Monday, April 25, 2022








        In some parts of California, there is definitely a housing crunch: small supplies of homes for sale, prices that escalate even when population has apparently stabilized and high prices that exclude most Californians as buyers.


        But a massive, multi-million-unit shortage? Maybe not. At least, so suggests a scathing springtime report from the non-partisan acting state auditor.


        “The (state) Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) has made errors when completing its needs assessments because it does not sufficiently review and verify data it uses,” the report deadpanned.


        Maybe that’s why as he campaigned in 2018, Gov. Gavin Newsom insisted California would need 3.5 million new housing units within 8 years just to keep up. That would have been more than 400,000 homes, condos and apartments every year, all supposedly getting snapped up as increased supply caused prices to fall.


        None of this has happened. Housing construction never has topped 110,000 units per year during Newsom’s tenure, and a good share of those stand vacant. Newsom’s administration now says California needs 1.8 million new homes by 2030, a huge drop in his needs assessment after less than four years. What happened to the other half of what Newsom said was needed? Maybe the need never existed.


        Those earlier numbers stemmed in part from expert estimates that California’s high growth would continue indefinitely. We now see that is not automatic. Fewer newcomers mean less need for new homes.


        But the auditor’s report suggests even the 1.8 million housing units Newsom now says are needed by 2030 may be a gross exaggeration. One look at all the vacancy signs on apartment buildings and condominiums in major cities informally suggests this. But HCD does not lower its estimates of need.


        The department’s regional need figures, in turn, produce threats of lawsuits from appointed state Attorney General Rob Bonta against city after city, demanding they grease development permits for hundreds of thousands of new units. The demand against Los Angeles, for example, is that it immediately OK about 250,000 new units. It’s as if Bonta has not seen the auditor’s report indicating the figures he uses are flawed. If he hasn’t read it, he is incompetent. If he has, he is dishonest.


        How real are the numbers on which the estimates and the resulting legal threats rest? Here’s a bit more of what Auditor Michael S. Tilden reported in a dramatic document so far studiously ignored by politicians:


        “HCD does not have adequate review processes to ensure that its staff members accurately enter data that it uses in the needs assessments.”


When means leading state officials continually spout unsubstantiated, possibly phony, estimates of housing need. This should discredit any lawsuits Bonta threatens against cities.


        For the auditor’s finding means the state housing agency estimates have no proven basis.


        All this is vital to California’s future because the estimates are already forcing cities to approve much more housing than they need, reacting to lawsuit threats and the possible accompanying loss of millions in state grant money.


That, in turn, could produce future slums, or at least thousands of future short term rental and temporary corporate housing units. But it won’t help prospective home buyers get into markets where the median price now tops $800,000, in part because construction of just one average California unit costs more than $500,000.


        The auditor in effect says that when Newsom and Bonta cite housing need figures, they essentially spread fake news.


        For sure, when the state bases policy on unreliable or imagined information, it can do great harm. Just that appears likely soon, as passage of laws like the densifying 2021 measures known as SB 9 and SB 10 rested completely on HCD’s unsound information.


        Far better would be for the state to concentrate instead on making housing out of converted office space vacated during the pandemic. That, at least, would not ruin any current neighborhoods.


        In short, California will suffer irreparable long term harm if it keeps basing housing policy on false or unreliable information.



    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 numbers suggest a major change is underway in California. It would take a Nostradamus to know if that change is real and long lasting or if those proclaiming it are merely overreacting to a pandemic-induced glitch.


        “We are in this new demographic era for California of very slow growth or maybe even negative growth,” pronounces Hans Johnson, a demographer for the Public Policy Institute of California.


        Here are the numbers, and some of the implications if those numbers represent a trend rather than merely a glitch spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused many millions around the world to hunker down wherever they were:


        U.S. Census figures show California lost 262,000 residents between July 1, 2020 and the same date last year. That represented a net loss of .06 percent in population.



        The figures were even more striking for the state’s two best known urban counties. Los Angeles County lost about 159,671 residents, or about 1 percent of its populace, while San Francisco fell by about 56,000 persons, or about 6 percent of its previous population.


        Much of the movement away from those high-rent cities was to other parts of California, as the pandemic drove tens of thousands of white collar employees to work from home – and allowed them to make that home anywhere they liked. As a result, many moved to more rural, greener areas, valuing lifestyle over office proximity.


        That’s a drive the increased-density fanatics now running California housing policy ought to note well, for it shows that given the choice, most human beings will choose not to live stacked up in apartment buildings and condominiums.


        The 2020-21 population loss comes after California suffered the shock of losing one seat in Congress this year, the result either of incomplete Census taking or slow growth outpaced by states like Texas, Florida, Arizona, Colorado and Oregon.


        But is any of this permanent? If so, it calls for major change in housing, transportation and education policy. History suggests it won’t be lasting. So do the latest employment figures.


        Historically, slumps in California population growth are followed by big influxes, both from domestic and foreign immigration.


        Most recently, in the early 1990s the supposed end of the Cold War spurred big job losses at defense contractors that had been central to the Southern California economy since World War II. A spate of military base closings later in that decade also cost California jobs.


        As a result, population growth slowed to almost nothing for several years. But then came the 2000s and a big increase that saw population rocket from about 33 million to 39 million-plus.


        Is the same kind of resurgence now in the offing? That probably depends on how soon people around the world come to accept the idea that the pandemic may be over and that Covid should instead be considered an endemic illness that will always be with us, but not usually in alarming numbers or intensity.


        The latest job statistics indicate such a trend may be starting. During February, for example, California companies created 138,100 new jobs, or 20.4 percent of all new jobs nationwide. That was 60,300 more jobs than No. 2 Texas and 87,100 more than Florida. It was far above what might be suggested from California’s 11.5 percent share of the national population.


        It also meant that California has regained more than 87.2 percent of jobs lost when countless businesses shuttered and furloughed their workers as the pandemic hit in March 2020.


        The big job losses of that period eliminated most impetus for foreign workers to move here, as the state for the first time in decades found itself with a surplus of healthy workers. That’s over, with the new job figures indicating the state and its myriad newly created businesses should once again be a population magnet.


        Of course, no one will know for sure until about a year from now, when figures from 2022 are compiled and published.


        But the newest numbers suggest at least one thing: Folks like Johnson, trumpeting a continuing California decline, are most likely premature and will come to regret their remarks.


        For no one ever got rich in the long term by betting against 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, visit

Monday, April 18, 2022







        The settlement looked big when announced in early April by the district attorneys of six Northern California counties where huge wildfires caused by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. did more than $700 million worth of damage last year and in 2019.


        It’s another example of a penalty that looks severe but has very little actual import.


        For one thing, none of the $55 million PG&E will pay goes to homeowners or merchants from places like the Gold Rush era town of Greenville, completely incinerated in last summer’s Dixie Fire, which burned for more than three months across several counties.


        There was hope the prosecution, which lodged criminal charges against PG&E for the 2019 Kincade fire in Sonoma County, might send some utility executives to prison for the first time over the fatally flawed decisions they made, which led to both the Kincade and Dixie fires and 31 others over the last few years.


        Like executives of Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric after their firms caused huge recent fires, PG&E bosses once again escape responsibility,


        In fact, new PG&E chief executive Patti Poppe collected almost as much in stock options and salary last year as the company will pay in the new settlement. What’s more, the PG&E admits no guilt.


        It’s the newest part of a longtime pattern which sees utilities completely unpunished for misspending $65 billion in customer payments earmarked between 1955 and 2005 for maintenance. That money went to executive bonuses and other goodies. Using it properly might have seen newer power lines rise up and old trees and other vegetation cut back in areas where they started recent fires.


        Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch, who talked tough while filing charges against PG&E last year, now says she got her constituents and folks in nearby counties a great deal.


        Instead of $55 million, she said in hailing the settlement as a great achievement, a criminal conviction for PG&E – which would have been another in a series dating back to the 2010 San Bruno gas line explosion that killed eight – would have produced a $9.6 million fine at most. The money, she noted, would have gone to the state treasury rather than to local non-profits and county departments that will share in the new payout over the next five years.


        But what’s $11 million a year spread across six counties compared to real justice, which might have seen some actual people do some real prison time for misdeeds they perpetrated on their jobs?


        To PG&E, it’s peanuts, a little spilled milk for which no tears will ever be shed. Not when corporate income is already certain to rise more than $974[T1]  million this year from an interim rate increase it received in February, with much more to follow later this year, when the company’s routine rate increase case is decided by the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC).


        The new settlement is much like a $125 million “fine” the PUC assessed against PG&E, also in February, for its negligence in the Kincade blaze. Much of that alleged penalty will go for maintenance work, like undergrounding or updating some power lines, cutting back vegetation and inspecting facilities – all things that should have been done regularly over many years with the money collected from customers, but left mostly undone for decades.


        The questions about the newest settlement are simple: Is a few million dollars in reimbursements to fire departments and other local agencies really worth more than a criminal conviction, or several of those? Especially if those convictions might have involved a real criminal or several, not merely their corporation? And is a huge utility company once again using its legal firepower to outwit local officials and get off essentially scot-free?


        For sure, PG&E will barely notice the $11 million per year it will have to pay between now and 2027. Executives responsible for all the bad decisions that led to many fires and the more than 100 deaths they caused will continue in their jobs as if nothing happened, while the victims’ lives and their families’ have been decimated.


        If that’s not a mockery of justice, it’s hard to see what would be.



    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








        Anyone who knows California well will realize that Palo Alto does not look much like nearby Mountain View. Or that Pasadena looks very little like its neighbor Altadena. That Rancho Mirage looks quite different from next-door Cathedral City.


        These distinctions are often called character. They make locales different from one another; they make life less boring and offer choices to people deciding where they’d like to live and what lifestyle they want.


        Sure, it costs more to live in some places than in others. And yes, some persons and their families can afford larger homes than others.


        America, after all, bills itself as a land of equal opportunity, even if it’s far from perfect in providing that. But it has never claimed or sought to be uniform. Many laws suggest that every American should be provided for.  None says all will have equal means.


        Yet, the state of California has sought uniformity in the field of housing for the last several years, led by Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco, who tried unsuccessfully for years to pass bills requiring every city in the state to become much more dense.


        Wiener’s persistence paid off for him last year, when he pushed through new laws best known by their numbers, Senate Bills 9 and 10, which ban zoning for single family houses everywhere in California. SB 9 allows six residential units on almost all lots where there is now one; SB 10 allows up to 10 units on any lot within easy reach of rapid transit.


        Neither law requires builders to provide new parking or parks, mitigate added traffic, assure water supplies or any other requirement usually imposed on developers of new home subdivisions. Nor are there any controls on how much of the new housing can become short-term vacation rentals or temporary corporate housing.


        It’s open season, then, on the character of every city in the state. If Wiener had his way, California would have nothing but apartments and condominiums, no houses with sizeable yards and open space. For him – and for Gov. Gavin Newsom, who seemingly will sign any bill Wiener writes – it’s fine if all cities look alike. One size fits all, even in cities that already have plenty of vacant units, as many now do.


        When cities try to slow this down, seeking to preserve their unique qualities, in steps Newsom’s appointed attorney general, Rob Bonta.


        This, of course, is Bonta’s right, which he sees as a duty. And it’s within the tradition of state attorneys general enforcing the laws they like and ignoring those they don’t. Every attorney general of the past 50 years has done this: Republican Dan Lungren enforced almost no laws intended to ensure equal access to housing for minorities. Democrat Xavier Becerra did little to enforce state masking mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic. And on and on, going back at least 50 years.


        Bonta makes it his mission to go after cities trying to carve out exceptions to SB 9 and 10. When leafy Woodside tried to exempt itself as a cougar habitat, Bonta warned of a lawsuit and the town backed down.


        When multifaceted, racially pluralistic Pasadena tried to limit SB 9 lot splits and consequent teardowns in areas with historic or architecturally significant housing, Bonta denied that any such areas should be exempted because, his top deputy claimed, they are not really historic. But he could not disprove the Pasadena argument that in the neighborhoods the city called landmarks, there is “historical, cultural development and/or architectural context.”


        Doesn’t matter, Bonta says. Go ahead and buy up historical bungalows, he essentially told developers, then tear them down and split the lots if you like.


        Do this, of course, and Pasadena will lose much of its distinctiveness.


        Some cities, of course, accede readily to state housing demands, despite relatively high vacancy rates. Much of once-resorty Santa Monica, for one, now looks somewhat like a mini Miami Beach, with many new apartments and condominiums lining its main streets.


        Only time will tell how much California will change, and feelings are mixed among homeowners, with some licking their chops at selling their longtime homes and others determined to resist.



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

Monday, April 11, 2022






        It’s well established that the state Public Utilities Commission has a major-league bias favoring the huge corporations it regulates over consumers they serve.


        Gov. Gavin Newsom’s leaning is also clear from his refusal to seriously penalize companies like Pacific Gas & Electric even after they're convicted multiple times of manslaughter – killing their own customers.


        And the state Legislature is so obviously in the pocket of large developers and Wall Street housing investors that it insists upon cities helping them build housing for which there are no assured buyers – housing that’s often likely to sit vacant or become short-term or corporate rentals.


        But until now, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the federal court that often gets to oversee California laws, appeared at least somewhat independent.


        Yet, its new ruling in a case involving mental health coverage by health insurance companies puts that supposition of integrity into serious doubt.


        This case ultimately stems from a 1999 state law called the Mental Health Parity Act, which requires that health insurers cover medically necessary treatment for most mental illness even when insurance policies written earlier explicitly exclude such coverage.


This law is particularly critical now, while Newsom is pushing a plan to let authorities force the unhoused mentally ill into treatment even if it’s against their will. No one is quite sure how that might be paid for or carried out.


Enter the Ninth Circuit, sowing extreme confusion on the issue. In a decision this spring, a panel there overturned lower court rulings that required a large insurer to reconsider its denials in tens of thousands of claims for mental health, drug and alcohol addiction care – just the kind of treatments Newsom calls for.


The lower court decision, from federal Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero of San Francisco, said United Behavioral Health, manager of mental health services for the giant United Healthcare, acted to “protect its bottom line” via restrictive criteria it set up to deny claims here and in several other states between 2011 and 2017.


He said the company’s policies did not provide sufficient coverage for treatments within generally accepted standards of care.


But the Ninth Circuit’s baffling, confused decision said group plans don’t have to comply with all generally accepted care standards, but only must not conflict with them. Huh?


The appeals court said United Behavioral Health’s policies met that standard and it followed them when denying coverage for both residential and outpatient treatment under plans written for self insured persons and fully insured employee groups.


        The appeals court ruling came despite unified support for the lower court decision from the American Medical Assn., the American Psychiatric Assn. and other medical groups.


        They entered the case because, they said, it could set a precedent for “all insurance companies that are providing employer-sponsored health benefits.”


        But no matter, the Ninth Circuit said in appearing to reverse its own 2011 decision in a case where Blue Shield of California tried to withhold mental health coverage. The court back then said  Blue Shield was required under the state law to provide medically necessary health insurance for mental illness on a par with treatment for physical problems.


        It cited findings by the state Legislature that mental health coverage limitations “result in inadequate treatment” and cause “relapse and untold suffering” for persons with treatable mental illness.


        The Ninth Circuit has now thrown out this previous work, giving insurance companies an apparent license to return to the bad old days when they refused to provide almost any mental health coverage.


        The court’s reasoning here leaves a lot of open questions about what kinds of mental health care the companies must provide in California. Clearly, these will not be as broad in the future as they have been for most of the last 20 years.


        The fact this comes at a time when Newsom’s planned remedy for homelessness includes a strong mental health treatment component lends a great irony to the picture, and involves especially bad timing.


        But it should hardly shock anyone, considering how long and how thoroughly the political and legal apparatus in this state has favored corporations over their customers.


    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






        Pronouncements from politicians and others came almost instantly after six persons died and 12 more were wounded by gunfire as patrons poured out of downtown Sacramento bars and clubs at the 2 a.m. closing time April 3.


        “Enough is enough,” said Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who got her biggest career boost when she inherited the San Francisco mayor’s office after then-Supervisor Dan White murdered both Mayor George Moscone and fellow Supervisor Harvey Milk in 1978. “We can no longer ignore gun violence in our communities. Congress knows what steps must be taken.”


        Appointed state Attorney General Rob Bonta, frantically running for election in his own right, said his office “continues our work to get illegal guns off the street.”


        Those words came before police captured several suspects, including one seen with a home-modified automatic pistol at the scene barely a month after he won early parole over the objections of Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert. One of her deputies predicted to state parole officials that if released early, current suspect Smiley Allen Martin would do more violence. Martin, apparently a pimp before he went to prison, had been serving a 10-year sentence for beating and whipping a prostitute, the offense euphemistically labeled “domestic violence.”


      Meanwhile, at this writing no one had been caught in the shootings of two men on a San Francisco playground less than 14 hours after the Sacramento massacre.


        As futile as the politicians’ words appeared, they were matched by those of Sam Paredes, head of the group Gun Owners of California, who said officials' “knee jerk reaction is to go after guns,” when the real issues driving mass shootings may be mental, economic or medical.


        The talk obscured a key fact made clearly in a brand-new study from Stanford University researchers published in the peer-reviewed journal Annals of Internal Medicine the day after all the unjustifiable deaths:


As bad as mass shootings are, far more innocents are killed by home-based weapons, legal or not. Mass shootings account for only 1 percent of all gun-related deaths in America.


The Stanford study establishes that Californians living with handgun owners, whether the weapons are legal or not, are more than twice as likely to die by homicide than if they lived in gun-free homes.


Said the lead researcher, “Despite widespread perceptions that a gun in the home provides security…people who live in homes with guns are at higher – not lower – risk of dying by homicide.”


Related here: The Feb. 28 shootings, also in Sacramento, where a father killed himself and his three daughters in a church, despite a restraining order prohibiting him from possessing any firearm.


Plus, mass killings often involve guns taken from homes by residents there who did not own the weapons.


While the Stanford study focused on victims rather than perpetrators, events have long suggested guns in homes increase the chance of persons becoming mass shooters.


        This knowledge should impel authorities toward more thorough enforcement of existing gun controls, both involving legal purchases and self-built “ghost guns” that lack identifying serial numbers.


        The Stanford study also implies authorities should be able to check whether legally-owned guns are stored securely, unloaded and away from unauthorized users. A way to enable this might be for gun shop buyers to sign waivers allowing police to check how guns are stored in their homes and make unsafely stored weapons subject to confiscation.


        For sure, law enforcement lacks time and manpower to check on every gun owner, especially not those with ghost guns, but even spot checks could inspire many owners to keep their firearms safe and away from anyone likely to hurt themselves or someone else.


This would not totally prevent massacres like the downtown Sacramento massacre, apparently done with illegal guns. But it would help prevent disturbed teenagers who sometimes become mass shooters from gaining easy access to guns and ammunition.


        This is just one compromise idea that would allow continued gun ownership, but also make life safer for those who live in homes with guns and the many who can become victims of people who live with gun owners.



     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, April 4, 2022









        If there’s one skill California’s vastly outnumbered and out-thought Republican Party has perfected, it’s the art of whistling past the graveyard.


        They’re at it again now as the state heads into what promises to be the most interesting mid-term election here in quite awhile, with new district lines on every governmental level from Congress and the Legislature to county boards and city councils.


        Here’s what the party’s chair, Jessica Millan Patterson, told its fall 2021 convention, staged two weeks after GOP hopes of recalling Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom were dashed by a 2-1 margin last September.


        “We are full steam ahead on the 2022 elections,” she said. That would ordinarily be the comment of the head of a party with some chance to make headway in those elections. But the state GOP is not such a party.


        Anyone who needed proof of this could look at the recall election results from what used to be the most solidly red county in America, Orange County.


        Yes, Orange County provided a substantial share of the 1.5 million-odd voter signatures that put the recall onto a statewide special election ballot. But at crunch time, the county went 52-48 percent to keep Newsom, a governor who has had mixed results: He’s got California at one of the lowest COVID-19 case rates in the nation, but has done little about the many billions of dollars defrauded from the state’s unemployment department during the early months of the pandemic.


        He inspired laws requiring proof of vaccination for entry to many indoor spaces and events, but sometimes flouted the very anti-contagion rules he promulgated with executive orders. And so on.


        Given all this, it was remarkable that Orange County, once the GOP bastion to beat them all, still opted to keep Newsom.


There was a time, and not so long ago (about 30 years) when one of the seminal political realities of California politics was this: A Republican could win statewide office if he or she could carry the OC by 250,000 or more votes. Since then, the county has become essentially purple, with either party capable of winning congressional races and others there.


The several Orange County congressional seats

that have swung back and forth between the parties lately are usually decided by margins of under 5,000 votes, some by less than that.


Part of Orange County’s change has been demographic. Since the 1990s, a plethora of high tech firms established footholds there, bringing younger, college-educated workers who – national polls show – are more likely to vote Democratic than Republican. At the same time, Democrat-leaning Latinos poured into areas around Santa Ana, the county seat.


     But part of the Republican problem is also ideological. Replacement candidates on the ballot against Newsom were a motley crew representative of a party lacking fresh ideas, one that mostly says “no” to almost every new idea or social trend.


        On the whole, the band of wanna-be replacements opposed abortion in almost all cases, wanted less of a social net protecting citizens and legal residents who become destitute or homeless through no fault of their own and supported measures like the 2017 tax cut sponsored and signed by ex-President Donald Trump that predominantly favors corporations and the ultra-rich over the middle class.


        Those folks were epitomized by their leading vote-getter, the longtime right-wing talk show host Larry Elder. Not only did he promise to eliminate masking and vaccination requirements against Covid the day he took office, but he plugged reversing many of the state’s measures against climate change just when fires intensified by climate change blazed across the state.


        Some of that might fly in Texas, but this is California, and once voters figured out what Elder wanted, the recall’s fate was sealed.


        Yet, the California Republican Party insists on trying to push the same old ideas that have lost it so much ground over the last 25 years. It’s time party officials realized nothing much will change for them until and unless they find candidates willing and able to at least moderate these traditional stances.


        There are no signs yet that this will happen, which is why Republicans just now are again whistling past their own graveyard.



    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 regulators are in the habit of assessing what look like gigantic fines on the state’s largest public utilities.

But the utilities don’t even blink when forced to fork over nine-figure amounts to pay for their misdeeds.


        What the state’s Public Utilities Commission did in February, with two new acting members – one shy of a majority on the five-person commission – shows just why these big companies don’t bat an eye when penalized:


        They know they’ll get the money back, and then some, the next time the commission considers a rate increase.


        In February, just such an increase went to Pacific Gas & Electric Co., which only two months earlier was assessed a $125 million penalty for its actions that helped cause the 2019 Kincade fire in Sonoma County that sparked massive evacuations and did at least $600 million damage to homes and other property.


        So PG&E’s fine came to less than a quarter of the damage it caused.


        The amount would hurt or at least sting almost any other company. But PG&E went on as if nothing had changed.


        The PUC soon showed why the sanguine attitude of utility executives was right on the money. That’s when the commissioners gave PG&E a 9 percent rate increase to compensate for rising natural gas prices.


        If the commission really wanted to hurt PG&E and not merely give the appearance of assessing a penalty, it would have forced the company to foot part of that expense itself, hitting shareholders and executives where it hurts.


        Instead, it will be electricity and gas customers who get hurt. The average residential PG&E customer will see an increase of about $14 per month to about $166. Overall, PG&E will get about $974 million more from its customers in the first year this increase is effective. No mechanism was set up for rate reductions when prices drop.


        Why would the cost of natural gas affect electric rates? Because most California power is produced in plants burning natural gas fuel.


        Southern California Edison customers can expect similar treatment. That company last September was fined slightly more than $500 million for its role in five big fires during 2017 and 2018. Edison also fires generators mostly with natural gas, so its customers, too, can anticipate a compensatory rate increase.


        Meanwhile, both big companies are approaching the end of their general rate increase cycles, with PG&E first in line to boost prices again by somewhere around 10 percent or more before year’s end.


        That would give the company at least $1.9 billion in added revenue beyond the many billions it was already taking in. And the more transmission lines it builds to bring power from solar thermal farms in California’s deserts to its existing system, the more profits it will add, since utility companies in this state generally get 10 percent profit or more guaranteed for every customer dollar they spend on capital improvements.


        All this is very like taxation without representation, for the consequences of non-payment make utility rates feel like taxes. There is only one constituent for the PUC members these days: Gavin Newsom, the governor who has appointed four of them. Newsom has taken tens of millions of dollars over the years in campaign donations from PG&E and its brethren.


        By law, Newsom should not have much power over the commission, even if he did appoint its members. That’s because PUC members and judges are the only appointees no governor can fire.


        But under Newsom, things work differently. The last two PUC presidents have been former Newsom aides.  One word from him is enough to completely change the commission’s supposedly well-considered policies.


        So it was that a word of doubt from the governor caused the PUC to return to the drawing board to redesign a rooftop solar policy change it was on the verge of adopting in January.


        This is all sleight of hand favoring the utilities. Regulators fine the companies millions for their misdeeds,  then give them billions in rate increases.


        Which makes the fines phony even if they are collected (and some reportedly never are).




     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