Monday, September 26, 2022







Do voters want more teachers living in their communities, even if it means a little more traffic and perhaps a few less parking spaces for others?


That’s a major question soon to face California school districts, cities and voters as the state deals with a big teacher shortage, seeing 72 percent of school districts unable to find enough applicants to fill their available teaching jobs this year.


“This shortage is caused mainly by housing prices,” claims Matthew Lewis, an official of California YIMBY (Yes in My Backyard), the Oakland-based group dedicated to creating hundreds of thousands of new housing units very soon. YIMBY has lobbied long and hard for all the housing density laws passed by state legislators over the last several years, most notably the 2021 measures known as Senate Bills 9 and 10, which effectively ended R-1 single family zoning throughout the state.


        Voters have not yet had a chance to decide the ultimate fate of those measures, but opponents hope to place referenda to kill them  on the 2024 ballot and restore R-1 zoning where it was before.


        But some local voters will decide long before then on proposals from schools to help ease their teacher shortage by providing subsidized affordable housing for school employees on surplus school property.


        With enrollments dropping in many school districts since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, one seemingly reasonable estimate says school districts now own about 75,000 acres of surplus land.


        One such property is the 2.5 acre site of the shut-down James Flood elementary school in the eastern portion of Menlo Park on the San Francisco Peninsula, near the Highway 101 Bayshore Freeway. The land is owned by the Ravenswood School District, which serves both East Menlo Park and East Palo Alto.


        Ravenswood officials plan to sign a developer and build approximately 80 to 90 affordable units on the land, beside a city park. The Flood school was closed in 2012 and later demolished, leaving the land vacant with a park beside it.


        The site is designated as a housing “opportunity” by Menlo Park’s planned housing element for the years 2023 to 2031. Ravenswood officials say teachers and other school employees would have the first right to apply for new housing there.


        At the same time, the prospective development could provide about $500,000 yearly for the Ravenswood budget. Per-pupil spending in that district is well below levels in the neighboring Menlo Park City School District.


        “This is important because teachers are not applying for jobs because they cannot afford housing locally, and don’t want to commute for several hours daily to jobs in cities like Menlo Park from distant cities where housing is cheaper,” said Lewis. Already, thousands of San Francisco Bay area workers who cannot operate from home are forced to commute from places like Tracy and Modesto, while their Los Angeles and Orange County counterparts commute from points including Santa Clarita, Bakersfield and Moreno Valley, piling up many hundreds of freeway miles each week.


        But no sooner had the James Flood development been announced than neighbors began complaining. Now a local initiative designed to block it or reduce it considerably will appear on next month’s ballot. When Menlo Park’s city council and citizen groups failed to work out a compromise, that initiative remained intact.


        Strong sentiment against the project by many area residents emerged in a public meeting last spring.


        “I’m very much in favor of affordable housing,” declared one longtime homeowner quoted in news reports. “But not to the detriment of the neighborhoods we love.”


        Added another, “There is a need for affordable housing, but just not here.”


        It’s rare for NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) sentiments to be expressed so frankly and openly.


        But the local initiative will be voted on citywide, and the location essentially means most of Menlo Park would not be directly affected by the project. So its fate is uncertain.


        This all may be a harbinger of what’s coming across California over the next decade or so. With all that vacant land and school salaries too low to allow many teachers to buy or rent homes near their jobs, be certain that similar projects will be planned in more and more places.



    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






        Democrats like to say they will probably need to flip three or more current California Republican seats in the House of Representatives in order to hang onto their current slim majority.


        Prior to the June Supreme Court Dobbs v. Jackson decision eliminating any federal right to abortion, for any reason, it was conventional wisdom to believe they had little chance of doing that.


        But things changed overnight with the anti-abortion ruling, giving Democrats a far better chance. One supposed harbinger is August’s 59-41 percent vote in normally Republican Kansas against removing abortion rights from that state’s constitution.


        So Democrats have a chance. But things remain uncertain here in California, where votes will soon start coming into county election offices.


        No race better exemplifies this than the one in Orange County’s 47th District, where two-term incumbent Katie Porter feels sufficiently endangered to buy television ads covering the entire Los Angeles/Orange County market, of which her district is but a small fraction.


        Centered on the city of Irvine, Porter’s newly-drawn district features less of a Democratic voter registration edge than her old one. Porter, viewed nationally as a rising Democratic star, has plenty of money for those ads, but most who see them don't know who she is.


        She won 51.7 percent of the primary election vote in June to just 30.9 percent for Republican opponent Scott Baugh. But GOP candidates totaled 48.3 percent, and since then, Porter has been hurt by news that after almost four years in Congress, she still lives in housing subsidized by UC Irvine, bought when she became a law professor there. Her arrangement is legal, but its revelation weakens her.


        Her regional ads try to recoup losses by focusing on her defense of abortion rights.


        Abortion has been less of an issue in the nearby 45th District, where Democrats hoped candidate Jay Chen could overcome a 56.8 percent Republican primary vote to upset incumbent Michelle Steel, a former Orange County supervisor.


        That hope now looks unrealistic.


        Democrats also don’t have much of a shot in the neighboring 40th District, where their candidate Asif Mahmood “won” the primary with 40.9 percent of the vote. Trouble is, Republicans got the other 59.1 percent, and GOP incumbent Young Kim will likely win almost all ballots cast in June for others in her party. So Democrats have little chance in the 40th.


        But they have a real opportunity in the 27th District, centered on Santa Clarita and including most of the Antelope Valley and a piece of Los Angeles. The newly-shaped 27th, including most of the old 25th District, is slightly more Democratic than before. Yet, Republican incumbent Mike Garcia, elected in 2020 by a margin of just 333 votes, led the primary with 50.3 percent of ballots to 37.4 percent for ex-state Assemblywoman Christy Smith. Democrats totaled 49.7 percent there.


        That was pre-Dobbs. Garcia has waffled on that decision, noting only that it changed nothing in California – never mind the rest of America. That leaves Smith, a strong abortion backer, as a slim favorite despite her narrow loss to Garcia last time out.


        Democrat Adam Grey also has a good shot at winning in the newly constituted 13th District, including most of the three “M” cities in the Central Valley: Madera, Merced and Modesto. Democrat Josh Harder has recently represented much of this area, but moved one district north this year to run in a slightly more heavily Democratic area. Turnout among Latinos will decide this race.


        It’s much the same in the redrawn 22nd district, stretching from Hanford and Tulare south into Kern County and west past Kettleman City. Here, Republican incumbent David Valadao beat Democratic Assemblyman Rudy Salas in June by 9 percent, but a large prospective Latino vote and the abortion decision make things uncertain.


        The Dobbs decision also gives Democrat Will Rollins, running in part on a gay rights platform, a longshot chance against Republican veteran Ken Calvert in the new 41st district, stretching from west of Riverside into the Coachella Valley. But this would be a major upset.


        The bottom line: If Democrats come out with a net gain of two seats among all these, they should consider themselves fortunate.


    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, September 19, 2022






It will surprise almost no one to learn that San Francisco is the most densely populated city in California. With 18,790 persons per square mile, it is almost three times as dense as Los Angeles and no other California city comes close.


So dense is San Francisco that for several square miles in its Mt. Davidson, Richmond and Sunset districts, single family houses are built cheek by jowl on narrow lots, often sharing walls on two sides with neighboring homes.


It’s also no surprise that San Francisco is the second most dense city in all of America, trailing only New York.


None of that matters much to the ultra-density fanatics now running California state government. With a full green light from Gov. Gavin Newsom (ironically, a former San Francisco mayor), the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) this fall will make San Francisco the object of its first “housing and policy practice review.”


If even the density of San Francisco cannot satisfy Newsom and the fanatical foes of single family zoning who now control the Legislature, imagine how difficult it will be for any other city to mollify them.


The biggest difficulty with San Francisco, if you listen to state officials, is the slow pace of housing construction there. Said HCD director Gustavo Velasquez in a formal statement, “We are deeply concerned about the processes and political decision-making in San Francisco that impede the creation of housing and want to understand why this is the case.”


If he really wondered, he could ask his boss, as most current permitting practices in that city were already in place when Newsom was mayor.


But if you’re really looking for density, how about checking the minds of Newsom and others who are ramrodding this review. They are apparently missing some key points: Dense as it is, San Francisco is a bit less dense today than it was a few years ago: the city lost 6.3 percent of its populace, or slightly over 57,000 persons, in 2020 and 2021. This was largely because of changes in white collar working conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which allowed employees to work from home and not report daily to offices.


Most of the 57,000 in that exodus, the highest percentage population loss in any American city in this century, moved to less dense areas in the suburbs, with a few migrating to other states to carry on their telecommuting.


Many said they moved to get away from San Francisco’s density, the very characteristic Newsom and his allies aspire to impose on every California locale.


Trying to push even more housing on San Francisco, which now may have an excess due to its population loss, represents a different kind of density on the part of Newsom & Co. They demonstrate they have no real understanding of what’s happening in that city or others they are trying to reshape.


At the same time, their entire effort at denser housing is the result of HCD estimates that California has a housing shortage justifying creation of 1.8 million new units by 2030, and hang the expense (which can amount to more than $1 million in construction and permitting costs per “affordable” unit). Trouble is, that figure (just over half what Newsom said in 2018 would be required by 2025), was found to be completely unreliable by the state auditor in a report issued last spring.


The fact its figures are unreliable and based on information the auditor called unverified does not faze HCD, which never stopped pushing cities to revise their housing plans and practices even as it refused to alter anything about its housing estimates, or correct the processing flaws found by the auditor.


        It all adds up to a state-sponsored campaign to push ideology over facts, fantasy over reality.


        Newsom is fortunate he faces only token Republican opposition this fall, which keeps his laughable investigation of a no-longer-current San Francisco crisis from threatening his political life.


    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit






        A close look easily makes clear the unspoken motives behind Proposition 30, one of the less publicized and advertised initiatives on this fall’s ballot.


        Read it, and anyone can be sure this measure is primarily selfish corporate welfare. Starting with a new tax on the top 10 percent of the 1 percent among California’s wealthy, the proposal is in large measure the handiwork of the rideshare agency Lyft.


        Why does Lyft want a new income tax on anyone making more than $2 million per year, as Prop. 30 would impose?


        Even a quick glance at where this measure assigns its estimated $3 billion to $4.5 billion yearly take – numbers that could change considerably if many of the super-rich leave California in response – reveals the reason.


        Here’s where the money would go: 80 percent flows to a new state-run fund called the Clean Cars and Clean Air Trust, with most of the cash earmarked for huge numbers of new electric vehicle charging stations everywhere anyone can think of. That includes state aid for ultra-fast car chargers in single family homes, apartment and condominium buildings, as well as myriad other locations.


        How many chargers? The measure does not say. But it does say the purpose is to make recharging zero emission vehicles “more accessible and convenient than refueling a diesel or gasoline-powered vehicle for every Californian, regardless of where they live or work.”


        Clearly, whoever fuels the most electric cars will benefit the most from this shift of recharging costs for EVs from the folks who own them to the super rich.


        No one pays to fuel more EVs than Lyft, Uber and other ride-share companies that must in some way reimburse drivers for their fuel costs. The more state-subsidized chargers this measure can set up, the less money Lyft will need to pay its drivers and the more its profits will increase.


        That’s also essentially what Gov. Gavin Newsom says in TV ads for the “No on 30” campaign.


        At the same time, no one can predict whether an exodus of the very wealthy would follow, a la EV manufacturing tycoon Elon Musk’s move to Texas to avoid state income taxes. Nevada, Florida or other places with low or no state income levies could also be destinations.


        Since a big chunk of California’s budget comes from taxes paid by these same folks, there is no telling whether Prop. 30 would actually end up costing California taxpayers big money or destroying valued state programs. If 30 passes, we will all have to wait and see.


        Yes, the measure does toss a bone to the causes of clean air and fighting or preventing wildfires. It gives 20 percent of all the new taxes to fire prevention, giving CalFire and other existing agencies new money for pro-active programs. If this works, it could also help cut down air pollution in both fire areas and faraway places to which winds blow their smoke.


        But the measure proposes no tactics not in use today, and those strategies themselves are relatively unproven. Clearing undergrowth in forests is said to prevent wildfires. But that’s far from certain, especially when today’s higher winds often cause fires to spread rapidly among tree branches high above any underbrush.


        Plus, the 1.75 percent tax increase for the super rich in Prop. 30 may sound like a pittance, but enough such pittances have piled up that the state levy on an very high incomes here could rise above 15 percent for the first time – and that’s before anyone even mentions federal income taxes.


        There’s no avoiding federal taxes aside from leaving the USA, but there are plenty of places the rich can hide from state income tax, while still leaving the guts of their holdings in California intact. Just look at Musk, who moved his home and headquarters to Texas, but still makes most Teslas in a Fremont plant for whose setup he received large state tax benefits.


        The bottom line is that no one knows how much harm this measure might unintentionally inflict, but we do know who it benefits. Officially, it may not be called corporate welfare for ride-sharing companies, but that’s what it is.

    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


Wednesday, September 14, 2022






        In land area, San Bernardino County is California’s largest, stretching from the Nevada state line to just north of Riverside and from near Los Angeles to the Colorado River and the Arizona state line.


        It is physically larger than nine states, including Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island and New Jersey combined.


        Even though Californians by the million drive through it regularly en route to Las Vegas, Phoenix, Salt Lake City and other Western cities, some of San Bernardino County’s 2.2 million citizens feel neglected.


        They want more state money for things like welfare, homelessness, road building and repair and many other items.


        Some of them think they can do better on their own than as part of California, to which the county has belonged since there first was a California.


        They especially want two U.S. senators of their very own, even though San Bernardino County is often a bellwether in presidential elections, usually switching back and forth from party to party in tandem with national outcomes.


        The first thing to say about this proposal, the latest in a long line of attempts by localities to split off from the nation’s largest state, is that it won’t happen in the lifetime of anyone sentient today.


        But there just might be a fun campaign on the issue over the next few weeks.


        Yes, San Bernadino County won’t do much better in the reality department than the State of Jefferson (a proposed splitoff of many rural Northern California counties) or the 2011 proposal from former Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone to make a new state from a dozen or so conservative-leaning inland counties, or a more recent plan to carve up current California into five states.


        In fact, state-splitting has been proposed periodically  since the 1850s, when transplanted Southerners tried to draw a line from San Luis Obispo to Nevada and make everything south of it into a new slave-owning state.


        Plainly, none of these plans passed muster, even though a few counties have voted for them from time to time.


        San Bernardino County gets a chance in November to join that list. But let’s say the county votes to study leaving California. Regardless of the vote margin, actual secession would  have to be approved by the full state Legislature, most likely a vote of all Californians, and then by Congress.


        None of those approvals will be forthcoming, no matter what some officials in San Bernardino may say.


        Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren is a vocal proponent of a San Bernardino state. She gripes that the vast county, containing everything from myriad commercial warehouses to bedroom suburbs of Los Angeles to vast tracts of empty desert to some of the planet’s most advanced solar thermal power plants, is often “overlooked by the state and federal governments.”


        “They act like we don’t exist,” she said. “We are the economic engine of the state and you need to pay attention to that.”


        It’s uncertain that is correct, despite all those warehouses and the 18-wheeler trucks emblazoned with myriad corporate logos heading from them to points all over California and the West.


        There has never been a study of any kind examining her claim, or whether San Bernardino County, whose eponymous seat of government is infamous for its 2012 bankruptcy, could survive on its own.


        For sure, if it became a separate state, its residents would no longer be eligible for everything from in-state tuition at California’s dozens of public universities, rent subsidies or many other programs that a new state might or might not create on its own.


        Imagine the expense of creating a University of San Bernardino of the caliber of the current UCLA, for just one item.


        But county voters will get no information on any of this when they vote this fall on the local proposition to look into splitting. The short notice on which the proposal was plopped onto the ballot allows few answers to any questions.


        But that doesn’t matter to local politicians, who most likely are really interested in grandstanding to win new name recognition they can utilize if and when they run for higher offices, where they might ironically be called upon to help run the existing state of 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







        The always controversial Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant has always been late. But never when lining up for handouts. So why should this year be different?


        That’s a legitimate question now that the Legislature has ratified Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to keep the almost 40-year-old facility on the coast northwest of San Luis Obispo going at least five years past its previously set closing date, while California pursues expansion of renewable energy sources like solar, wind and geothermal.


        But Diablo Canyon’s owner, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., never paid any serious price for the delays that plagued the plant from the beginning. It is in line for another handout now, coming up soon.


        Diablo delays began even before ground was broken for the plant, this state’s last surviving source of large-scale atomic energy. Others at Humboldt Bay near Eureka, San Onofre near San Clemente and Rancho Seco near Sacramento shut down years ago.


        Diablo Canyon’s first delay came in the 1970s, when PG&E and others suddenly noticed an earthquake fault near its planned site. It took years of redesign to satisfy authorities the plant would be largely earthquake safe.


        Then, in the early ‘80s, with construction almost complete, came the revelation that PG&E engineers had made a “mirror image” error in reading blueprints, and the plant was completely haywire. That delayed opening by more than three years.


        This summer, with PG&E and environmental groups having agreed six years ago on closing Diablo Canyon when its license was due to expire in 2025, Newsom suddenly realized that without Diablo Canyon, California might have blackouts at heavy usage times, especially summer and early autumn afternoons that grow ever hotter as climate change progresses.


        Newsom’s plan once again reveals the fealty he plainly believes he owes PG&E, one of his most steadfast donors, having given more than $10 million to his campaigns over the last quarter century.


        The governor’s plan “lends” the huge utility $1.4 billion in consumer fees to pay the costs for extending Diablo’s life, including relicensing, needed updates and improvements to assure continued safety. No one is sure that money will ever be repaid, despite the further billions of dollars PG&E will reap for Diablo's juice.


        This time, rather than coming entirely from PG&E customers, Newsom would have money for continuing the plant billed to every electric customer in the state who does not buy power from a municipally owned utility.


        So residents of Los Angeles, Sacramento, Glendale, Riverside and a few other places with publicly-owned utilities, will be exempt, while everyone else pays, whether or not they use Diablo Canyon power.


        This was entirely consistent with Newsom’s great efforts and care in making sure PG&E survived its almost 100 convictions for manslaughter and its many billions of dollars in liability for damage from the many devastating fires it caused over the last five years in Northern California via negligent maintenance over the last 70 years.


        But does it make sense for California? Producing 2,240 megawatts, or less than 5 percent of what California needs at peak times, Diablo Canyon by itself probably won’t stave off many blackouts. That might best be done by keeping open a few conventional gas-fired power plants that are also due for retirement soon and using them as “peakers” to be fired up only when need is greater than the rest of the power grid can handle. One thing for sure: a nuclear plant like Diablo Canyon is unsuited for use as a peaker, taking far too long to get going after a shutdown.


In their last-ditch effort to stave off Newsom’s plan for keeping Diablo Canyon open, many legislators ignored peakers, instead suggesting the money PG&E will now get from consumers instead go to improving the efficiency of air conditioners and other appliances, creating incentives for consumers to use power at non-peak times or install solar rooftop panels.


The bottom line: Newsom’s clout overcame resistance to his plan and Diablo Canyon will go on pumping out power at least five years past its former deadline, also delivering money to its owner, to the dismay of conservation backers, consumer activists and others who somehow remain key parts of Newsom’s electoral coalition.




    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, September 2, 2022






        Perhaps no California story this year was overblown more than a report from United Van Lines which seemed to show a huge outflow of California residents – into places like Vermont, South Dakota, South Carolina and West Virginia.


        Surprisingly, the usual suspects in attracting emigrating Californians – Texas, Idaho and Arizona – did not finish in the top five in the moving van report.


        Let’s make it clear: This was by no means a scientific study, as it used data only from one of the pricier movers, rather than including do-it-yourself numbers from outfits like U-Haul or Ryder, and also did not include numbers from any smaller operators.


        So the report does not really tell us how many Californians moved or where to. Of course, we already know that: In 2021, California lost a net 135,000 inhabitants. Approximately 40,000 of this loss was from Covid-related deaths. So the actual move-out figure after all incoming and outgoing persons bounced around, other than the deceased, was actually about 95,000.


        Many of them are former white collar office workers sent home during the first days of the pandemic to work remotely. Once they were excused from the office, no one much cared where they perform their duties, or at what time of day or night, so long as they get the job done and attend any required virtual meetings via services like Zoom or Google Meet.


        That’s one reason why San Francisco, the high-tech hub that recently had a severe housing shortage, now has falling rents that the city hopes will soon stabilize.


        Those leaving San Francisco and other urban California cities could go anywhere. Which meant that many chose far lower-priced locations than where they had been living. Some ended up in Tennessee, some in Idaho, some in Colorado, some in Vermont. It didn’t matter to their employers – if they stayed with the same employers. That was far from universal, as the pandemic-induced changes also appear to be a cause of the “great resignation” phenomenon that sees labor shortages in many industries, from restaurants to high-tech and everything in between. Even airlines have been affected, a labor shortage one reason for the thousands of flight cancellations that plagued travelers over the summer.


        Of those who did move, other studies have shown about 32 percent did so to be closer to family, a new high enabled by the trend toward remote work. Most of those moving to Florida, for example, landed in urban centers and not rural locations, suggesting that many wanted to be near retired parents.


        Now those who like to denigrate California are using the United Van Lines numbers to make it seem that this state will soon be empty, despite the fact it still contains 39.5 million residents -- very near its all-time peak -- some 11 million more than the second largest state, Texas.


        How long Texas remains a popular destination for California emigres is anybody’s guess, given the ultra-lax gun laws and ultra-strict anti-abortion measures it has lately adopted. We don’t yet know how many young women will rule out moving there, married or not, because of the radical Texas no-exceptions abortion ban.


        Which means the United Van Lines report showing nearly 60 percent of moves by Californians in 2020-21 were to out-of-state locations probably gives an exaggerated impression of a mass exodus, when relatively few people or families were involved.


        The top inbound states for the company’s moves were small ones like Vermont and South Dakota, both with populations well under 1 million, slightly larger than Fresno.


        Both are also remote, with no large cities, making them textbook locations for pandemic-induced moves. Both also have housing prices far below California levels.


        Put all this together and it’s clear few reports have ever gotten more undeserved attention than this one from United Van Lines. Which is not the fault of United, in any way. Rather, that is the responsibility of news outlets hungry for almost any negative story related to 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






        When mayoral election results were finalized in Oakland in 2018, there was unusually loud whining from the losers.


        This was one of California’s most recent “ranked-choice” elections, where voters didn’t just cast ballots for a favorite candidate, but also for second and third choices. They ranked their choices, indicating who they would pick if there were a runoff election a month or so later, the practice there before 2010.


        When no candidate won a majority, the second choices from voters who did not cast votes for the top two vote-getters were then allotted to other candidates until one emerged with a majority.


        Voters didn’t need to take a day off for a second election; they had already done that job. It’s the same system employed last month in Alaska, when Republican Sarah Palin was at least temporarily defeated in her bid to claim a vacated longtime Republican seat in Congress.


        Now the ranked choice system of voting has acquired footholds in San Francisco and several of its suburbs, as well as Eureka in the North state and Palm Desert, where it was adopted to settle a lawsuit over alleged under-representation of Latino voters.


        This is too much for some. So Democratic Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell of Long Beach this year pushed a proposed law banning the system and going back to slow and repetitive primary and runoff elections in places that have not seen them for years.


        In California, San Francisco has plainly surpassed Oakland as the most prominent user of ranked choice, with former Board of Supervisors chair London Breed using the system to defeat the favored former state Sen. Mark Leno in a 2018 special election. That vote followed the death of former Mayor Ed Lee, himself elected via ranked choice as San Francisco’s first Chinese-American chief executive.


        Breed went on to win a full term in 2019, also via ranked choice. In her first mayoral go-around, Breed won 37 percent of the initial vote to Leno’s 24 percent, then waited through two rounds of second- and third-choice vote distribution before winning.


        She won more easily the next year.


        But O’Donnell thinks all this is a mess. “The right to vote…should not be molded into something akin to a playing a predictive video game,” he said when introducing his bill.


        But this system saves money and lets every voter express their preferences very clearly. It’s just the same as holding a runoff on the same day as the regular election, but without all the spending and rhetoric.


        Only rarely since this system has been employed fairly widely has the first-round leader been displaced. Ironically, that happened most prominently in the first California election using the system.


        In that 2010 vote, former state Senate President Don Perata took 35 percent of first-choice votes in the run for Oakland mayor, but was displaced by then-Councilwoman Jean Quan because very few of those who voted for the eight candidates opposing Perata listed him as one of their top three.


        Perhaps that was because of a federal corruption investigation that left Perata legally unscathed but with diminished standing among many voters. In any case, the system took full account of distaste for one candidate, as the regular primary/runoff technique rarely does.


        Griped Perata, “I defeated Jean Quan in 78 percent of the precincts. If this had been a normal election, I’d have been the landslide winner. I didn’t understand it enough, so I ran the way I normally would.”


        Translation: He didn’t do enough to dispel the stench of the investigation, and paid the price.


         What befell Perata has been rare. In most elections, the first-round leader appears on almost all ballots initially cast for other candidates. That’s why, for example, Breed eventually took more than 70 percent of the final total when a second round of counting was needed in San Francisco in 2019.


        It’s a system that allows expression of all types of voter sentiment and saves cities millions of dollars in election costs.


        The bottom line: Ranked choice has gained what O’Donnell calls a “foothold” in almost a dozen California cities because it works efficiently for them. There is no solid reason to ban or abandon 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