low.

          But wait – that good news is threatened by the Donald Trump administration, which seeks to cut back Title X money that funds things like vans giving girls rides to community health centers where they can get birth control supplies, pregnancy testing and tests for sexually transmitted diseases.

          This is now the subject of one in the long series of lawsuits California is fighting in order to preserve programs that keep the standard of living here high and pollution lower than it’s been in many decades.

          Beyond the issue of why Trump and his minions would want to cut this funding – anti-abortion and birth control ideology is the likeliest reason – is the unanswered question of why this incarnation of the federal government would want to cut programs that reduce welfare and promote education of young persons.

          In the face of political machinations, it may be constructive to delve into the reasons why birth rates are down among junior high and high school students.

          And they have dropped considerably over the last few years. With just under 14 live births for every 1,000 females aged 15 to 19 in 2018, California is now well below the national average of 19 births per 1,000 females in that age range. Arkansas is highest with 33; Massachusetts lowest at just eight.

          These figures mean there is still room for plenty of improvement here. That’s especially true in certain counties: Kern County, for example, had 32 live births per 1,000 young women, more than double the statewide rate. Marin County was lowest at six.

          Both the national figures and those for California counties show strong correlation between low teenage birth rates and the wealth and education levels of adults. Massachusetts has the highest proportion of college-educated persons in America and Marin among the highest education rates for California counties. Both places also rank high in economic terms.

          But more than increased prosperity and education has lowered the California numbers. Government and private programs also have helped enormously.

          The state’s Family Planning, Access, Care and Treatment program provides free contraceptives and counseling to young people and is available at more than 2,000 locations statewide, including all University of California and Cal State University campus health centers.

          The emphasis on contraception also reduced abortions even as California’s teen birth rate declined.

          Abortions in 2018 were performed on 16 women out of every 1,000 in the 15-44 age range, a drop of about 15 percent over the last five years.

          This demonstrates that pro-life lobbyists who advocate against both abortions and making contraceptives widely-available are contradicting themselves. The better and the more widespread the contraceptive program, the fewer abortions in any state or area.

          And contraceptives are very widely-used by California youths. The federal Centers of Disease Control reported that more than half of all sexually active high school students in the state say they used a condom the last time they had sex. An overlapping 30 percent said they relied on birth control pills and other non-condom methods in their most recent sexual experience.

          Then there was the failure of several statewide ballot measures that required parental consent for abortions. Because such consent remains optional for teenage girls, they can and often do seek counseling in large numbers. They might be inhibited if counselors were required to inform parents.

          This all amounts to a vastly under-publicized good news story. For federal statistics over the last 10 years show that almost half of all teenage mothers leave school for at least a few years after giving birth. Those who don’t drop out must combine motherhood with studies and whatever jobs they hold, often crimping academic progress.

          This deprives many young women of college educations and lowers their potential for professional and financial success, often for the rest of their lives.

          The fact that fewer and fewer young women are now exposed to such hardships is a good news story of large proportions and one of which California can feel justifiably proud.

    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




          The utility company blackouts that accompanied the first severe blast of the fall fire season in October quickly became the signal events of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s first year in office, triggering the most heated public response and causing more public inconvenience than any others.

          Those outages by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and the Southern California Edison Co. among other things demonstrated how far Newsom still must go to solve the problem he identified as California’s largest back when he was a mere candidate – income inequality.

          Not that Newsom didn’t try to mitigate that problem. He spurred state legislators to pass widespread rent control, encouraged incentives to build more affordable housing, expanded Medi-Cal health care coverage and signed many more new laws aiming to benefit middle and lower income Californians more than the upper crust.

          But while he did that, financial inequality grew in California during Newsom’s first year, the rich gaining even more of an edge over their middle class and poor compatriots. The blackouts put those differences in bas relief.

          For the knowledge they were coming spurred thousands of Californians to buy solar panels and gasoline-powered electric generators that could keep their homes going – even if only sporadically in many cases – through the blackouts. Those became longer and more widespread than any outages during the energy crunch of the early 2000s, which put the first nails in the political coffin of recalled former Gov. Gray Davis.

          With millions of Californians unable to afford basic needs like rent, food and medicines, generators that can cost thousands of dollars and solar panels that often run $20,000 or more for a single home were not on the radar of most Californians outside the upper income levels.

          And yet, Newsom’s going along with the plans of PG&E and Edison for those outages, even in places where high, hot winds never occurred, exacerbated the existing economic differences he bemoans.

          His tolerating those plans – until they were actually carried out, when he pronounced them “intolerable,” – established him as even more of a utility company ally than he was during July, when he helped arrange the new state Wildfire Fund that may eventually provide more than $20 billion to cover electric company liabilities in future fires. The money will come largely from a monthly charge to electric customers.

          So the blackouts, especially their extremely wide range in Northern California, could eventually cause political problems for Newsom. He’s tried to head this off by disapproving PG&E’s proposed $13.5 billion settlement with fire victims.

          Meanwhile, actions Newsom spurred on housing probably won’t resolve that problem, either. By working to force housing expansion everywhere, Newsom assured that a great share of any new units won’t be affordable to many first-time buyers, even if they carry the “affordable” label.

          When cities like Newport Beach work to create hundreds of new dwellings, they must deal with land prices far above those in desert or other inland areas, including the Central Valley. So “affordable” housing usually sells for at least $350,000, well beyond the reach of hundreds of thousands of first-time buyers. That price also excludes virtually all of the homeless.

          One constructive move that could help with land prices, though, was creating a new register of vacant or available state-owned lands. If those properties are sold off cheaply and developed, they could help the housing shortage, even if they won’t alleviate homelessness.

          Newsom also made constructive moves on gun control, signing several laws previously vetoed by ex-Gov. Jerry Brown, including one Brown vetoed twice that allows increased use of gun restraining orders. Newsom signed a bill allowing child care workers to unionize and another banning smoking in state parks and on most public beaches. He okayed a compromise making charter school finances more transparent, set public school start times an hour later and nixed a measure to end the practice of paying initiative petition carriers for signatures they collect.

          But he greatly watered down a public health measure designed to prevent bogus medical waivers from allowing parents to exempt their children from getting vaccinations on false grounds.

          All this made Newsom’s first year a mixed bag, preventing a definitive reading on the new governor. Which means Californians will have to stay tuned.

    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,

Monday, December 9, 2019




          The good news last year for many Californians who happen to live near light rail stations and heavily traveled bus routes was that the most controversial legislative proposal of 2019 suffered an early demise in the springtime.

          The bad news for the same folks is that the same proposal, known in 2019 as SB 50, will be back in 2020, probably with a different number. The essence of this proposal is simple: Its backers, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, are convinced that mandating dense high rise construction near rapid transit stops and the busiest bus routes will go far toward solving California’s housing shortage. Exact details of the next version of the densifying plan are not yet known, but it’s clear the basics will be the same.

          One argument by Newsom and the bill’s chief sponsor, Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco, is that it will lead to a healthier California. But a new global study from a Spanish research institute suggests this may be baloney.

          Says Wiener via email, in response to a question: “Housing density…facilitates active transportation, such as walking and biking. People are much healthier when they regularly walk, as opposed to having a sedentary lifestyle and spending hours every day in a car.”

          His comments came after publication in Science magazine of a study from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, which found that “higher residential-surrounding greenspace is related with less severe strokes. Living in high noise areas…can lead to more severe strokes.”

          The implications for SB 50 or its successor measure of those conclusions from a global study of more than 2,700 stroke victims seem clear: Unless Wiener and his allies can somehow create lots of parks and tree-lined streets around the high-rises they seek to require in cities of almost every size, they will increase the possibility of death by stroke for those living in the new housing – and their neighbors.

          For denser housing almost always leads to more noise and less green space, unless government creates countermeasures like road blockades and large parks. That’s exactly what has happened in Barcelona, where many residential city blocks have seen streets converted to pedestrian and bicycle use only and new parks are frequently opened.

          There was nothing like that in the proposals Wiener pushed in the last two legislative sessions.

          Yet, he says, “Urban density can and should include significant green space and noise abatement. Great public spaces and parks, as well as a robust urban forest, are important elements of any great city or town. Building codes can reduce noise issues in people’s homes.”

          But not in the streets, where the new buildings he seeks would rise in the busiest areas of cities large and small. So even if their condominiums and apartments are quiet, there will be plenty of noise whenever residents venture outside.

          The scientists behind the Barcelona study have nothing against dense housing, they said in emails. But, said Payam Dadvand, M.D., co-author of the stroke study, “Denser cities have both pros and cons and it very much depends on how they are designed and planned.”

          Wiener’s ideas, moved in part by frequently expressed hostility toward the urban sprawl and single-family zoning of most California cities, stem from an emotional conviction, not backed by evidence, that residents of new transit-adjacent housing will almost universally use that transit.

          But since most California transit systems don’t cover their cities nearly as completely as those in Europe and some eastern and midwestern U.S. cities, new residents cannot avoid using cars, whether their own or via ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft.

          In short, existing California cities were never planned to offer maximum health prospects for folks who might move into the type of new housing avidly sought by Newsom and Wiener, who often seems to want to make all of California resemble the dense, noisy, concrete-filled Castro District of San Francisco, his longtime home.

          These issues should be part of the new year’s debate over Wiener’s next bill and Newsom’s massive housing proposals. If they’re not included in the discussion, legislators will be disregarding the major warning contained in the Spanish study.


     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




          More than a year ago, beachgoers and surfers in the areas around four aged California natural-gas-burning power plants were promised they would be closed by this time. But they’re all still operating.

          The four power plants – three owned by Virginia-based AES Corp. and one by GenOn Energy, a spinoff from Texas-based NRG Energy – suck billions of gallons of water from the Pacific to cool their turbines, eventually returning hot water to the sea, where it negatively affects marine life that thrives in cool areas.

          The four can produce as much as 5,400 megawatts of power, a small share of the state’s 132,000-plus MW daily capacity, about one-quarter of which now comes from reliable renewables like wind, solar, hydroelectric and geothermal. By comparison, about 7 percent of California’s power now comes from the state’s lone remaining nuclear plant, Diablo Canyon on the Central Coast. These figures do not include power produced by rooftop solar installations.

          One megawatt (1,000 kilowatts) typically is enough power to fuel a typical home for just over 1.25 years.

          The four obsolescent power plants that were to close got a reprieve this fall because of a new form of the “blackout blackmail,” which has previously seen the Southern California Gas Co. – backed by the state Public Utilities Commission – warn that summertime supply shortages and blackouts were inevitable if it could not continue pumping natural gas into notoriously leaky storage fields. Those blackouts never came close to reality.

          This time, the PUC and power companies predict rolling blackouts could occur as early as summer 2021 if the four plants in Huntington Beach, Long Beach, Redondo Beach and Oxnard are shuttered by next summer. Their reasoning is that juice from the plants will be needed on hot summer days when demand soars and remains high after sundown, when large solar farms stop generating electricity.

          The problem: Power from those plants is probably not needed, and even if they don’t operate but are only held in reserve, their owners get anywhere from $40 to $60 per kilowatt year from consumers, billed via an obscure line on most electricity invoices. These are called “resource adequacy” payments, and AES, for one, would pocket at least $150 million in each year its obsolete water-heating plants are kept open, even if they are never used. GenOn would get more than $30 million yearly.

          One problem: The four plants together produce far more than the 2,500 MW that the PUC staff has said might be needed in a pinch.

          “It’s a boondoggle,” says Bill Powers, a San Diego engineer who advises consumer groups and was instrumental early in this century in keeping California from becoming permanently dependent on hyper-expensive imported liquefied natural gas. The LNG turned out to be completely unneeded, with the USA now a major exporter, rather than an importer of sub-freezing liquified gas.

          In fact, the California Independent System Operator, a Folsom-based agency that supervises the state’s electric grid and manages supplies, opposes keeping the plants open. In testimony before the PUC, that agency said that if a supply problem exists – and CalISO doesn’t concede there is such a problem –  it would be due to poorly constructed market rules for imported power. And San Diego Gas & Electric Co., in a rare case of a utility opposing keeping plants open, testified that it “does not believe increasing the levels of imports (which could substitute for the plants’ power if a shortage did occur) poses any reliability problems.”

          Power said market manipulation by electric generators may also be at work, as it was during the energy crunch of almost 20 years ago. “Market manipulation resulting from ineffective market rules cannot be solved by excess procurement of capacity,” he said. The underlying rules must be fixed, instead, he said.

          The bottom line: This is yet another case of the PUC favoring big utility companies – this time AES and GenOn – over consumers, further evidence that despite changes in personnel and rhetoric, the commission continues to use obscure processes and cases to fatten utility profits.

    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,

Monday, December 2, 2019




        Virtually all adult Californians know the kinds of disasters that commonly befall this state by the time they decide to stay here or move to the Golden State from someplace else.

        The usual list most folks consider is fairly short, but can have long-lasting impacts: fires, floods and earthquakes. Those who lack complete faith in technology and human efforts to prevent tragedy see some other potential dangers lurking.

        One is the nuclear waste dump that has taken shape beside the defunct San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station near the border between San Diego and Orange counties.

        About 15 months ago, the Southern California Edison Co., operator and majority owner of the onetime atomic power plant, saw a 50-ton (100,000-pound) canister with a five-eighths-inch-thick shell twist almost completely out of control while being loaded into a niche in the newly-constructed beachfront nuclear waste dump Edison has built because there is no room in existing federal atomic dumps and no immediate prospect of opening a new one.

        Like other nuclear plant operators, Edison must fend for itself both in building and filling its dump. The near-mishap, which could have seen the giant, thin-walled canister fall dozens of feet to a hard concrete floor, was neither reported nor acknowledged publicly by Edison until months later, when a worker mentioned it during a public meeting nearby.

        Because this almost-accident took time to clear and workers plainly needed more instruction and practice in handling the canisters, no more radioactive waste was loaded into the dump – just yards from a popular state beach – until slightly over a year had passed.

        Edison maintains everything there is now hunky-dory, even though a major leak from the dump could theoretically irradiate everything within 50 miles, including most of Orange and San Diego counties, plus one of America’s two largest Marine Corps bases, Camp Pendleton.

        The near-accident “will not repeat itself,” Edison has said. A spokesman told a reporter, “What issues we did see were captured as part of our lessons-learned, continuous education program. That will help us be successful going forward.”

        No one is panicking in surrounding areas. But some consumer activists still worry, especially after a webinar in which the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission admitted it has no backup plan for repairing or safely storing any damaged nuclear waste container. The best way to remove leaking containers is via “hot cells,” portable nuclear containment chambers. But there are no hot cells within 1,000 miles large enough to cope with San Onofre’s storage units and federal law forbids moving high-level nuclear waste across state lines – or even across freeways like the adjacent I-5.

        Said Charles Langley, executive director of the San Diego-based advocacy group Public Watchdogs, “The admission by the NRC that it has no backup plan for handling leaks in these thin containers at San Onofre is terrifying.” He also worries about what a significant earthquake on the known fault offshore from San Onofre might do to the canisters and their storage facility.

        Only about 45 miles northwest along the coast, other folks worry about another fault and another kind of potential disaster.

        A homeowner group in San Pedro, beside the Los Angeles Harbor, which is America’s busiest, worries about the effects of a possible earthquake on the previously unpublicized, blind-thrust Wilmington fault which seismologists only recently rated as active. The fault runs near several oil refineries, but the homeowners group worries it might set off an explosion from a 25-million-gallon liquified petroleum gas storage tank federally authorized under then-President Richard Nixon during the early 1970s.

        The group says this large tank was built without Los Angeles permits and sits on soils which the U.S. Geological Survey defines as prone to “landslides and liquefaction.” A quake under this alleged geological feature could be disastrous, the homeowners fear.

        And yet… life proceeds quite normally for residents who could be affected by either of the potential disasters at the doorsteps of San Diego, Los Angeles and their suburbs. Real estate prices have risen exponentially over the last four decades in both areas, while no one has seriously discussed possible effects on schools and other public facilities.

        Is much of California living in a fool’s paradise?

    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