Monday, November 29, 2021







        One thing for sure in the wake of the Thanksgiving week smash-and-grab flash mobs: The bandits who raided high-end stores from Walnut Creek and San Francisco to Beverly Hills and the Fairfax district of Los Angeles were not thinking about Gov. Gavin Newsom when they sledge-hammered their way to tens of thousands of dollars in plunder.


        But they have presented Newsom with both opportunity and peril, as evidenced by the immediate reaction of California Republican Party operatives who blamed the whole mess on him and his fellow Democrats.


        “Gavin Newsom and California Democrats have made our state a more dangerous place to live, work and raise a family,” a statement from Orange County’s Republican Party accused while the gang-burglary spree was still underway.


        The GOP blamed Newsom for endorsing the 2014 Proposition 47, which lowered many felonies to the misdemeanor category, plus penalty-reducing measures like one that makes theft or burglary a felony only when more than $950 worth of material or cash is stolen.


        But here’s one reality: When somewhere between 30 and 50 cars and 80-odd persons descend on a department store together, as happened in Walnut Creek, a lot more than 80 people knew about it. Why did none of them warn the police or the store itself of the highly organized raid? Was that a failure of parental instruction in morals or a failure of public schools in educating students on personal responsibility?


        We may learn more as questioning and trials proceed for the few bandits police nabbed. Or not.


        We already know Newsom, also while the flurry of lawlessness continued across the state, took action by ordering heightened patrols near stores and malls by the California Highway Patrol through the holiday shopping season.


        “The level of organized retail theft we are seeing is simply unacceptable,” the governor said in a prepared statement. “Businesses and customers should feel safe while doing their holiday shopping.”


        But they won’t just now, no matter how many CHP officers Newsom stations in shopping mall parking lots. If anything else was also unacceptable, it was the fact Newsom took off on a family vacation in Mexico just as his office issued his statement, rather than showing up in stores to show his support, the way every governor from Earl Warren to Ronald Reagan to Jerry Brown would have done.


        So there will likely be stunted sales in stores, which might or might not be made up via online orders.


        For certain, Newsom’s political opponents will use his quick exit from the state against him when he runs for reelection next year. Republicans might even be effective if they run someone against Newsom who’s more moderate than Larry Elder, the right wing talk show host who was their de facto recall election standard bearer last summer.


        Kevin Faulconer (ex-San Diego mayor who drew barely 8 percent of the recall replacement vote), are you listening?


        Newsom still has plenty of time to recover. In fact, if he can get his ultra-liberal appointed attorney general Rob Bonta to spearhead charging any nabbed store raiders with felonies, not mere misdemeanors, he could end up smelling fine.


        But if judges appointed by Newsom and Brown insist on misdemeanor trials instead, the soft-on-crime label may stick and haunt him, especially if he ever runs for President.


        Like all other events, the store break-ins did not occur in a vacuum: They are tied to Newsom and Prop. 47 just as they can legitimately be linked to the May 31, 2020 nationally televised criminal rampage through Santa Monica and the trendy Melrose Avenue area of Los Angeles, which set an example for the new invasions with very slow police responses and very few thieves caught.


        For sure, Republicans will try to hang all this on Newsom next year, making crime and public safety as big an issue as they can.


        Newsom has the power to defuse all this if he gets more active than merely sending out some police patrols. But he’ll never advance his career if he heads off on more family vacations at key moments in the lives and fears of other Californians.



    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






       Ever since the 2020 election, Republican Party officials have crowed about how ex-President Donald Trump and other GOP candidates greatly improved their usual performance among Latino voters, not just in California but across the nation.


       Not to misunderstand: The GOP did not win anything close to a majority of Hispanic votes, even though the party did better in the nation’s fastest-growing ethnic group than at any time since Ronald Reagan’s second presidential run in 1984. It figured to do at least as well in this month’s recall election.


       Back in 1984, a grinning Reagan won about 36 percent of Latinos and bragged on it the next morning, in his understated way. “I guess we showed people our Hispanic friends are a little more varied than they thought,” he said. Last year, Trump won about 35 percent of Latinos, an increase of almost 8 percent over his 2016 performance among them. And last fall, Latino voters broke only slightly more Democratic than last fall to the pro-Democrat “no” side in the recall vote.


       Both last year’s vote and September’s demonstrated the veracity of Reagan’s remark. The 2020 consequences were clear in California, leading directly to the comeback of David Valadao in a Central Valley district where the switchover of about 1,600 mostly Latin voters defeated Democrat T.J. Cox, who had briefly ousted Valadao by 900 votes in 2018.


       A slightly better than usual performance among Latinos also helped fuel the 2020 campaigns of Republicans Young Kim and Michelle Steel in Orange County, as they narrowly took back two more formerly solid Republican House seats that went to Democrats Gil Cisneros and Harley Rouda two years before.


       Trump’s vote among Hispanics in places like Los Angeles, Fresno and San Jose was also consistent with what happened in perpetual Democratic strongholds like Houston, Philadelphia, Chicago and New York.


       It bespoke an ethnic group which feels its votes are taken for granted by Democrats.


       The 2020 Latino defections produced a near thing for Democrats. A few more Latinos going Republican in a few more congressional districts could have cost them their majority in the House, where Democrats now have a small majority that requires party unity to get anything done. That’s often hard to achieve in their fractious party.


       All this appears to mean that Latinos, who for many years followed California guidance from political leaders like onetime legislators Art Torres and Richard Alatorre, have become more varied. For one thing, as they’ve succeeded, some of California’s myriad Hispanic business owners appear to have become more interested in the kind of tax cuts Republicans often push than they are in social justice and welfare.


       Meanwhile, the significant Hispanic movement toward the GOP has not drawn much response from California Democrats, who used the huge late-1990s increase in Hispanic citizenship to turn this into a consistently blue state, where it formerly exhibited a hotly-contested “purple” hue.


       Democrats here also expect that the immigrant family background of Alex Padilla, appointed in January as the state’s first Latino U.S. senator, will bring lapsed Hispanic voters back.


       But that may not be automatic. Yes, huge increases in Latino turnout in states like Arizona and Georgia helped Democrats flip three Senate seats last year, but who knows whether Padilla can inspire the effort many of those voters made to cast ballots during the coronavirus pandemic.


       Yes, about one-fourth of the state Assembly is now composed of Latinos, one reason the Inland Empire’s Eloise Reyes was chosen that chamber’s majority leader this year, giving Hispanics like her and Speaker Anthony Rendon huge financial and policy influence.


       This was one example of Democrats trying to send a message to Latino voters that their contributions are not taken for granted.


       Democrats will need to make many more such moves if they expect to cement the kind of support from Latinos they have gotten in the past. For among the many messages sent during the last few elections is this: Democrats can no longer take support from Hispanics as an automatic, rote thing. They will have to work for it, just as they long have done with many other ethnic groups.


Elias is author of the current book “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It,” now available in an updated third edition. His email address is

Monday, November 22, 2021







        If Californians didn’t already know about the wildfire crisis that’s been burning through the state for the last few years, pictures of low-hanging smoke from the Caldor fire blocking views of Lake Tahoe should have driven the new reality home more than ever this fall.


        But for many homeowners who live in unburned areas nevertheless deemed possibilities for future blazes, another crisis is hitting ever harder.


        That’s the availability of homeowners’ insurance and the fire coverage it provides, which has become increasingly scarce with each passing year.


        It’s high time to get creative and solve this thorny problem.


        Yes, some owners of intact houses not yet torched are still OK. That’s thanks to an edict from state Insurance Commissioner Richard Lara forbidding insurance companies from cancelling or “non-renewing” fire coverage for homeowners on the fringes of this year’s two most destructive fires: the Dixie Fire that spread for weeks across many tens of thousands of acres in several Northern California counties and the Caldor blaze that seemed to follow U.S. Highway 50 from Placerville toward Lake Tahoe.


        But that’s a stopgap measure lasting only one year. Most affected property owners know their policies will be cancelled the moment their insurance companies can dump them.


        No insurance firm wants to be bankrupted by California conflagrations the way Pacific Gas & Electric Co. was by the unprecedented damages from fires it sparked from 2017 through 2019, essentially an introductory period for today’s blazes that are hotter and faster-moving than the wildfires of just a few years ago.


        What’s developed is a situation akin to the boycott the insurance industry inflicted on California in the mid-1990s, after several companies were nearly bankrupted by earthquake payouts after the 1994 Northridge earthquake damaged heavily populated parts of Los Angeles.


        Every significant insurance company cancelled almost all California property policies at that time, protesting a law that forced any firm issuing property insurance also to offer quake coverage. The industry wanted out of the earthquake insurance business.


        Legislators and then-Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush could have fought back by denying the lucrative right to sell car insurance to any company refusing to sell quake policies. But Quackenbush, whose election was largely funded by insurance companies and brokers, instead caved to their demands. The result is the current California Earthquake Authority, which issues most quake policies in the state, separately from standard property insurance.


        In an era when many tens of thousands of homeowner policies have been cancelled in and near past or prospective fire areas, maybe something like the CEA is needed to make sure property owners can get insurance at fairly reasonable rates.


        Where policies are cancelled today, some homeowners go bare, but many wind up buying coverage from the state’s last-chance Fair Plan (FP), whose rates are astronomically higher than what insurance companies charge in non-fire areas. FP enrollment jumped from 140,000 to more than 200,00 in the last two years, even though a few companies returned to writing new policies when they were allowed astronomical rate increases.


So it may be time for the Legislature to at least partially separate other property coverages like liability from fire insurance in wildfire circumstances.


        That way, homeowners could decide how much fire coverage to buy, rather than being forced to insure the entire value of their properties against fast-moving flames. They could be required to substantially fireproof their homes in order to qualify for such an arrangement, making one-time investments rather than large payments every year.


        One thing for sure: So far, no one has thought creatively enough about how to manage the wildfire insurance crisis in an era when it seems several highly damaging blazes will afflict this state every year.


        Simply ordering companies to leave policies in place for a year kicks the can down the road a short distance, but ultimately solves little, for homeowners in wildfire areas will eventually need new policies.


        Californians have found creative solutions to every major problem that’s ever confronted this state, from transporting water hundreds of miles to putting Covid vaccines in tens of millions of arms. Why not approach this major problem with the same style of resolute, outside-the-box thinking?



    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






        California’s almost exclusively Democratic state legislators got a good look last summer at just how precarious their positions now are, and they didn’t like it.


        The result almost certainly will be quick changes in state laws covering recall elections. You can bet Gov. Gavin Newsom would sign off on such bills with alacrity if he got the chance. But he won’t, because recalls are written into the California constitution and their structure can’t change without a popular vote during a general election, next one coming up in autumn 2022.


        There’s a strong possibility the Legislature will put two or three measures before the people next fall, just to make sure at least one passes.


        For as threatened as Newsom felt last fall before beating back the recall then aimed at him, many lawmakers felt much the same. One state senator, Josh Newman of Fullerton, has actually been recalled, only to win back his seat later. Others know they could be.


        That’s because recalls now require signatures from only 12 percent as many voters as cast ballots in the last statewide election. In Newsom’s case, it was about 1.3 million, achieved only because a judge gave recall proponents four months more than usual to gather names after they argued the COVID-19 pandemic posed unusual obstacles.


        Legislators could be forgiven for believing recall backers in their own districts might gin up some unusual obstacle during almost any year, and also get extra time.


        No one claims recall elections are the epitome of democracy. For one thing, it only takes 12 percent of the voters being sufficiently disgruntled to force a vote in the midst of any elected official’s term. For another, the recall target can draw more votes than anyone on the ballot’s list of potential replacements, but still be voted out if there’s a simple majority on the question of whether there should in fact be a recall.


        So among the changes under consideration for next year’s ballot is one that would separate by days or weeks the vote on a recall from balloting on a replacement. Another would eliminate the replacement list in gubernatorial recalls and give the governor’s job to the lieutenant governor if a governor is recalled, as Gray Davis was in 2003.


        Other proposals include giving recall organizers less time to gather signatures or requiring up to twice as many signatures for a recall as today’s rules demand.


        The Legislature’s few Republicans, of course, oppose all this. Never mind that they would surely turn around quickly if they ever again elect a governor from their party, which now has barely half as many registered adherents as Democrats do.


        Some of those Republicans point out that only 11 of 179 recall attempts against state officials since the possibility began in 1911 have actually reached a vote. But two of those votes, both against sitting governors, came within the last 18 years.


        “This is the last bastion of checks and balances we offer voters,” said GOP Assemblyman Kelly Seyarto, a former mayor of Murietta. Making the process harder, he claimed, “would have a chilling effect for voters.”


        Added Orrin Heatlie, the main proponent of the Newsom recall, as he protested outside a legislative hearing, “The ability to recall is extremely difficult now, and to try and further complicate the process and make it more difficult for the people to exercise their rights works in (politicians’) favor.”


        Those sentiments won’t stop the Democratic tide pushing for change. Not while most Democrats believe, as moderate Democratic state Sen. Steve Glazer of Orinda observed, that recalls can turn into “a backdoor for the losing side in an election to relitigate the results.”


        He notes California is one of only 19 states allowing recalls at all, but demands among the fewest petition signatures. Compared to the 12 percent of previous votes needed to get a recall going here, it’s 40 percent in Kansas.


        There’s little doubt about the undemocratic nature of recalls, but Seyarto is nevertheless correct when he says recalls are a last-gasp outlet for unhappy voters.


        This doesn’t mean changing an election outcome should be as easy as it is now, but it also doesn’t mean the bar should be raised to impossible levels.



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

Monday, November 15, 2021








        There is a general sense in California’s populace that the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is over, that masking rules and vaccination passports are no longer necessary.


        For anyone who believes this, a brief visit to the COVID-19 intensive care unit at any major hospital in the state would be instructive.


        For each room or space available in most ICUs, there is at least one occupant, with more waiting. The patients here are not merely intubated for breathing by ventilators, but also are attached to tubes for excretions of various kinds.


        “Almost every one of the people we see here has not been vaccinated,” said an ICU nurse at UCLA’s Ronald Reagan Medical Center the other day. “Almost all of them will die, and it will be their own fault.”


        That nurse was not officially permitted to speak, nor did her words reflect an official scientific finding, but she spoke unvarnished truth:


        Right now, almost any adult who becomes seriously ill with Covid can look in a mirror (if there is one in their ICU space) and see who’s at fault.


        Meanwhile, the average age of Covid victims keeps dropping. Partly that’s driven by the fact that elderly nursing home residents – once hit harder than any other group by the virus – were among the first to be vaccinated and then were on the early list for booster shots.


        There’s also the fact that this plague, once thought of as primarily a disease of old age, has seen its case loads grow ever younger as the last year went by. Partly, that was because authorization for teenagers and children to get vaccinated arrived later than adult approval.


        Which demonstrates how important vaccinations are and how far off base are the many parents who keep telling pollsters that vaccination requirements for school attendance are infringements on their right to say what medications their children can get.


        That’s essentially the same cry anti-vaxxers have used for decades to resist requirements conditioning school attendance on receipt of vaccines for diseases like rubella, whooping cough and mumps.


        Deaths from Covid now far outstrip fatalities from those other maladies, but the outcry against school Covid vaccine mandates is louder and more persistent than resistance to the other inoculations.


        Recent polling on this issue, which helped shape November gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey, comes from the Zogby Strategies firm, which often polls on politics. A plurality of 48 percent of parents in Zogby’s new national survey say they should decide if their kids get vaccinated, whereas only 42 percent would leave that call to public health officials.


        So parents, most with little medical education, believe they know more than certified experts.


        At the same time, complaints are arising around California that school vaccine mandates are reinforcing old patterns of racial inequity in education. One study of San Francisco Bay Area schools shows the vaccination rate among teenage Black students in public schools varies from county to county, from about 44 percent to 65 percent. The region’s Latino students have about a 68 percent vaxx rate. By contrast, white and Asian-American teens across that region are now vaccinated at rates of 95 percent and 74 percent respectively.


        This means far more Black and Latino students are blocked from in-person school attendance than whites or Asian-Americans. Despite a new law requiring schools to provide equal quality education online to what goes on in classrooms, every study of this issue shows in-person teaching is far more effective.


        So, yes, longstanding educational inequities are being perpetuated. But who is at fault? If almost all white and Asian-descended youths could get their arms jabbed at least once in schools, drugstores or other venues, what was stopping the other groups? Answer: Resistance to vaccination, which can be seen in the vast differences in adult vaccination rates between the same groups.


        Parents reluctant to get themselves vaccinated are not nearly as likely to have their children inoculated as those who are themselves vaccinated.


        So it’s time to stop blaming others for the inconveniences, injustices and mandates caused by the pandemic. For in most cases, just as in the ICUs, the real perpetrator of those problems can be found in the mirror.



    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 contrast this fall was sharp and obvious, yet state officials who regulate the electric companies that started most of California’s big wildfires in recent years didn’t appear to notice:


        While those state regulators have never named even one of the executives or employees of Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison or San Diego Gas & Electric who decided to let hazardous vegetation remain near power lines and spark massive wildfires, marine investigators examining two recent, but far less harmful, disasters have gone after individuals, aiming to penalize them for misdeeds or negligence.


        Make no mistake about it, the burning of a U.S. naval vessel, the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard while at anchor in San Diego in 2020, and the large oil spill that fouled stretches of Orange County beaches in October, were plenty bad.


        In one case, the U.S. Navy lost a $1.2 billion-dollar ship to arson and a slow response to it, while the other saw beaches polluted to an extent unseen for at least the last six years, while the survival or continued activity of some wildlife was put at risk in the oil spill. Stretches of beach enjoyed by many thousands of Californians were placed out of bounds at a time when they normally would have been crowded.


        But neither disaster caused disruption or damage comparable to what’s been inflicted by even one of the several wildfires sparked in many parts of California by utility company errors or negligence. Those blazes also put drinking water supplies at risk for survivors who could return home.


        And yet, while the Navy has named names in the Bonhomme Richard disaster and the Coast Guard continues trying to find those responsible for dragging an anchor across an oil pipeline whose location was well known, no personal responsibility has been assessed for most wildfires. Rather, they are routinely blamed on the big utilities, with the identities of decision makers involved never revealed and those individuals never prosecuted or publicly questioned.


        The Navy left no doubt who would be held responsible for the destruction of the Bonhomme Richard, which burned for almost five days at its berth. Plumes of noxious smoke blanketed parts of San Diego and suburban National City while the fire smoldered.


        Investigators said a junior sailor, Seaman Apprentice Ryan Myers, who had dropped out of SEAL training after just five days, ignited the fire. He was due in court this month for a preliminary hearing.


        But the Navy didn’t stop with him. It named the officer of the deck who allegedly hesitated to sound an alarm when he saw smoke from the fire. Investigators found ship’s fire crews were poorly trained, with 90 percent of on-board fire stations not functioning when the fire started. Officers will be cashiered and enlisted sailors lose rank or be discharged before the Bonhomme Richard story is done.


The Coast Guard, about a year later, focused immediately on ships that anchored near the pipeline carrying oil ashore from an offshore rig. It quickly named a German-owned ship, the Rotterdam Express, as a prime suspect, That ship was closest to the pipeline before it broke.


Officers and crew will be charged when and if the

Coast Guard determines with some certainty who was at fault for what. This may take weeks or months, but justice will be served on those responsible, just as it was on Francesco Schettino, captain of the Costa Concordia cruise ship after it capsized near Sardinia nine years ago. It took four years before Schettino was sentenced to 16 years for negligence and manslaughter in that accident, but Schettino now resides in a Rome prison.


By contrast, individuals responsible for California’s many wildfires enjoy normal lives, most of them treated like upstanding citizens and none stigmatized for disastrous decisions they made, far more damaging than those of Navy personnel involved in losing the Bonhomme Richard or any choices made near the Orange County oil spill.


The bottom line: It’s high time California’s landlocked authorities learn something from maritime authorities who exert firm discipline when seamen make costly errors. But so far, there is no sign they've even noticed the vast difference in their approach.

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

Monday, November 8, 2021






        California Democrats often behave as if their domination of state government were a God-given right, theirs forevermore.


        They forget it wasn’t always so, and they sometimes forget who gave them that dominant status.


        This was a classical “purple” state through the latter half of the 20th Century, with governors mostly Republicans named Reagan, Deukmejian, Knight, Knowland and Wilson, most of whom served two terms each. The only Democrats breaking up their hegemony were Pat and Jerry Brown from 1958-66 and 1974-82 and Gray Davis, elected in 1998 just after the state’s great leftward shift.


        That change occurred in 1994 and the two subsequent years, after Gov. Pete Wilson strongly backed the anti-illegal immigrant Proposition 187, causing more than 2.5 million non-citizen Latinos to file for citizenship, become politically conscious, and then register and vote. Almost all became loyal Democrats in an unprecedented mass backlash against Wilson, whose name quickly became anathema among almost all Latino groups and individuals.


        The direct result is that only one Republican has reached elected statewide here office in this century: the former movie muscleman Arnold Schwarzenegger, elected in part because many younger Latinos thought it might be cool to have a “governator.”


        But California Latinos stuck with Democrats in every other modern election,


        Now comes a warning to this state’s Democrats that they had better pay far more attention to this key element of their electoral coalition or they could pay a heavy price.


        An inkling of this could be seen last year, when Latinos here voted against incumbent President Donald Trump by “only” about a 65-35 percent margin, not enough to give him any chance of winning California, but still far better than any Republican running statewide since Reagan.


        Then, early this month, California Democrats who were looking should have seen another very big warning sign in the outcomes of by-election votes in Virginia and New Jersey. In Virginia, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe lost his bid for a return to the statehouse by about 2 percent. Detailed polling in Virginia was unreliable, both before the election and in exit surveys, but polling place observers clearly saw that Latino support for McAuliffe dipped after he advocated in a televised debate against allowing parents much control over school curriculum.


        “We probably don’t know who won the Hispanic vote or by how much, because of unreliable polling,” Eduardo Gammarra, professor of Latin American studies at Florida International University and a regular pollster among Latinos, told a reporter. “But…my research is that we are seeing a real message for the Democrats, who are not getting behind issues that speak strongly to Latinos. We’re seeing a shift.”


        What he says has direct application to California. Not only has President Biden been lukewarm in changing Donald Trump's immigration policies that long offended Hispanics, like keeping asylum candidates in Mexico for indefinite periods, but California Democrats’ biggest issues these days don’t appear to have much appeal for most Latino voters.


        There is the state’s big push for more housing, despite uncertainty over who might build new units or buy them. This policy makes many in Latino neighborhoods fear gentrification, being forced out of their long-term homes to make way for more expensive new housing.


        There’s the new law calling for elimination of small gasoline- or natural gas-fueled machines like lawn mowers and leaf blowers, imposing a new expense on tens of thousands of independently contracting workers, many of them Latinos.


        There’s the thrice-attempted end to cash bail, which keeps thousands of predators off streets in the state’s many Latino residential areas.


        The list of Democratic moves with real or potential harm to Latinos is much longer, but those three examples demonstrate clearly that causes like climate change or liberal ideas of fairness trump the wishes of many Latino voters among priorities of today’s California Democrats.


        This tendency began causing attrition among Latinos voting in 2020, and could increase greatly over the next several years, if current trends in Latino voting behavior continue.


        That can be enough to throw close elections to Republicans, as it apparently did in Virginia and almost did in New Jersey this month. But the consequences of such a shift would be much larger if it became reality in California.




     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’s happening. Despite the best efforts of California’s highly ideological, developer-financed state legislators, the solution to this state’s widely acknowledged housing shortage is coming fast, driven more by market forces than by state laws.


        Even local bureaucrats who had long ignored the obvious solution are now gradually having to recognize it.


        That solution: Convert or repurpose the vast amount of square footage in office buildings and towers that has become vacant over the 20 months since the coronavirus pandemic set in and changed the work habits and environments of millions of white collar employees and their bosses.


        All over California – and nationally, too – businesses from stock brokerages and law firms to insurance companies and medical billing services revised their workspace requirements, downsizing quarters or simply letting their employees work from home.


        This allows moves by thousands of workers, who now need only rarely appear in company offices, from high-rent areas to more countrified housing where they get more square footage, more fresh air and more freedom for much less money.


        It’s one reason San Francisco and other large cities have seen rents and their populations drop during the pandemic. It’s a reason rents and housing demand are up in the Fresno area, where prices nevertheless remain much lower than in coastal areas.


        But a move back to cities is coming, as more and more urban and suburban housing promises to become available – with no detrimental effects on existing neighborhoods, unlike the two major housing bills that became law in September. Those measures may be overturned by an impending ballot initiative. The two laws, known as SB 9 and SB 10, aim to densify single family neighborhoods while lining the pockets of developers who finance the campaigns of many legislators.


        As this column first noted in March 2020, barely a month after the pandemic began in earnest, conversions of existing office space to housing have been inevitable since workers discovered the joys of operating from home and employers saw their productivity generally remaining high.


        For as office leases expired or were cancelled, the value of myriad large buildings and the stock prices of real estate investment trusts that own many of them became endangered. That meant space would be repurposed. The same realities also were bound to threaten city and county finances all over California. When large buildings become vacant and are assessed downward for tax purposes, they sharply reduce property tax revenue that is the base of local government finances.


        At first, this was all theoretical. But now it’s going big, with much more to come. As of early November, the Los Angeles area alone had seen approvals for conversions of office space into more than 4,300 apartments and condominiums, with plenty more in the pipeline, according to a report from the rent-tracking group Rent Cafe. Statewide, an estimated 12,000 units have been approved for conversion.


        By contrast, only about 200 such conversions had been approved by the end of 2020. The converted housing units will be finished much sooner and with far less environmental impact than new structures.


        Conversions also allow a great variety of housing, from luxury penthouse condos with ocean views to far smaller studio apartments on lower floors where residents might hear some street noise, but pay far less than folks on the top floors.


        The number of units approved so far in Los Angeles is the highest in the nation, in part because pandemic lockdowns and changes began here first.  But New York City, for one other example, officially expects many thousands of conversions within the next two years.


        Said Emil Malizia, a faculty member in the University of North Carolina’s highly-rated Department of City and Regional Planning, “The most compelling reason to choose adaptive reuse for apartments versus new apartment construction is the much lesser environmental impact.”


        This was clear from the first days of the pandemic, when, for example, a stock brokerage in Pasadena that had recently remodeled office space to handle 95 employees daily suddenly realized only five were using all that space.


        It didn’t take a genius to see change was coming. Now it’s high time this state’s top officials take the lead in shaping and encouraging it.


    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