Friday, July 29, 2022







        If anything seemed like a lock, a sure thing for passage during this year’s state legislative session, it was recall reform. The need for change in the way voters can rid themselves of state officials they can’t stand stood out as one of the key conclusions of last fall’s abortive attempt to oust Gov. Gavin Newsom.


        It was obvious as this year’s legislative session began that the effort by conservative Republicans to substitute one of their own for Newsom via the patently unfair current rules was still fresh in all political minds last January. But not so much a few months later, as it turned out.


        For voters will not get the expected chance to improve the current system via a ballot proposition this fall, as the cause lost its urgency, overtaken by time and the rise of other issues from a to z, abortion to zero emission vehicles.


        So the next time there’s an attempt to oust an elected statewide officer or a legislator, things will work just as they did the last time:


        There will be a yes-or-no, thumbs up or thumbs down, vote on the recall target. The recall ballot will also feature a list of would-be replacements for that person. If the recall gets more yes votes than no’s, the target will have to go. That will be true even if no replacement candidate gets anywhere near as many votes as the ousted officeholder.


        That’s not democracy, it’s a travesty, and everyone knew it last fall. Newsom spared himself and California from ignominy by getting far more no votes on the go-or-stay question than replacement leader Larry Elder, a far-right radio talker, received on his part of the ballot. Newsom, in fact, reaped many more no votes than were tallied for all replacement candidates together.


        If he had faltered only a little, Elder would now be governor, having received fewer than 25 percent of all votes cast. That would not deter him from exercising power, just as Donald Trump did despite his resounding popular vote defeat in 2016.


        Among the new plans legislators considered but did not pass along to voters was one submitted by Democratic state Sen. Josh Newman of Fullerton, who was himself recalled in 2018, but then won his seat back two years later. Newman suggested a straight-up yes-or-no recall vote, with a special election to follow if the yes side won. The ousted candidate would be eligible to run in that election, just like anyone else.


        This would be similar but not identical to some local recall rules, as when voters nixed former San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin in June. His successor was named by the city/county mayor, London Breed, but that system is unique because San Francisco is the only place where city and county lines are nearly identical.


        Newman also proposed a plan to have ousted governors who have served less than two years replaced by the lieutenant governor until a special election can occur. If the incumbent were in the final two years of a term, the lieutenant governor would act as governor until the next regular election.


        A plan like either of these would ensure fairness, but also prevent anyone with just a tiny bit of actual support from taking over an office.


        Another potential reform that didn’t happen was a change in the number of voter signatures needed to qualify a recall for its own ballot. Last time, it took just 1.495 million, or less than 12 percent of the votes cast in the 2018 gubernatorial election.


        A higher signature requirement would prevent a small minority from spurring a new election when there is no strong groundswell of demand for it. This happened last time, and the lack of an anti-Newsom tide was proven by the fact that the no side’s 61.9 percent of the total vote was precisely the percentage of votes Newsom won in 2018.


        This also had the side effect of driving credible Republican candidates out of the June primary, leaving his reelection this fall all but certain.


        Not exactly what the recall sponsors wanted, and plenty of evidence of the need for changing the rules.



    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 idea that oil companies and gasoline refiners could gouge Californians – and other Americans to a lesser degree – by as much as 100 percent of the previous price of gasoline seemed utterly preposterous until February.


        That’s when President Biden slapped an embargo on Russian oil, depriving California refineries of between 2 percent and 3 percent of the supplies they had been using. Average pump prices instantly rose from $4.70 per gallon across the state to above $6. Later, in some places, prices even topped $9 per gallon, about twice their price just six months ago.


        That’s gouging, pure and simple. Yes, the worldwide price of oil was up, but not in anywhere near such large proportions. Many citizens are still making excuses for oil companies, but their financial reports make it clear they are reaping windfall profits in the billions of dollars.


        Now comes a new report that indicates the money motorists are losing to the cartel-like oil industry is just a fraction of what consumption of oil and gas really costs us, when all the wrinkles and ripples are figured in.


        How does $10 trillion by the year 2045 sound? That’s the figure arrived at by the Consumer Watchdog advocacy group, whose analysts are the first to even attempt figuring all the expenses that are and will be created by use of oil and natural gas over the next 20 years-plus.


        The report gains credibility from the fact that Consumer Watchdog is the outfit whose 1987 ballot initiative curtailing insurance prices in California now saves people here more than $3 billion per year. That’s an average of almost $80 per year per Californian, of all ages and ethnicities.


        So it can be a mistake to ignore the group’s oil cost estimates, as virtually all California media have since issuance of the report in late spring.


        Here are just some of the annual costs listed in the report from use of oil and natural gas over the next 23 years:


        $94.2 billion from wildfires and drought. $1.4 billion in heat-related deaths indirectly caused by California oil wells, $339 billion for smog controls. That’s a total annual cost of $434.6 billion for using and drilling petroleum, or $10 trillion over 23 years, about 70 percent more than it costs to run the federal government for one year – including huge programs like Medicare, Social Security and the military.


        Are those figures realistic? Look at the wildfire number: Despite all its mitigation moves of the last 25 years, California is the No. 2 emitter of greenhouse gases among U.S. states, surpassed only by Texas. The state Air Resources Board says 85 percent of the greenhouse gases produced here stem from production and use of fossil fuels, helping further both dry conditions and extreme heat that have exacerbated the state’s pre-existing problems with wildfires, vastly driving up property damage, lives lost and firefighting costs.


        “One third of the costs of drought (and the fires it furthers) can be attributed to greenhouse gas emissions caused by (burning) fossil fuels,” says the report.


Global warming driven by oil use will add to the costs listed, too, by raising sea levels and destroying further billions of dollars in property before 2045.


Then there’s the smog mostly created by both vehicles and oil- or gas-fired electric generating plants. Costs of treating emphysema, not to mention creation of electric vehicles and other smog-fighting measures, already amount to more than damage from wildfires.


        It all makes the state’s efforts to cut greenhouse gases via a cap-and-trade program, smokestack filters and other tactics look puny.


        What’s more, the estimated $10 trillion 23-year cost of using and drilling oil and natural gas does not include what motorists spend for gasoline, the price of which has fallen from its peak, but is never again likely to sink to pre-February levels.


        All these numbers matter only if their sheer shock value causes actions. But that’s not likely, as this report now looks to be ignored, just as the state auditor’s springtime report on the unreliability of California housing need estimates never spurred so much as a word of reaction from either Gov. Newsom or state Attorney General Rob Bonta.


    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, July 25, 2022






        There is no doubt California has a housing shortage. That’s fact even in the wake of the state auditor’s springtime report showing this state’s Department of Housing and Community Development figures are unreliable, making it hard to know the actual extent of the shortfall.


        But we definitely know some of the causes and at long last, a few cities are beginning to figure out ways to at least reduce whatever shortfall exists. The most commonly proposed tactic is to force vacant homes onto the market via a tax or a fine on places that go unused for long periods.


        How extensive is the vacancy problem? One estimate from the California Association of Realtors suggests as many as 1.2 million units, apartments and single-family homes, now sit vacant around California. Most are in cities, where in some cases, entire apartment buildings are empty.


        San Francisco, where a severe housing shortage caused rents to shoot up sharply just before the coronavirus pandemic, is considering – but has not yet imposed – fines ranging from $2,500 to $5,000 for holding livable quarters off the market.


        That proposal moved to the back burner last winter, when it became clear that pandemic-inspired changes in white collar working conditions allowed thousands of city residents to move to more rural digs and work from home, emptying large numbers of San Francisco units.


        But the opposite is true across San Francisco Bay in the college town of Berkeley, where city officials are considering a plan to tax vacancies. Much smaller than San Francisco, Berkeley recently reported 141 vacant multi-unit residential buildings, at a time when students are scrounging for housing and controversy surrounds plans for new University of California-owned student quarters.


        City councilwoman Kate Harrison has claimed 68 of those buildings had been empty for more than 120 days as of late July, a month before most UC Berkeley students were to return to town.


        So Berkeley altered its definition of “blight” to include residential buildings that stand empty more than four months. This will see landlords who hold buildings empty and also allow them to become eyesores in other ways – falling apart, infested by weeds and rodents or in drastic need of new paint – pay fines ranging from $100 to $500 per violation.


        Similar ordinances already exist in a very few other cities.


        Even Harrison, who badly wants the empty units fixed up and opened to student renters in order to help resolve her city’s obvious shortage, admits fines of that level likely won’t cause investor owners to do much.


        But if fines don’t bring movement, the city will likely ask voters to OK a far higher tax on long-term vacancies, the amount not yet determined.


        Meanwhile, investor owners are increasingly common all over California, where widespread advertising tempts homeowners to sell while prices are high. “We’ll buy your house as is,” declare some of the television commercials. “No need to spend money fixing it up.”


        The citizen group United Neighbors claims institutional buyers, including pension funds and Wall Street investment banks, spent a record $77 billion on single-family homes in the last six months of 2021. Many of these stay off the market while land values rise, in the hopes that increasing housing demand will spur future sales to apartment and condominium builders, now authorized by new state laws to build high rises in areas formerly reserved for single family homes.


        One thing for sure: even if there are enough vacant units now held off the market to solve most of a housing shortage estimated at 1.8 million units by Gov. Gavin Newsom, they won’t resolve the need for more affordable housing.


        For the owners of units now off the market are after more than just a small profit; they want big-money returns on their investments and those will not be forthcoming from renters except in a very few places.


        So far, the capital needed to create affordable housing in large quantities has not appeared. Which leaves the state and its cities in a bind that can be eased only if owners of most currently unused units can be incentivized to rent or sell.


    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






        Traffic rules and traffic jams act as one of the few true equalizers in American life. The rules cover everyone equally, drivers of 1993 Honda Civics facing the same speed limits, red lights and delays as people driving the newest Cadillacs and Lamborghinis.


        But the movement to make things unequal on California’s urban highways, to favor the rich over the poor, grows steadily, always pushed by the well-meaning denizens of university planning departments.


        The toll lanes and toll roads these folks consistently favor and drill into the students who will eventually become city, county and state traffic planners, have yet to eliminate a single traffic jam. They also are one of the great governmental bait-and-switches of all time.


        Everyone paid for this state’s freeways via the gasoline tax, highest in the lower 48 states. Everyone expected to enjoy equal access to their land and lanes.


        But toll lanes common on freeways in the San Francisco Bay Area, Southern California and soon – if planners have their way – in places like Fresno and San Diego – plainly favor the rich.


        Tolls are often charged by the mile, with people paying to enjoy the same privileges when alone in their vehicles that are usually provided by carpool lanes. Only a few of those were added to the original freeways – and not merely appropriated from existing lanes – because of public protests over the bait-and-switch. Tolls are higher in peak hours when people have the most need to drive. Who hasn’t endured traffic jams while watching the privileged whiz by in converted toll lanes that once were available to all?


        It’s yet another failed tactic pushed by utopian planners. Remember, these are the same folks who claimed slowdowns and stoppages would be mitigated by metering freeway onramps so that only one car at a time can enter traffic lanes. Anyone who has driven the I-405 freeway in Los Angeles or the I-80 near the eastern approaches to the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge knows that does not ease traffic loads.


        But failure and unfairness do not stop the university departments that create traffic policy. A new study from UCLA’s influential transportation institute once again claims that “congestion pricing” – charging more to use freeways at peak hours – is “the gold standard policy for managing traffic.”


        This time, though, the traffic “experts” concede their favored practice is unfair on its face, excluding those who can’t afford high tolls from the fast lanes, and consigning them to traffic jams on freeways like I-880 and I-110, to name just two.


        Their new report suggests 13 percent of households in the state’s six largest urban areas might be “unduly burdened” by the combination of their driving needs, high tolls and low incomes.


        So the planners suggest subsidizing drivers with household incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level ($55,000 or less for a family of four). Real life in this era suggests far more than 13 percent of Californians fall into that category.


        But how to tell which drivers are in what category? Their auto registrations don’t provide this information, with many rich folks preferring to hang onto older cars they like rather than buying new ones. So the planners suggest matching car registrations with welfare records, thus violating the privacy of many.


        Plus, giving those who match up in this way cash does not guarantee it will be spent on toll lanes. In fact, odds are it will be spent on other things, defeating the purpose of trying to make toll lanes fair.


        There’s the rub. Toll lanes imposed on existing roadways are inherently unfair, and no amount of subsidies for the poor will change that. Most of those lanes have essentially been stolen from drivers who were guaranteed the ability to use them in exchange for paying gas taxes.


        But fairness has never been the goal of all this. Rather, the aim is to install ideas that look fine in theory, but don’t do much in practice.


        The ultimate answer probably lies not in any tinkering, but in making rapid transit live up to its name, while also making it safe and convenient and clean enough to pull drivers out of their cars in large numbers.

    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, July 18, 2022






        They’re at it again, the many folks ex-Gov. Jerry Brown derisively called “declinists.”


        They have some ammunition. It’s been more than a decade since California lost its status as America’s fastest growing state. One new consequence of that is that the state this fall will lose a little of its congressional representation for the first time in move than a century.


        It’s not because this state has lost population, other than during the pandemic, which has killed more than 92,000 Californians so far.


        Today’s declinists are at least as mistaken as Curt Gentry was in the mid 1970s, in his classically wrongheaded book, “The Last Days of the Late, Great State of California.”


        Gentry wrote alarmingly of a great earthquake splitting California away from North America. He foresaw industry deserting, along with population. Wrong, wrong and wrong – at least so far, about 54 years after his publication date.


        But except for the earthquake bit, today’s denigrators of California see the same impending disasters. They see the ongoing departures of the headquarters of the software making Oracle Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Enterprises, a remnant of the once-dominant computer and accessory firm with the eponymous name, as just the latest disastrous departure, with many more to follow. They also decry the fact industrialist Elon Musk became a Texas resident to evade state income tax, while leaving Tesla’s headquarters and principal factory right where they were, in California.


        And they ignore the fact that other giants of Silicon Valley, outfits like Google, Facebook, Mozilla, Netflix, Adobe, eBay and more, are not only staying but expanding their local footprints.


        That’s largely because universities like Stanford and UC Berkeley are not going anywhere, continuing to churn out the most inventive minds in America and the world. That’s why California endeavors last year received more than half of all American venture capital investment.


        Then there’s the effect of the pandemic on housing: By sending much of California’s white collar workforce to home offices, the virus changed some conditions and caused population growth to slow.


        That’s visible in San Francisco more than anywhere else in the state. While real estate prices and rents elsewhere in California rose or at least remained stable in most places, they are down from two years ago in San Francisco, which has seen many workers opt to live farther from work, moving to more countrified spots, some in other states.


        Development is slowing in the hyper-crowded city. Many already-permitted new developments there won’t be able to get the capital they need to proceed at least until next year, report some analysts.


        If high rents have been a cause of slower California growth, perhaps San Francisco’s newly lower prices will start some recovery from that malady once the coronavirus threat is gone. It would be silly to expect much growth here while that plague remains significant.


        Meanwhile, the departure of more than 135,000 Californians (about .0034 percent, not even half a hundredth of 1 percent) over the last year has already made things a bit more pleasant, leading to fewer traffic jams and lighter loads on medical facilities that operated at or beyond capacity for most of the last two years. Also, there may be less need for heavy investments in new power supplies and a lessened housing shortage.


        In short, losing a little population might not be such a bad thing.


        For sure, while Texas draws headlines for attracting businesses by promising no state or local taxes for a decade or more, California continues turning out a far larger gross domestic product; $2.8 trillion to $1.8 trillion was the margin for the first three quarters of 2021.


        Declinists, of course, are nothing new. Some of the leading ones of the last decade were folks in the relocation business, whose public pessimism about California was largely designed to grow their own bankrolls. But that's not new: as far back as the 1840s, Horace Greeley, the New York newspaper publisher who advised youths to “Go West,” was bemoaning the “deplorable confusion and uncertainty” of some aspects of California.


        Like Gentry’s, his criticisms proved irrelevant. So yes, California has seen slower growth. But that may not be such a bad thing and it may not last long, either.




      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







        There appears to be no end to the new laws that Sacramento’s dominant Democratic legislators want to pass in their effort to make California at least as dense as New York state.


        Their latest effort seems likely to be as onerous – and unsuccessful – at this task as the infamous 2021 SB 9 and SB 10, which effectively end single family residence (R-1) zoning everywhere in this highly varied state. The two earlier laws – which may face a referendum to cancel them in the 2024 election – have so far had little effect.


        They allow all but the smallest current R-1 lots to be split in two, with each lot eligible for a duplex and a small additional dwelling unit, also known as a “granny flat.” Cities and counties cannot nix such efforts to multiply housing units by a 6-1 ratio over current levels.


        But it’s not happening on a large scale, very possibly because the state housing shortage estimates they were designed to mitigate probably are nowhere near accurate. The actual housing shortage appears to be far smaller than levels claimed by the state Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).


        Using HCD numbers, Gov. Gavin Newsom campaigned hard in 2018 for construction of 3.5 million new units by 2025, but fewer than half a million have actually been built on his four-year watch.


        Newsom now says just 1.8 million new units are needed, half what he claimed four years ago. And a springtime report from the non-partisan state auditor found HCD figures lack solid documentation, suggesting the real need may be far lower than even Newsom’s latest numbers, which he proffered without any documentation.


        Now come the legislators with a new bill called AB 2011, based on a supposed HCD estimate of 2.5 million new housing units needed as soon as possible.


        This proposed law, titled the Affordable Housing and High Road Jobs Act of 2022, offers no explanation of what a High Road job might be, except that any building under its auspices would require that all labor be paid union wages – in short, the highest in the construction industry.


        No wonder several under-construction affordable housing projects are coming in right now at more than $1 million in building costs per unit. These may be offered at below-market rents to some Californians, but they in no way are affordable for the taxpayers who are actually footing most of the costs.


        AB 2011 is different and probably even less affordable to local taxpayers than the laws that spawned the current hyper-expensive housing construction.


        It provides a “ministerial” approval process for all affordable or low-rent housing proposed along commercial transportation corridors. In short, this means automatic approval by a rubber-stamping official in each city or county where developers might want to build along major streets and highways. It makes such projects exempt from virtually all laws governing environmental or neighborhood impacts of these purported new buildings, which must also offer ground-floor commercial space.


        But if a developer finds a project approved under these terms doesn’t “pencil out,” a portion of the units can be rented or sold at market rates much higher than so-called affordable housing. Even the state’s building trade unions don’t like that. “The bill provides a path to developer profits with little protection for workers or meaningful impact from community members,” said a statement from the state’s Building and Construction Trades Council.


        So even the unions, which enthusiastically backed SB 9, SB 10 and other densifying measures passed over the last five years don’t much like this one.


        Some opponents note both the unreliability of HCD need estimates and the fact that many investors and speculators buying up existing housing are keeping it vacant, producing what is essentially a false, manufactured housing shortage designed to keep prices up.


        So this latest densifying proposal, sponsored by Democratic Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks of Oakland, may have too many flaws to make it past a very pro-density Legislature and an even more pro-housing governor.


        But maybe not. The flaws in SB 9, SB 10 and other densifying measures that did pass were just as evident as those afflicting the newest proposal, yet they passed handily and Newsom signed them into law. So what’s to stop this one, too?



    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, July 11, 2022







        Yes, there have been several examples of completely unprovoked mass gun violence in California. But no, it’s not nearly on the same scale as in the rest of America.


        Yet, there is some commonality: Most mass crimes committed with firearms in this state over the last several years were perpetrated by shooters aged 21 and under. Just like recent massacres in Texas, Illinois, Buffalo, NY and many other places.


        But gun mortality rates in California are far lower than in other states, especially the big ones we are most often and most appropriately compared with.


        In 2020, researchers say, this state’s rate of firearm deaths was one of the lowest in America, at 8.5 per 100,000 residents. That compared with 13.7 per 100,000 nationally and in Florida and 14.2 per 100,000 in Texas, where Republican Gov. Greg Abbott prompted state legislators last year to make open and closed (hidden) carry pretty much a universal right. All this came before the U.S. Supreme Court this summer made open and closed carry essentially a nationwide right for adults.


        While some Californians will die and have died in shootups like the 2019 Poway synagogue incident and a springtime Sacramento mass killing, residents of this state are about 25 percent less likely to die from a bullet wound than other Americans.


        That is thanks to a panoply of state laws, some governing ammunition purchase, some dealing with background checks and others with age limits.


        These laws are one reason we don’t hear much about “Saturday Night Specials” anymore. Those were cheap handguns with low standards for design and safety, readily available for street-corner purchase. Recent California laws  cut that trade far below its previous levels. Now we hear more about “ghost guns,” often home-built from designs available on the Internet.


        One new law pushed and quickly signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom this year will use the principle okayed by the Supreme Court when it ruled a current Texas anti-abortion law constitutional:


        The Texas law allows private citizens to sue anyone who promotes or assists an abortion in any way, even if the plaintiff has never met the abortion patient or provider. That law puts anyone who helps a woman get the procedure at risk for major monetary penalties.


        Newsom has now put makers, designers, dealers and on-line promoters of ghost guns at similar risk.


        There’s also a Newsom effort to make Californians much more aware than they are today about the state’s 2014 “red flag” law, allowing family members and a few others to request court orders forbidding firearm access for persons with mental illness or emotional problems, considering them risks to themselves and others.


        This law has been little used, but the gun lobby is now working to stymie proposals for similar rules in other states, alleging they violate the Constitution’s Second Amendment. So far, there are few signs this idea will catch on significantly across the nation. Still, Newsom promised last month to invest $11 million in state education funds to promote it here.


        President Biden wants national laws to go much farther than California’s in controlling firearms, asking for a ban on private ownership of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines often used in school shootings and other multi-fatal incidents.


        He also wants to eliminate the federal law giving gun makers immunity from financial liability when their products are used to kill dozens, as in Uvalde, Tex., and the 2012 Sandy Hook school shootings in Connecticut.


        Even after 15 Republican senators joined Democrats to pass a gun control bill in June, there’s no reason to believe its funding for red flag protections will be used in most states. GOP governors like Abbott often claim mental illness, not guns, causes most mass shootings. If that’s true, why don’t they even try to enforce the new national red flag rules or push similar state laws?


        The bottom line: Newsom is right in saying California is safer – even if far from completely safe – because of its gun laws. And if, as is often intoned piously, we’re all in this together, let’s see more states adopt the kind of laws that now protect Californians more than most others.



    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







        If you’re in Southern California and get laboratory workups at UCLA Health Services, any Providence Health Center or the Cedars Sinai hospital network, the results are quickly available to every doctor linked to any of those systems.


        The same in the San Francisco Bay area if you’re a patient getting lab work at any hospital in the Stanford University system and the University of California’s San Francisco network of medical centers.


        But if you visit an independent specialist or a mental health professional, reports on your visits may not make it onto either of these or any other large computerized health care network.


        For there now are few official links between the major regional hospital systems around the state.


        This reality, this little bit of privacy, figures to end on Jan. 1, 2024, whether patients like it or not. Among others, that could affect women coming to California for abortions from states where they are now illegal. It will also create computer data when patients visit psychologists and psychiatrists, where office visit reports mostly are not now computerized.


That’s because, as part of an omnibus health care bill passed a year ago, state lawmakers almost as an afterthought ordered creation of a unified statewide electronic records system for virtually all types of patient information.


        Also in the bill was a well-publicized expansion of Medi-Cal’s patient population to include many undocumented immigrants. So were expanded payments by Medi-Cal to physicians, aiming to give them parity with doctors paid by the federal Medicare system. And much more.


        But little attention went to Section 1862 of the bill (known as AB 133), which required just one public hearing about the rules and operating principles for the largest-ever state compendium of private medical records.


        The high-minded idea behind this was to make all medical data and treatment plans for any patient seeing any California provider instantly available to all eligible practitioners. Taking medical histories on first visits would become very simple.


        But it will also end the concept of patients keeping any secrets from doctors, psychologists or other medical folk.


        All this information will supposedly be available only to  those who need it, including hospitals, health plans, provider groups and doctors. But less than two years ago, thieves used the nominally confidential records of the Employment Development Department to steal upwards of $20 billion. Just last spring, hackers pried open supposedly confidential state lists of applicants for concealed weapon permits.


        So no matter what anyone says, there’s no guarantee of privacy for medical patients under this system, even if doctors respect patient confidentiality.


        If a husband sees a psychiatrist and doesn’t want his wife or friends to know, reports on the visits will appear on the system.


If a patient seeks a second opinion but doesn’t want the original doctor to know she’s checking up on his diagnosis or treatment plan, the original doctor can eventually see details of the second opinion session. Visits to abortion clinics may not remain secret from officials of other states, either.


        Under these conditions, how many people will forego treatments they now get? No one can predict, especially when input on the new plan all has come from “stakeholders,” the same people and companies who will legitimately access the new system.


        The “guiding principles” of this plan do look benign: Assure that everyone gets state-of-the-art treatment, regardless of race or finances. Make maximum data available prior to vital medical decisions. Give patients access to all their medical records. Reinforce data security. And make sure every provider enters all information on every patient visit.


        But there has been too little public input into all this, no formal venue for individuals to express misgivings or make suggestions. A lone (poorly-advertised) public hearing is not enough input for something so far-reaching.


        Proponents of the new system gripe that too much medical information now resides in isolated “silos” where it usually doesn’t help save lives or trauma.


        But when only so-called “stakeholders” – and not the patients whose records will be compiled – are consulted about a change this big, trouble inevitably awaits, and will probably arrive sooner rather than later.

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

Friday, July 1, 2022







        The California Public Utilities Commission says it wants to help the little folks as it gets set to issue new rules governing the price of rooftop solar energy throughout the state.


        But long history says that when the PUC claims it is helping renters and other small utility customers, one Latin language term applies: Caveat emptor, Let the buyer beware.”


        That’s because for more than half a century, every major decision from this scandal-prone agency has favored large monopolistic utility companies over their customers.


From its refusal to shut down leaky natural gas storage facilities that pose health hazards for many thousands to its constant approvals of unreasonable rate increases that make California energy the nation’s most expensive, there has never been much doubt about whose interests the PUC considers paramount.


When companies like Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric start wildfires that kill hundreds and cause billions of dollars in damage, the PUC makes sure they stay whole and solvent, while the customers they harm usually wait years for compensation.


So it is again this summer, as the PUC – without any public demand for “reform” –gets set to issue a new set of rules for pricing of rooftop solar energy. Never mind that homeowners who invested tens of thousands of dollars in solar panels and battery systems were promised beforehand they’d get certain levels of payment for excess power they generate and put into the general grid. Now the PUC wants to lower those payments and thus the incentives for building more and more renewable energy into urban and suburban areas.


        Just how much will likely become known in the next month or two. An earlier iteration of the upcoming changes was dumped last winter amid a firestorm of protest.


        Why would the PUC want to change the current, very productive system at all? It claims to be acting to save money for people who can’t afford to install solar and for renters who have no authority to add it.


        For every dollar paid by solar owners, the PUC says, rates rise a fraction of a cent or so for everyone else.


        What the commission has never admitted is that the alternative – bringing solar thermal energy vast distances to the cities from gigantic solar farms in the state’s vast and sun-soaked deserts – would raise rates for the little guys far more.


        That additional money would go to the big utilities, whose rates are based partly on how much they spend building or buying facilities and equipment. It takes hundreds of miles of transmission lines to bring power from solar thermal farms to the cities. This translates to billions of dollars in expenses and a guaranteed 20-year profit on every cent of consumer-provided funds spent by the big companies.


        So yes, the utilities want ever more solar in the deserts, and ever less in the cities and suburbs. And the PUC, always looking after their interests while making pious claims to the contrary, is getting set to provide just that as the state seeks to use 100 percent renewable power within decades.


        One example: Within days of the PUC making its initial proposal to cut compensation to rooftop solar owners, the federal government okayed building two new solar thermal farms deep in the Mojave Desert. Expect utilities that will buy up that energy to start building new transmission lines to those locations soon after ground is broken.


        The idea of penalizing pioneering energy-conscious homeowners actually originated with the often misguided former Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego, also the author of the highly destructive AB 5 that wrecked the professional lives of many freelancers and others. She proposed reneging on the longtime guarantee promising homeowners the rules would remain stable for at least 20 years after any rooftop solar system goes in.


        What’s more,, the PUC proposed a monthly fee of about $50 to $70 on each rooftop owner, plus price reductions for their extra output. That didn’t fly, at least not yet.


        No one knows just what the new proposal will contain, but one thing seems sure: It will again place the interests of the big utilities over those of 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