Monday, October 19, 2020

HOUSING LIKELY TO HIGHLIGHT THE 2022 BALLOT

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS 
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 2020, OR THEREAFTER

 

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS

     “HOUSING LIKELY TO HIGHLIGHT THE 2022 BALLOT"

 

          One thing has been inevitable ever since extreme liberals in the California Legislature led by Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco began a concerted assault three years ago on single family housing all over this state, intending to eliminate what they love to denigrate as “urban sprawl.”

 

          Their thinking – really a prejudice against all but the most dense of housing situations – is that people shouldn’t have space around them and that all neighborhoods should be open to anybody, even those who lack the funds to buy or rent there.

 

          Wiener and cohorts like Democratic state Senate President Toni Atkins of San Diego and longtime Democratic Assemblyman Richard Bloom of Santa Monica are near to winning in the Legislature. They never came closer than in the dying minutes of the 2020 legislative session.

 

          That’s when their latest bill, known as SB 1120, died – but only for the most technical of reasons. The bill would have authorized up to four units on every single-family zoned lot in California whether or not local people or governments liked it. This lost only because time expired on the session before the state Senate managed to conform language in its version of the bill to what had already passed the Assembly.

 

          So it’s certain this measure will be back with a different number in the legislative session starting in early December. Almost as sure is a rerun of SB 902, also with a different number. This one would have allowed buildings up to eight stories almost everywhere in single-family zoned areas.

 

          Odds are good both measures will pass next year because they are backed by developers, building trade unions and so-called progressives who believe without evidence that dense housing is “greener” than spacious living areas.

 

 

          The same folks persist in believing new high-rise residential buildings should be approved without parking spaces previously required because almost everyone living in them will ride mass transit. Because these folks apparently have not examined bus and light rail ridership numbers both before and during the coronavirus pandemic, they are about to inflict constant horn-honking contests for parking spaces on many currently quiet areas.

 

          What the extremists ignore is that the issue will ultimately be taken out of the hands of the Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom, who usually supports anything to make more of the state look like ultra-dense San Francisco, where he once was mayor.

 

          This will happen immediately if legislators pass something like SB 902 or SB 1120 and Newsom then signs off. Any similar measure will instantly be subjected to a referendum campaign to overturn it, and the moment a referendum petition drive gathers enough signatures to make the next general election ballot – 2022 – whatever the new law or laws may say will be suspended.

 

          Then it will be up to the people, who have made most of the important political decisions in this state for the last 50 years, since Los Angeles lawyer Roger Diamond revived the once-moribund initiative process by winning a lawsuit allowing petition carriers to operate at shopping centers and big box stores.

 

          Two such referenda were to be voted on in this fall’s election: Propositions 22 and 25, one aiming to overturn AB5, a law forcing so-called gig economy companies to make regular employees with full benefits out of their contract workers, the other to nix a 2019 law banning cash bail and replacing it with judges making flight- and harm-risk evaluations of every person accused of a crime.

 

          Two years ago, an effort to overturn a state gas tax increase lost on a 53-47 percent vote, while four years ago voters approved a ban on single-use plastic grocery bags by rejecting a referendum against it.

 

          Referenda can be confusing because it often takes a yes vote to nix a targeted law. But the results indicate that by the time they cast ballots, most voters understand this.

 

          So it will be in two years also, if voters at last get to express themselves on some of the insensitive, nonsensical housing laws that ideologues in the Legislature want to employ to change the lifestyle most embodied in the California Dream.

         

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    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 ONGOING ELECTION: LAST OF ITS KIND?

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS 
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 2020, OR THEREAFTER



BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
          “THE ONGOING ELECTION: LAST OF ITS KIND?”

 

          As the official Election Day approached while millions of voters were casting ballots by mail, in deposit boxes and at early voting centers during the last month, it looked distinctly possible that this might be the last election of its precise kind.

 

          This wasn’t just because President Trump threatened not to recognize the outcome, which bears the possibility of throwing America into unprecedented, almost unbearable constitutional crisis. But in California, there was the strong possibility that votes cast this fall might be the last in a two-party system that has become almost an unbreakable tradition.

 

          That’s because a move is afoot to begin a new tradition, this one involving a new, centrist political party founders call the “Common Sense Party.”

 

          Possessing clear potential to become a major party, it’s headed by Tom Campbell, a former five-term moderate Republican congressman from the Silicon Valley area who lost two bids for the U.S. Senate and has been dean of the business school at UC Berkeley and the law school at Orange County’s Chapman University, where he now teaches law and economics.

 

          Before the coronavirus pandemic hit last March, Campbell’s new middle-of-the-road party had gathered more than 20,000 voter signatures toward the 68,000 needed for official state recognition and the accompanying ability to raise individual contributions of up to $38,800 for distribution to candidates it favors.

 

          The signature drive ended abruptly, and Campbell has since sued and otherwise pressured state officials like Gov. Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Secretary of State Alex Padilla to lower the signature threshold in recognition of the current virtual impossibility of gathering names in person.

 

          Those officials, like all others in statewide office, are Democrats jealous of their party’s power and thus unlikely to oblige anytime soon even though several other states have lowered the numbers needed for new party recognition.

 

          For sure, this party had few problems attracting signatures while its drive persisted. One reason: it really doesn’t matter functionally which party voters register with; California’s top two primary system lets everyone vote for anybody they like in any party, except in presidential primaries.

 

          There’s also the clear reality that a significant middle-ground party has been needed here for decades. That’s the deeper meaning of the ongoing shift by voters from the rolls of both Republicans and Democrats to no party preference. NPPs almost match Republicans in California now, while Democratic numbers have not grown much even as population rose somewhat in the last few years.

 

          One reason for this is the drift toward extremism by both Republicans and Democrats. GOP adherence to anything Trump wants has driven away thousands of voters, while Democrats aren’t gaining many by sticking with a left-wing agenda not embraced by the majority of party voters. That was evidenced during last spring’s primary election season, when Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders drew a consistent 35 percent or so of the vote in virtually every state other than those with caucuses. Other Democratic voters went for more centrist candidates, but the party’s apparatus is increasingly run by Berniecrats, thanks to their packing local caucuses where delegates to state party conventions are chosen.

 

          Said Campbell via Zoom, “Most Californians are dismayed by the two major parties’ movement to their extremes. The Public Policy Institute of California reports that 55 percent of adult Californians believe a third party is needed.”

 

          Usually it takes a charismatic, prominent figure to bring a party into prominence. Abraham Lincoln did that for Republicans in the 1850s. Thomas Jefferson did it earlier for Democrats. The extreme but prominent Jean-Marie le Pen and his daughter Marine did it for their far-right party in France.

 

          Campbell has never been accused of having charisma, but he does have a record of not toeing any party’s line and says he would not expect that of Common Sense candidates if the party becomes real.

 

          His new party, he said, “will support candidates of any party – so long as they are willing to think for themselves.”

 

          Only time will tell if this proposed party will materialize and survive longer than the 1990s Reform Party begun by former wild card presidential candidate Ross Perot. If it does, it has major potential to change California elections.

 

          -30-

         

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

Monday, October 12, 2020

PROP. 24 WOULD TOUGHEN PRIVACY PROTECTIONS

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, OCTOBER 30, 2020, OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
          “PROP. 24 WOULD TOUGHEN PRIVACY PROTECTIONS”

 

          On its surface, few California propositions have ever been as confusing as this fall’s Proposition 24, which aims to toughen a 2018 state law allowing consumers to regulate how much of their privacy Internet companies like Facebook and Google should be allowed to violate.

 

          To fully understand the stakes, it’s helpful to watch the Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma,” which shows how social media companies change people’s behavior by using information they collect on what emails folks open, which websites they visit, where people live and travel and much more.

 

          For each bit of such information these companies collect and sell, they get a couple of pennies per buyer, which does not sound like much, but adds up to billions of dollars every year.

 

          If you wonder why American political opinion is so deeply divided, former tech executives including the chief designer of Facebook’s “Like” function describe in the documentary how people who do a Google search in various localities often get very different information than folks who live elsewhere. The same for people who donate to one party and those who donate to another.

 

          In each case, prior opinions and preferences are reinforced, so that even when things change in real life, they often do not alter people’s perceptions and opinions.

 

          The 2018 California Consumer Privacy Act aimed to correct some of this. Now the same Piedmont-based real estate developer who caused legislators to pass that law is behind Prop. 24. He contributed almost all the $5.3 million given (as of Oct. 1) to the pro-24 group Californians for Consumer Privacy. That committee name and the name of the lead anti-24 group, Californians for Real Privacy, are similar enough to confuse many voters. This is nothing new; the California initiative movement has a long history of misleading committee names.

 

          The big contributor, Alistair Mactaggart, backs Prop. 24 as a way to toughen the existing law, which allows consumers to request free reports on their personal data that are collected and sold by businesses. Businesses covered include those with more than $25 million in annual revenue and ones that sell and share personal data of more than 50,000 persons a year, or earn at least half their annual income from selling personal data. Companies can be fined for violations.

 

          Prop. 24 would add to these very modest protections by giving each consumer power to stop companies from tracking them precisely, allowing you to forbid the sale of information on things like how often you visit a gym or McDonald’s, your health insurance claims and much more, unless you explicitly give permission. You would also be able to stop companies from tracking your movements via cellphone apps and automotive electronics.

 

          Prop. 24 also sets up America’s first official privacy regulators, the California Privacy Protection Agency, modeled partly on European regulators which provide their citizens with far more privacy than most Americans now have.

 

          The proposal also would make it harder for state legislators, continually lobbied by the big Internet interests, to weaken existing privacy rights.

 

          One reason for Prop. 24 is that Mactaggart compromised with legislators two years ago, pulling a very tough privacy proposition he had qualified for the 2018 ballot in return for passage of the current law. That removed the possibility of Mactaggart’s putative proposition losing, which would have left Californians with almost no protection.

 

          Mactaggart promised to come back with stronger rules later, and Prop. 24 represents that effort. “This makes it much harder to weaken privacy in California in the future,” says the ballot argument signed by his wife Celine, “by preventing special interests and politicians from undermining privacy rights.”

 

          Little money has been spent to oppose this measure, and the arguments against it basically claim it would inflict compliance expenses on small businesses. Opponents also gripe that it leaves intact large agencies’ ability to save things like academic and criminal records.

 

          The bottom line is that even if Prop. 24 will not create a perfect world, it’s an improvement on what we have now.

 

          There’s little reason for voters to oppose this, as anyone who prefers to be tracked and categorized can allow it, while people who want out would get a better route than today’s.

 

 -30-

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

PROP. 23 REACHES BEYOND DIALYSIS CENTERS TO HARM MEDICAL CARE

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS 
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, OCTOBER 27, 2020 OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS

          “PROP. 23 REACHES BEYOND DIALYSIS CENTERS TO HARM MEDICAL CARE”

 

          California already has a severe shortage of medical doctors and nurse practitioners, the non-doctors trained to do many things previously reserved for physicians.

 

          Now comes Proposition 23, threatening to make things worse. At first glance, this proposal seems to affect only the 80,000 kidney dialysis patients who get care at the more than 550 California clinics devoted to cleansing their blood of a variety of toxins that would otherwise threaten their lives.

 

          The measure requires each clinic to have an MD or nurse practitioner on site at all times, unless the state health department determines there’s a shortage of doctors in the clinic’s immediate area. That won’t happen often, or there would be no point to the Service Employees International Union spending millions to sponsor it.

 

          It’s different from the 2018 Proposition 8, which lost by about a 60-40 percent margin, demanding physicians on site rather than simply increasing clinic work forces, as Prop. 8 sought to do.

 

          Here’s one problem: There is no demonstrated need to keep a doctor on site at every clinic all the time. Doing so, since most clinics operate at least 16 hours daily and many run around the clock, would take upwards of 1,000 doctors and nurse practitioners away from patients who might urgently need them.

 

          Here’s another problem: Reality at most dialysis clinics is that charge nurses – already present at all times – often become more expert at solving dialysis problems than the doctors who are nominally their supervisors.

 

          (Full disclosure: Columnist Elias has had a kidney transplant for more than 23 years. Prior to that, he underwent dialysis three times weekly for many months.)

 

          Plus, many dialysis clinics are located within hospital complexes, and those that aren’t actually within hospital buildings are often very near hospitals, especially in big cities. If there’s urgent need for a physician, most clinics can get one within minutes.

 

          What’s more, the official nonpartisan analysis of Prop. 23 shows it would cost each dialysis clinic hundreds of thousands of dollars yearly, an expense to be paid by Medicare, Medi-Cal and insurance companies – in short, taxpayers and individuals would foot the bill.

 

Even the ballot argument for Prop. 23 makes no claim that having physicians or nurse practitioners on site all the time will save lives. The argument says only that dialysis patients depend on the process for their very lives. That’s true, but the kinds of complications that might bring urgent need for a doctor are rare.

 

So what’s this really all about? Reading the ballot arguments gives you a clue. “Dialysis corporations want to protect their profits,” the opponents say, noting that California clinics made $468 million in profits during 2018. “To industry executives, it’s a huge money maker.”

 

The SEIU appears bent on cutting those profits, forcing the two biggest owners of California dialysis clinics to invest tens of millions of dollars to fight off an unneeded measure, just two years after they spent $110 million to ward off the failed Prop. 8.

 

Those two companies are Germany’s Fresenius Corp. and Denver-based DaVita Corp., which together own about 70 percent of the state’s dialysis clinics. So far, the firms have spent more than $80 million trying to beat Prop. 23.

 

Their domination of dialysis sticks in union craws, as they resist expanding clinic staffs unless patient loads rise enough to create a serious need. The SEIU is also unhappy with the reality that Fresenius, one of the world’s two largest makers of dialysis machines, profits both from selling the machines, plus supplying filters and hoses that must be changed out for each patient and from fees for the treatment itself. Dialysis patients who do not receive transplants must get dialyzed multiple times weekly for their entire life spans. Many receive dialysis for more than 20 years.

 

It’s a situation that’s far from perfect, regardless of how Prop. 23 may do this fall. But there’s nothing in this proposition that would improve things for anyone but the union sponsoring the measure, which hopes to use it to help organize the clinics.

 

      -30-

 

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

Monday, October 5, 2020

CHAD MAYES GIVING “TOP TWO” ITS BIGGEST TEST

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS 
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2020 OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS

     “CHAD MAYES GIVING “TOP TWO” ITS BIGGEST TEST”

 

Here’s a situation California’s 10-year-old “top two” primary seemingly was designed for: A three-term Republican assemblyman from what once was a “safe” GOP district defies his party, goes independent and gets a spot on the November runoff ballot against another Republican.

 

 

        Back when they were advocating for the 2010 Proposition 10 and the top two system it created, sometimes called the “jungle primary,” then-Gov. Arnold Schwarznegger and then-Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, both moderate Republicans, insisted it would give minority party voters a significant say in districts otherwise dominated by either Democrats or Republicans.

 

 

        Now look at the Redlands-to-the-desert Assembly District 42 in the state’s Inland Empire, where former Republican Chad Mayes faces Republican Andrew Kotyuk in the November runoff.

 

 

        Mayes, now registered with no party preference like about one-fourth of all California voters, pulled about 35 percent of the primary vote to just a bit less for Republican Kotyuk, who entered the race on the last possible day – because that’s when Mayes renounced his membership in the GOP.

 

 

        Republican officials reacted very quickly, almost instantly gathering the needed signatures to put San Jacinto Mayor Kotyuk on the ballot. Although he’s never said it, Mayes likely timed his announcement in hopes it would preclude his drawing a GOP opponent.

 

 

        He didn’t get that wish. Still, he siphoned more than enough votes away from the only Democrat in the race, Hemet lawyer DeniAntionette (cq) Mazingo, to make the runoff against Kotyuk, a conventional Republican whose website proclaims the standard GOP contention that “Sacramento elites are hurting hard-working taxpayers.”

 

 

        Mayes, once the Republican leader in the state Assembly, was forced out of that post after he broke with the party’s longtime stance against California’s cap-and-trade program aimed at reducing greenhouse gases and climate change and voted in 2017 to continue it.

 

 

        He survived the 2018 midterm election despite that, with some support from Democratic voters in the district. To win this fall, he will need plenty of support from Democrats who voted last spring for Mazingo.

 

 

        It’s uncertain whether they will back him or simply leave vacant the state Assembly slot on their ballots.

 

 

        That’s what makes this perhaps the best test yet of whether the top two system – which pits the two leading primary election vote-getters in the runoff regardless of party – can achieve its stated purpose.

 

 

        Yes, there have been plenty of Democrat-on-Democrat and Republican-vs.-Republican races, but until now California had not seen an apostate member of one party depend on voters from the other party for survival.

 

 

        In some cases, including the Santa Clarita-area 25th Congressional District, where Democratic Assemblywoman Christy Smith is trying to unseat Republican Mike Garcia, who last spring beat her in a special election for a vacated seat, two Republicans have combined to almost become the leading primary vote-getters in districts where voter registration for the big parties is about even. Smith hopes the large presidential election turnout will let her reverse the spring outcome.

 

 

        But no member of a major party has ever faced off against an independent. In fact, independents have griped for years that the jungle primary discriminates against them. The best rejoinder to that was always that independents needed to find candidates with wider appeal, and Mayes may have given them one.

 

 

        Now the question is whether Mayes, who has joined Schwarzenegger’s nascent centrist advocacy group New Way California, can continue to pick up votes from both Democrats and independents.

 

 

        Since Mayes has sometimes criticized President Trump, who shares the fall ballot with him, it’s entirely possible moderate Republican “Never Trumpers” may vote his way, even if they’re holding their noses and after all instinctively voting for Trump, their fellow Republican.

 

 

        If Mayes can put together a coalition of moderates, independents, Republicans and Democrats, he will demonstrate for the first time that it can be done. Which would mean there really is a possibility that at least some California politicians won’t have to worry about party backing in the future. The November results will tell a lot.

 

 

    -30-

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

TWO RERUN PROPOSITIONS THAT DESERVE LOW RATINGS

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2020 OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
      “TWO RERUN PROPOSITIONS THAT DESERVE LOW RATINGS”

 

        This fall’s California ballot contains definite head-scratchers: Two repeat propositions that – based on their 2018 showings – probably did not deserve a rerun nearly this soon.

 

 

        Just two years ago, voters opted by almost identical margins of 61-39 percent and 62-38 percent to reject the 2018 Propositions 8 and 10, one mandating significant increases in staffing at dialysis centers that preserve the lives of more than 80,000 patients with end-stage kidney disease, the other allowing rent controls everywhere in California.

 

 

        It’s not unusual for initiative sponsors to bring their ideas to the ballot repeatedly, despite the multi-million-dollar costs of petition signature drives and the campaign ads required later on. Only very occasionally does a rerun succeed. The last significant one was the landmark 1978 Proposition 13 property tax limit measure, which was an outgrowth, but not a replica, of another initiative that failed earlier, in a 1973 special election staged by order of then-Gov. Ronald Reagan.

 

 

        Today’s reruns are not quite as far reaching as that one, and their original versions lost by much larger margins than the original try at limiting property taxes.

 

 

        This fall, Propositions 21 and 23 are almost identical to their losing predecessors.

 

 

        Prop. 21, again sponsored by the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, is slightly tougher than its defeated forebear. It would limit rent increases to 5 percent per year, plus the local rate of inflation in locales which now have no rent control. Existing rent controls would continue in places like Santa Monica, Los Angeles, Glendale, Cotati, San Francisco and a few other cities.

 

 

        For what it’s worth, those controls have not ended the housing affordability crisis anywhere; some of the highest-priced rentals in America exist in Santa Monica and San Francisco, both with strict controls for decades.

 

 

        These are also among the densest areas in California, scores of new apartment buildings having risen in recent years to replace older, smaller ones. Most city rent control laws exempt new construction, usually defined as less than 15 years old but extending back to 1978 in some cities. So it pays for developers to buy up older buildings, evict longtime tenants and build newer units where they can charge market rates, which have climbed steadily for many years.

 

 

        A new state law passed in 2019 aims to mitigate this somewhat by making evictions of paid-up renters more difficult. And no one yet knows the long-term effects of coronavirus eviction limits.

 

 

        The arguments on both sides here are the same as they were two years ago, meaning the real question is whether the political climate has changed in California and how far left any such changes may have swung the state.

 

 

        The Prop. 23 dialysis proposition, another big loser two years ago, is at least as flawed as its predecessor. It essentially interferes with the medical care of persons often too weak or debilitated to advocate for their own interests.

 

 

        (Full disclosure: Columnist Elias has had a kidney transplant since 1997. He underwent regular dialysis treatments for many months prior to his transplant.)

 

 

        Sponsored mainly by the powerful Service Employees International Union, this measure would force the more than 550 dialysis clinics which clean the blood of patients in all parts of California to add more staff at the same time it forbids clinics from charging insurance companies for the work of physician medical directors vital to maintaining quality medical care.

 

 

        If this discourages clinic visits by nephrologists and spurs some to stop making rounds there at all, it would severely interfere with medical treatment.

 

 

        The main funding for opposition to this measure comes from two multinational companies – the German-based Fresenius Medical Care and Denver-based DaVita Corp. Together, these firms operate about 70 percent of California dialysis clinics. Besides owning clinics, Fresenius is among the largest makers of dialysis machines.

 

 

        Both Fresenius and DaVita contend, as they did in 2018, that passage of Prop. 23 would force them to close many clinics, especially in rural areas, thus forcing already disabled patients to travel long distances for vital treatments.

 

 

        Neither of these measures is back by popular demand. Both deserve to lose at least as badly as they did before.

 


-30-

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

Monday, September 28, 2020

WOULD PROP. 20 HELP AGAINST WILDFIRES, CRIME?

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS 
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, OCTOBER 16, 2020, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS

          “WOULD PROP. 20 HELP AGAINST WILDFIRES, CRIME?”

 

          Anyone examining the unintended consequences of California’s many past ballot propositions cannot possibly ignore what was accomplished by the 2014 Proposition 14 and its follow-up measure, 2016’s eponymous Proposition 16.

 

          This fall, Proposition 20 is designed to remedy some of those effects.

 

          Both the earlier measures passed by margins of more than 60-40 percent. Both aimed to lower the state’s prison population, which had long exceeded intended capacities by many thousands of convicts. They did this by making misdemeanors out of former felony crimes like firearm and vehicle thefts, grand theft, credit card fraud and other types of stealing, so long as the value of what criminals took did not exceed $950. It’s anyone’s guess where that arbitrary figure originated.

 

          Those changes came in Prop. 14. They were supplemented by Prop. 16, which allowed for earlier than ever paroles for “non-violent” crimes including sex trafficking of children, rape of unconscious persons and felony assault with a deadly weapon, all absurdly mis-classified as not so dastardly.

 

          Soon afterward, violent crime began rising in some places; in Los Angeles last year, it was up 69.5 percent since 2013.

 

          These were certainly unintended consequences, even if they were predicted in the ballot arguments against both Props. 14 and 16, not to be confused with initiatives on this fall’s ballot that carry the same numbers.

 

          Critics also predict higher crime will result from the state’s ongoing early releases of many thousands of prisoners who were within less than a year of fulfilling their sentences, even though that has not happened yet in most places. About 8,000 inmates had been let go early as of the beginning of September in an effort to prevent worsening of outbreaks of COVID-19 in several high-security penitentiaries.

 

          No one predicted what all this prison-emptying would mean for wildfires, where convict firefighters have long been an underpaid but essential part of California’s defenses.

 

          Some of them recently called that form of convict work “slave labor,” while others responded that the service inspired them and led them to seek firefighter jobs after leaving custody.

 

          One unquestioned effect of the reduced number of prison “trustee” firefighters was that the state hired nearly 900 new seasonal firefighters to make up for the dwindling supply of convict shock troops. As of midsummer, only 94 of the state’s usual 192 units of inmate firefighters were available. The coronavirus was hindering efforts to train up more inmate crews. Then came the summer’s unprecedented spate of wildfires, at one point seeing dozens of major blazes in almost all vulnerable parts of California.

 

          Enter Prop. 20, due to be voted on through most of October and on the official Nov. 3 Election Day.

 

          Its stated aim is to “prevent early release of violent felons.” It would do this by reclassifying some crimes now officially and strangely considered non-violent, despite their inherently violent nature.

 

          Says an official state summary, “A yes vote…means people who commit…theft-related crimes could receive increased penalties.” It would also prevent convicted child molesters, sexual predators and violent criminals from winning early prison releases.

 

          Passing this would indicate a new, less crime-tolerant attitude in California. This would require a shift of at least 10 percent of the electorate away from supporting the earlier prison-emptying measures.

 

          At the same time, it could provide thousands of additional potential convict firefighters, who usually see their sentences reduced in exchange for very risky service on the fire lines.

 

          Opponents call this “a prison spending scam,” charging the yes side wants to “scare voters into spending tens of millions on prisons, which could force draconian cuts to rehabilitation, schools, mental health care and (increase) homelessness.”

 

          No one has yet established a direct connection, but homelessness proliferated in California simultaneously with the advent of the prison emptying measures.

 

          All this is up for argument right now, but there is no doubt that well over 1 million acres of wild land and hundreds of homes burned in the first two months of the official fire season.

 

          Voters can now decide whether they believe the shortage of inmate firefighters helped cause all this damage, and what – if anything – to do about it.

                  

-30-

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

WHAT WOULD CALIFORNIA DO IF TRUMP CHEATS? NEW URGENCY

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS 
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, OCTOBER 13, 2020 OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS

     “WHAT WOULD CALIFORNIA DO IF TRUMP CHEATS? NEW URGENCY”

 

          The possibility of President Trump legally cheating his way into a second term in the White House and questions about what California might do about it first arose in early summer, when Trump hemmed and hawed while failing to answer questions about whether he would accept the November election results, win or lose. He still has not given a firm answer.

 

                   Yes, others may have cheated their way into the White House. There was former Civil War Gen. Rutherford B. Hayes, a Republican elected in 1876 after losing the popular vote to Democrat Samuel Tilden. That happened only because Southern Democrats tossed him a few Electoral College votes Tilden had earned in exchange for a promise to end Reconstruction, detested by Democrats in the former Confederacy.

 

          Thousands of dead voters apparently cast ballots in Chicago for Democrat John F. Kennedy in 1960, as the late Democratic Mayor Richard J. Daley seemingly found a way to give his party a national margin.

 

          But no one before attempted a strategy anything like two now reported to be under consideration by Trump and his campaign, which plainly sees a possibility of his losing both the popular vote and the Electoral College.

 

          If Trump loses and then follows one of two possible plans floated as trial balloons by anonymous officials of his campaign, he can expect strong reactions, which might range from armed resistance to his staying in office to some states trying to secede from the Union. The President has not reacted to a unanimous but toothless Senate resolution demanding a peaceful transfer of power if he loses.

 

          What might happen? California, for one state, has had a nascent secession movement for years; at one point it had poll support from about one-third of the state’s populace.

 

Two potential routes exist for Trump to get an unearned second term. Both involve Republican-controlled legislatures in swing states like Arizona, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida.

 

          A scenario first reported by Newsweek has Trump convincing the GOP majorities there to refuse certification of election results in their states, a legislative function that’s previously been perfunctory. Trump has bellowed for many months without any evidence about supposed fraud in mail voting, something that has never involved more than a small handful of votes.

 

          If Biden wins those states, but results are not certified, there probably would be no majority in the Electoral College for anyone. This would throw the election into the House of Representatives, where each state gets one vote and Republicans have majorities in 26 state delegations to 24 for the Democrats. No one knows what those numbers will be after the election. 

 

          A second scenario reported in The Atlantic and Forbes magazines also has some GOP-run legislatures refusing to accept Biden wins in their states, then naming electors pledged to Trump instead of the electoral winner. In this circumstance, Trump’s party minions could hand him an Electoral College majority.

 

          Either development would amount to cheating on a scale and consequence never before contemplated in America. That could activate the principle that for every action there is a reaction.

 

          Secession looms as a possible reaction by California. If it happens, it won’t be led by Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who declared in an interview during his 2018 campaign that “I am not interested in that. I am an American, period.”

 

          But other Californians have long felt this state would do just fine on its own, or in a new country accompanied by other Democratic-leaning states like Oregon and Washington.

 

          The secession-minded Yes, California group on July 3 filed a proposed ballot initiative demanding a popular vote on whether to leave the United States. If it qualifies, the measure will make the state ballot in November 2022. So far, there has been no major petition drive for this proposal, but the deadline for gathering signatures comes next March, leaving plenty of time for action if Trump cheats his way to reelection.

 

          He has never promised not to try. Rather, he steadfastly refuses to commit himself to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses, one hallmark of American democracy that sets this country aside from dictatorships and monarchies.

 

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    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, September 21, 2020

SECRET MEETINGS NEXT BIG SCANDAL FOR STATE PUC?

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, OCTOBER 9, 2020, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS

   “SECRET MEETINGS NEXT BIG SCANDAL FOR STATE PUC?”

 

          It doesn’t seem to matter who the commissioners are or which governor appoints them, constant scandal seems to dog this state’s Public Utilities Commission.

 

          Despite a criminal investigation that revealed proof of a secret rate-fixing deal between former PUC President Michael Peevey and executives of Southern California Edison Co., nothing came of that scandal except Peevey’s quiet departure when his term ended. Peevey was an appointee of ex-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

 

          When the PUC’s failure under Jerry Brown appointee Michael Picker to enforce maintenance rules on Pacific Gas & Electric Co. led to the Camp Fire and 85 deaths, state legislators nevertheless gave the PUC authority for supervising the huge utility’s new fire safety program.

 

          And on and on.

 

          So it’s unlikely much will happen to current PUC President Marybel Batjer, who helped craft a $13.5 billion electric company wildfire bailout for which customers now pay monthly, over her commission’s latest potential scandal. Batjer worked for Gov. Gavin Newsom when she helped craft that corporate rescue; Newsom then made her the commission’s boss.

 

          Commissioners including the agency president get six-year staggered terms and cannot be fired even by the governor who appointed them. The PUC now features two Newsom appointees and three Brown leftovers.

 

          Now Batjer, in her second year, stands accused in court filings and letters of conducting secret commission meetings and of first suspending and then firing her agency’s executive director, Alice Stebbins, as payback for Stebbins’ reporting that the PUC has not collected about $200 million in fees and fines the agency assessed. Batjer says Stebbins was fired over a hiring matter.

 

          The fees and fines, owed by a variety of utilities, can sometimes be important political and public relations tools, especially when imposed as penalties for corporate malfeasance. The PUC invariably reaps positive publicity when it trumpets penalties, but it allegedly fails to collect some of them.

 

          That money could be important for an agency which has often said it can’t enforce all its rules because it has insufficient personnel. Imagine how many inspectors could be hired with 200 million extra dollars.

 

          No one knows just what decisions have lately been made in the secret meetings alleged in a filing from consumer attorney Michael Aguirre, a former elected city attorney of San Diego. The commission legally must provide public summaries of any closed meetings, but Aguirre’s brief cites a spreadsheet listing “a staggering number of closed meetings of the commission in the past three years, most of them on matters which do not justify closed sessions.”

 

          Another report alleges that in Batjer’s first 13 months as PUC president, she held more than 21 closed meetings, with specific dates listed.

 

          The Aguirre brief, filed with the state’s First District Court of Appeals – the main court where reviews of PUC decisions are possible – charges “the utilities and their supposed regulator, the PUC, systematically engage in secret government decision-making…”

 

          That description is consistent with evidence gathered in the Peevey-era investigation into how SoCal Edison customers were dunned for the Edison-caused 2012 failure of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. A search warrant led to discovery in Peevey’s home of a napkin from a Warsaw hotel where he met Edison executives during an international conference. Handwritten on the napkin were the terms of the assessment later charged to electric customers.

 

          Says the Aguirre brief, “There is a profound public interest in the PUC keeping meetings open to the public as required by (law). Under the PUC, the combined revenue authorized to be taken from utility customers is almost $30 billion (per year)…”

 

          Aguirre asserts the commission is illegally holding closed sessions without reporting actions agreed to there. Essentially, he’s saying no one knows how much less customers might pay for power, natural gas and water if all PUC decisions were made in public, as they’re supposed to be.

 

          Which means almost all Californians have a major stake in the outcome of this case and the eventual fate of the gutsy Stebbins, who raised the alarm in a remarkable case akin to a corporate general manager blowing the whistle on the very CEO who hired her.


-30-
    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It" is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net