Monday, April 15, 2024

DENSITY NOT PROVING A MAJOR HOUSING SOLUTION

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, MAY 3, 2024 OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “DENSITY NOT PROVING A MAJOR HOUSING SOLUTION”

 

        For years, one word was all pretty much all Californians heard from political leaders about solving the state’s housing problem: Density.

 

        Now it’s time to ask how that’s working out. Answer: not so well.

 

        For one example, as state legislators and Gov. Gavin Newsom promoted density over the last five years, they passed law after law to make pulling a building permit easier than ever in virtually all corners of California. Despite this, building permits are down.

 

        Overall, California issued just 111,221 new permits last year, a 6 percent drop from 2022. This included an 8 percent reduction in permits to build single-family homes. Even the highest-priced areas found builders applying for fewer permits than previously.

 

        So Newsom and the Legislature should now know they can legislate to promote density all they like, but unless enough developers respond, those new laws won’t accomplish much.

 

        The San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley metro area, known for ultra-high housing prices, saw permitting plummet by 32 percent last year, even more than the 6 percent to 12.3 percent drop in permits among the many cities within the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim metro market.

 

        Medium-sized metros suffered permit losses, too, dropping 17.8 percent in Oxnard-Ventura and a sky-high 43 percent in the Stockton area. Smaller areas like Napa-Sonoma and Santa Maria-Santa Barbara were also down.

 

        These numbers come from Point2, a national real estate research firm that analyzed 2023 information from 384 cities in every state.

 

        Plainly, density isn’t working. One reason is that owners of commercial buildings, mostly real estate investment trusts, are reluctant to convert buildings with rent-producing potential into condominiums and apartments, despite continuing high vacancy rates as white collar workers still resist returning to offices. Conversions would produce plenty of one-shot income, but not the long-term cash stream brought by high rents.

 

        A key result has been the worsening of the state’s longtime housing shortage, which ought to be driving prices up, but has not yet on a large scale. If rents – and profits – rise sharply, permitting might rise commensurately, but rents are already so high that new buildings suffer high vacancy rates and few takers. This translates to lower-than-expected profits for builders, who react by moving forward more slowly than before.

 

Insurance is another factor. Much has been reported

about insurance industry reluctance to write new or renewed policies for homes in known or potential wildfire areas. Even when homeowners invest heavily in “hardening” their properties with fireproof siding, roofs and other measures, insurers remain leery. That’s one reason consumer groups are now pushing for a law forcing insurers to cover such homes.

 

        Then there’s density itself as an insurance problem.

The San Francisco Chronicle recently profiled homeowners whose policies are being cancelled due to excess neighborhood density.

 

        One affected area is the trendy Noe Valley area of San Francisco, where classic Victorian-style homes have sat cheek-by-jowl for decades, with no great insurance problems.

 

        Suddenly, some homeowners there are getting cancellation letters from companies like Liberty Mutual Insurance claiming homes are “located in a region where the dwellings are…too densely concentrated for us to provide coverage.”

 

        Nothing much has changed in Noe Valley, dense for more than a century, except the addition of a relative few ADU’s, additional dwelling units or “granny flats” allowed by a recent state law to be built with almost no veto power for cities.

 

        These small units make up one of the most significant recent additions to the state’s housing stock. But now insurers say they are worried fires could spread quickly among dense wooden structures in a few neighborhoods. High rebuilding costs are another reason some insurers are pulling out of such areas.

 

        So housing density is no panacea after all. It may potentially help relieve the pressure for new units in some places, but not if insurance companies won’t write or renew policies.

 

        Which means Newsom and allies like Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco, long the state’s leading density advocate, might have to come up with a different tactic.

 

        Perhaps it’s time now to incentivize office building conversions, the surest and quickest way to create new housing with minimal environmental effects and a far faster timetable than constructing new buildings.

 

       

-30-

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

DESTROYED ILLUSIONS ARE SIMPSON TRIAL’S ONGOING LEGACIES

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, APRIL 30, 2024 OR THEREAFTER

 

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “DESTROYED ILLUSIONS ARE SIMPSON TRIAL’S ONGOING  LEGACIES”

 

        The late OJ Simpson does not leave many personal legacies: the most meaningful are probably one Heisman Trophy, his children and grandchildren.

 

        But his 1994-1995 trial for the stabbing murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson, mother of two of those children, and her friend Ron Goldman is another story. Its legacies include openness about using race as a prime factor in selecting jurors; making jury selection consultants key legal figures, and establishing Johnny L. Cochran as one of the pre-eminent defense lawyers of the last century.

 

        Probably more importantly, the trial also ended illusions that had denied some sad realities: For one, it demonstrated clearly that wealthy celebrities can buy more effective legal defense than others, regardless of the facts in any case.

 

        It also destroyed the belief that America had accomplished a lot toward overcoming racism.

 

        For sure, racial awareness has been keen since America’s inception, or at least since the first African slaves arrived here unwillingly in 1619. But in the years just before Simpson’s mid-1990s trial, many polls showed Americans believed race had become less divisive, with people regarded more often as individuals than before and viewed less through the racial lens.

 

        This illusion was likely one factor moving then-District Attorney Gil Garcetti of Los Angeles County to move the case into downtown Los Angeles, with its polyglot jury pool, rather than keeping it in a branch courthouse in Santa Monica, where the pool would have been mostly white and far more wealthy.

 

        Any pretension of color-blindness disappeared the moment voire dire began in late 1994. Cochran and co-counsel Robert Shapiro quickly began using peremptory challenges to eliminate every potential white juror they could, not needing any reason beyond race.

 

        They discerned that even though Simpson often said he was neither black nor white, but merely OJ, this was not how most African-Americans saw him. He was a hero to many, even as there were no strong racial components in either his movies or the TV commercials that showed him hurdling through airports en route to a rental car.

 

        Meanwhile, prosecutors Bill Hodgeman and Marcia Clark did not visibly use challenges to shape the jury’s racial makeup. They would not likely be so na├»ve today.

 

        The result was that eight of the 12 jurors who would eventually acquit Simpson were Black, with only one white, along with two Hispanics and one juror who was half Native American.

 

        This would prove disastrous for Garcetti, who tried to compensate by taking the veteran Hodgeman off the case and eventually making one of his Black deputies, Christopher Darden, a co-lead prosecutor.

 

        So race pervaded this trial, right up through the loud celebrations among many African-Americans after Simpson's aquittal.

 

        After-effects can be seen throughout American life today; identity politics has become a major theme for Democrats, who see many issues through lenses that don’t differentiate much among individuals, but mainly consider only large groups.

 

        Then there is the residue of Simpson’s pulling together his high-fee legal “dream team,” including not just Cochran and Shapiro, but also the noted F. Lee Bailey and Alan Dershowitz, along with civil rights advocate Barry Scheck.

 

        No one cared about their very diverse ethnicities; the racial focus was on Simpson, his white victims and one detective who had employed racist terms.

 

        Something partly analogous plays out at this moment with a former president accused of many felonies using money to delay most of his trials repeatedly, almost as if he’s living out his own claim that his celebrity assures he could shoot someone in cold blood in broad daylight on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue and nothing much would happen to him.

 

        Simpson didn’t intend any of this. He did not create the shameful racial heritage of America, nor did he design his legal strategy; Cochran did that.

 

        But without his celebrity status and the prominence of his trial, televised daily for many months world-wide, it’s possible these things would not matter the way they do now.

 

        So never mind whether Simpson leaves personal legacies. His trial changed a lot about America, destroying multiple illusions of fairness and equity across racial and economic lines.

 

-30-

 

    Thomas Elias covered the OJ Simpson criminal trial for the Scripps Howard News Service. He was in court daily. Email him at tdelias@aol.com. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

Monday, April 8, 2024

STATE DEMS NOT HEEDING LESSONS FROM 2020, ‘22

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, APRIL 26, 2024 OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “STATE DEMS NOT HEEDING LESSONS FROM  2020, ‘22”

         

          California voters administered a few lessons to this state’s dominant Democratic Party in 2020 and 2022, but they appear to be forgotten or were never completely heeded.

 

          The essence of those lessons, as seen in election returns on initiative measures and congressional races: This state’s voters are not as inveterately leftist as believed by the folks now running the state Democratic Party and the Legislature.

 

          Rebukes to those Democrats actually began in the March 2020 presidential primary election, “won” by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders with about 36 percent of the Democratic vote. This was the same number drawn by the ultra-liberal former state Senate president Kevin de Leon (now a disgraced Los Angeles city councilman) from Democratic voters in his 2018 primary attempt to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

 

          These two results ought to tell Democratic leaders they might find their control of California public affairs threatened if they lean too far to the left. A combination of moderate Democrats – clearly, about 65 percent of those registered in the party – with traditional Republicans and other moderates among the no party preference voter cohort has the potential to install very different leaders from those operating today.

 

          One consequence of the fact that far left Berniecrat voters regularly pack the local Democratic caucuses that pick state party convention delegates and, thus, statewide party leaders, has been the strong emergence of what is euphemistically called “identity politics.”

 

          That’s a political school which essentially holds that every ethnic group is homogeneous and should be represented in state and national leadership in direct proportion to its percentage of the populace. Another way of saying it goes like this: “We want our government to look like the state (or nation).”

 

          This allows little space for qualifications, achievement or even consideration of who might do the best job for California and America.

 

          Identity politics now controls much of what the state’s Democratic Party does. It’s was very visible here in the public pressures exerted upon Gov. Gavin Newsom when he mulled possible replacements for Vice President Kamala Harris after she gave up her U.S. Senate seat following the 2020 election.

 

          “The next senator should be an Asian/Pacific Islander,” said one leader of an Asian political group early in Newsom’s search. That’s because one of Harris’ multiple ethnicities is Indian-American, and the Asian-American interest group wanted her seat go to someone much like her.

 

          This gave absolutely no consideration to who might do the best job pursuing California’s interests, who might have the strongest chance to win election on their own, who was best qualified or myriad other factors that go into choosing political leaders.

 

          Black groups made similar demands, insisting the seat must go to a Black woman, just because that’s also a Harris identity.

 

          What happened to merit?

 

          This was one question voters asked four years ago, when by a 57-43 percent vote they nixed Proposition 16, which aimed to restore affirmative action in hiring and college admissions. By a margin of about 2 million votes, Californians rejected the idea of a system with quotas on those areas, one where group identity matters more than merit.

 

          Because some ethnic groups stress education more than others, they’ve gotten ahead economically and academically in higher proportions than their actual numbers. The voters essentially ruled these groups should not be penalized for their hard work and achievements.

 

          These are lessons for Democratic leaders to contemplate as they face a third election featuring Donald Trump.

 

          California Republicans blew their chance to take serious advantage of these things in 2022. For governor, they ran no one credibly distanced from Trump and lost the race to Newsom by about the same margin as in 2018. Potentially credible candidates like businessman and 2018 GOP nominee John Cox and former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer both blew their wads in the failed 2021 recall of Newsom, neither even entering the 2022 race.

 

          In short, Democrats could have had significant opposition in 2022 if the GOP figures involved had been patient. And Democrats actually might see some serious competition in 2026, if they continue ignoring the lessons of 2020 and 2022 by tilting too far to the left.

 

         

         

         

       

-30-

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

REPARATIONS EFFORT WON’T PRODUCE MUCH THIS YEAR

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE:
TUESDAY, APRIL 23, 2024, OR THEREAFTER

 

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS

      “REPARATIONS EFFORT WON’T PRODUCE MUCH THIS YEAR”

 

        Try taking an apology to the bank and see what the teller says, or even the bank president.

 

        One thing for sure: No apology will directly produce a bank deposit.

 

        Thousands of Black Californians knew this as they attended hearings across the state last year aiming to develop an aid package for descendants of slaves who still suffer after-effects of bondage. So they responded far more enthusiastically to the possibility of cash reparations than anything else mentioned.

 

        Not preferential college admissions or affirmative action in hiring, nothing else drew crowd approval crowds like cash.

 

        But there is no cash in any proposal for reparations now being floated in the state Legislature, even the 14-bill package announced earlier this year by the legislative Black caucus.

 

 

        That’s partly because there’s no cash to be had in this year of huge budget deficits amounting to somewhere between $38 billion and $73 billion. It’s also due to a seemingly definitive poll which found last fall that California voters by more than a 2-to-1 margin oppose paying descendants of the enslaved cash reparations for atrocities against their forebears.

 

        That survey by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies found 59 percent of voters against and just 28 percent in favor, with a relatively paltry 13 percent undecided or neutral.

 

        Cash reparations, said poll director Mark DiCamillo, have “a steep uphill climb, at least from the public’s point of view.”

 

        It’s no surpise, then, that the key piece of reparations legislation this year involves no money, or even affirmative action, which many Californians have long opposed. Rather, it would require the governor to apologize quickly to descendants of human chattel. That costs nothing, but from the viewpoint of Black lawmakers may seem as if it would leave them a big foot in the door for future actions on other types of reparations when times grow fiscally looser.

 

        Even last year, with much smaller deficits than now, Gov. Gavin Newsom made it clear he would veto cash reparations. Not wanting to embarrass him by forcing an actual decision, majority Democratic legislators won’t yet try to pass out money.

 

        One reason most Californians look askance at cash reparations is that this state was never a center of slavery. Under pre-Emancipation federal law, slaveowners could bring their human property into free states and see them remain enslaved. Similarly, escaped slaves could be tracked down in so-called free states and forced back to their previous owners.

 

        California was part of this, but not a ringleader, essentially no more culpable than New York, Massachusetts and Illinois, all hotbeds of abolition.

 

        California voters looking at those historical realities were not last year inclined to pay the great-great grandchildren of slaves victimized by a Supreme Court that upheld slavery even in free states. That court included five justices from slave states.

 

        If only because of California’s peripheral involvement with slavery, it would make no political sense to back monetary reparations. Plus, the concept may be illegal on its face.

 

        That’s because government favoritism of one group over others is not permitted under the equal protection clause of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which guarantees all who live in America “equal protection of the laws.”

 

        So if one person whose forebears suffered legally sanctioned injustice could get six-figure cash reparations from the government, so could any other persons whose ancestors also suffered government-imposed injustice.

 

        That would include Native Americans enslaved by Californians including John Sutter, whose Sacramento fort is often recognized as a key starting point for the Gold Rush, and possibly also Chinese and Jewish Americans precluded from owning some properties by legally approved property covenants.

 

        Start giving big chunks of cash to members of all these groups and soon money itself might become meaningless.

 

        The bottom line: The legislative Black caucus is wise to limit its demands in this early phase of recognition that some kind of compensation is in order for those who continue to be victimized by the aftermath of slavery.

 

        It’s possible that looser financial times will make more measures possible, but certainly not yet.

       

    -30-

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

 

Thursday, March 14, 2024

AT LONG LAST, ACTION POSSIBLE ON PUC CONFLICTS

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, APRIL 19, 2024 OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS

      “AT LONG LAST, ACTION POSSIBLE ON PUC CONFLICTS”

 

        For more than half a century, as California’s electric and natural gas rates rose to some of the highest levels in America, conflicts of interest have abounded among the state’s top utility regulators.

 

        Former members and presidents of the California Public Utilities Commission moved over to become top executives of the state’s largest privately-owned electric companies. One former president of the Southern California Edison Co., the state’s second biggest power provider, served more than a decade as president of the PUC – under two governors.

 

        Time and again, the big electric companies got their way on issues from rooftop solar and price increases to being allowed to stay in business after being convicted of criminal negligence and manslaughter when wildfires and an explosion they caused killed many dozens of citizens.

 

        Until now, there’s been little hope of positive change. That’s because unlike the federal government, this state has no laws preventing the kinds of conflicts that have been so common. Commission members cannot be fired, even by the governors who name them to six-year terms.

 

There is no ”cooling off” period between when commissioners leave their posts and when they can be hired by the utilities they’ve been supervising. Nothing to stop corporate bosses from becoming top regulators, as onetime SCE President Michael Peevey did under both Gov. Gray Davis and his successor, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. No way to tell whether their decisions are dictated by secret deals with regulated monopoly companies.

 

        This has all been true under both Republican and Democratic governors, most of whom have gotten huge campaign contributions from big utilities. Example: current Gov. Gavin Newsom has received more than $10 million in donations from just one utility, San Francisco-based Pacific Gas & Electric.

 

        But now there is hope at last. It comes in the form of Assembly Bill 2054, sponsored by Democratic Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer Kahan of San Ramon.

 

        Given the lobbying power of companies like Edison, PG&E and San Diego Gas & Electric, the fate of this bill is far from certain, both in the Legislature and at the hands of Newsom, who would have to sign off before it can become law.

 

        But the bill offers a lot of positives, most prominently a 10-year waiting period before any PUC member can accept a job at any regulated company.

 

        Said Bauer Kahan in a statement, “With California’s electricity rates consistently the highest in the nation, it is crucial to safeguard against potential conflicts of interest and undue industry influence on (regulation). AB 2054 is a crucial step toward restoring faith in our regulatory process and ensuring that regulators act solely in the public interest.”

 

        The bill would clearly be a big step, but it’s still far from perfect, as it does not prevent former PUC members from becoming lobbyists and consultants for the companies. Those jobs can be at least as lucrative as high corporate posts, and create similar potential conflicts of interest.

 

        Currently, the two most recent former PUC presidents are in just such slots. Michael Picker, PUC chief for most of ex-Gov. Jerry Brown’s last two terms, became a partner in a consulting firm called Caliber Strategies, which lists clients like the huge Blackstone investment and holding company and Portland General Electric, which serves 44 percent of Oregon residents.

 

        Picker, who led the PUC and consistently refused media interview requests during the first years of California’s long siege of massive utility-sparked wildfires, describes himself as an expert on how utilities should handle fire situations.

 

        Meanwhile, Marybel Batjer, PUC president for two years after Picker left and previously a Newsom adviser on how to keep PG&E going through its wildfire disasters, went to the lobbying firm California Strategies. That outfit bills itself as “the state’s preeminent government relations, public affairs and campaign consultancy.”

 

        But just because AB 2054 is not perfect does not mean it should be rejected. Its waiting period would still be a vast improvement over the current scene, which essentially sees no limits on secret deals between regulators and big utilities.

 

        So this is a must-pass measure, and voters should carefully note whether their legislators resist the blandishments of the big utilities trying to kill it.

       

  -30-

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

RENTAL SURPRISE: BAY AREA TENANTS DO BEST

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, APRIL 16, 2024 OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “RENTAL SURPRISE: BAY AREA TENANTS DO BEST”

        Rents are higher in Silicon Valley and the rest of the San Francisco Bay area than anywhere else in California, but the generally higher salaries in that region nevertheless give tenants there more disposable income than anywhere else in this state, even the far lower-priced Central Valley.

 

        That’s the surprising conclusion of a study by the RentCafe website, which tracks income vs. expenses for renters everywhere in America.

 

        The survey’s surprising conclusion: If you’re a renter, chances are you can live better in Sunnyvale, just north of San Jose, than anywhere else in California.

 

        Even with prices for necessities like utilities, food, health care and transportation consistently higher than just about all other California locations, the typical Sunnyvale renter, ensconced in the heart of Silicon Valley, spends a smaller fraction of income on the basics than counterparts everywhere else in California.

 

        Yes, rents are sky high in Sunnyvale, once considered a very ordinary San Francisco Peninsula suburb. The typical monthly cost of an apartment or house there is $3,013, RentCafe reports. But the average renter’s household income tops $145,000 a year, about $35,000 more than in San Francisco, where rents are higher, at $3,297 – or $39,200 per year. Utilities in Sunnyvale, taken as a fairly typical Silicon Valley ‘burb, are also lower, by about $1.000 per year than in San Francisco. But health care costs a bit more, at an average of $516 per month in Sunnyvale, compared with $489 in San Francisco.

 

Los Angeles renters could be excused for eating their hearts out at hearing those salary and expense figures and the disposal incomes that go with them. In fact, if the Bay Area numbers were completely typical, it’s safe to guess there would have been no California exodus over the last few years, as it would have been just as comfortable to stay put.

 

     But the typical Los Angeles renter draws annual pay about $87,000 less than their Sunnyvale counterpart, in part because of the disparity between high tech pay levels and those in other jobs.

 

        So where rent eats only about 25 percent of the average Sunnyvale renter’s income, the typical Los Angeles rent of $2,745, or almost $33,000 per year, takes 56 percent of the average income. Even with utilities averaging a couple thousand dollars a year less and healthcare and transportation costs far lower than in the Silicon Valley, the Los Angeles renter winds up with much less disposable income than counterparts on the Peninsula.

 

        Meanwhile, tenants in the Central Valley, Fresno, Modesto and Bakersfield stand out for having far lower average rent, food, transportation and healthcare costs than their coastal counterparts, but their average salaries, all in the mid-to-high 40 thousands, are so much lower that the reduced costs don’t help much.

 

        Overall, Stockton has the lowest utility costs among major California cities, but among the lower salary levels. Fresno has the lowest food and transportation costs, while Los Angeles and San Diego are at or near the top in food and transportation expenses and near the middle in salaries.

 

        The Orange County city of Anaheim stands near average in all these costs among California urban centers. With a typical monthly rent of $2,331, or nearly $28,000 per year, and income of about $66,000, the typical Anaheim renter should be able to handle expenses like utilities, food, healthcare and transportation and still have some disposable income left.

 

        But nothing like levels enjoyed in the Silicon Valley. Which makes it somewhat surprising that much of the population leaving California over the last five years, with a total of about 3 million emigrants, were from the Bay Area.

 

        That trend is now slowing, and much of the population loss was made up for with births and legal immigration. But it’s still a lesson that in long-distance moves, money has not been only factor pushing people out of California, even if it is the biggest part of the picture.

 

        With much of the exodus coming during the peak pandemic years of 2000-2002, the bottom line is that most emigrants were folks who began to seek more space once it became clear they could work outside offices and not worry about having to make long commutes.

 

-30-

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

INFLATION: THE ENEMY IS US

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, APRIL 12. 2024 OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
        “INFLATION: THE ENEMY IS US”

 

        When it comes to the causes of the inflation that continues to plague California households, perhaps Walt Kelly’s old comic strip swamp possum Pogo said it best: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

 

        Kelly, of course, bowdlerized the line from War of 1812 U.S. Naval Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s report to a superior after defeating the British Navy in the Battle of Lake Erie: “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”

 

       Pogo’s variation on that has proven as telling over the decades since Kelly gave him the line describing people’s persistent tendency to cause problems for themselves.

 

       So it is today with inflation, among other issues. Yes, the Federal Reserve tells us inflation is not as severe as a year or so ago, when gasoline prices rose by $2 per gallon over two days in February 2023.

 

        But the price in California still hovers well above $4, in part because the state has yet to enforce its eight-month-old law allowing it to charge penalties against price-gouging oil companies. That’s true everywhere in California, where prices are more than $1 dollar per gallon higher than the national average, even though state taxes amount to far less than that.

 

        As long as the state Energy Commission doesn’t act to reel in those companies, one significant element of inflation will remain untouched. And virtually no one today is pressuring the commission to act.

 

        We are also at least partly at fault for fast-rising insurance prices, both for vehicles and real estate. We re-elected Ricardo Lara insurance commissioner in 2022 despite his well-publicized footsie games with insurance company campaign donations.

 

        That’s another inflation element. We also elected the legislators who raised the minimum wage to $16 an hour effective Jan. 1, with minimum hourly pay for health care workers set to rise to $23 on June 1. We elected the governor who signed off on those and we rejected by a large margin an effort to recall him.

 

        It’s hard to see how inflation can be avoided when minimum wages constantly rise. Some restaurants responded to their need to pay dishwashers more than before by listing a separate “minimum wage” surcharge with each of their menu items, letting customers know exactly why they’re now paying more than before.

 

        That same governor appointed all five Public Utility Commission members, the folks who continually raise electricity and natural gas rates, a tax that’s not formally called by that name. But utility rates have all the earmarks of taxes: We must pay up, or there will be severe consequences.

 

        We also voted twice against propositions for statewide rent controls. One result is that rents are staying high despite the myriad vacancies among newly-built market-rate apartments. Meanwhile, there are waiting lists for formally designated affordable units in many places.

 

        Even though he had nothing to do with any of these key inflationary factors, all of which contribute to the costs of food, fuel, entertainment tickets and just about everything else, it’s common to blame President Biden for all of it.

 

If there’s one bright spot in this, it is the likelihood that gasoline prices won’t go much higher in the immediate future. That’s partly because of the state law allowing penalties for gouging and also because Biden turned on the spigots of the National Petroleum Reserve, knocking down some worldwide wholesale oil prices. At the same time, he’s brought domestic oil production to record levels, even while once-and-future rival Donald Trump shouts “drill, drill, drill,” from the sidelines as he admits to wanting to be a dictator, but “only for Day 1.”

 

 

The bottom line on all this is clear. If we are suckered into blaming inflation on Biden, we will be ignoring our own responsibility for much of it. Which would mean we are ignoring the obvious reality that when it comes to inflation, Pogo was once again correct that “We have met the enemy and he is us.”      

         
-30-

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

RECALL’S REAL REASON: GOP WANTS NEWSOM OFF THE ROAD

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, APRIL 9, 2024, OR THEREAFTER

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS

 

    “RECALL’S REAL REASON: GOP WANTS NEWSOM OFF THE ROAD”

 

        Republicans behind the new recall drive against Gov. Gavin Newsom made a bit of a slip the other day, revealing the real reason behind their effort:

 

        Get Newsom off the road, where he’s been about the most effective surrogate President Biden has had during his reelection effort. Everywhere Newsom goes, he picks up IOUs from local Democrats, too, non-fungible currency he will be able to use in four years or so, if and when he makes his own run for the White House.

 

        Yes, California Republicans realize Donald Trump is the current frontrunner in his campaign to oust Biden and regain the White House for four more years (or more, if he can somehow engineer an end run around the Constitution’s 22nd Amendment and its two-term limit for presidents). But they also see that Newsom has become enough of a thorn in Trump’s side to rate a skit on “Saturday Night Live” and a disparaging nickname from Trump (“New-scum”).

 

        Newsom has also advertised on his own in Republican-run states, getting sufficiently under the skin of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to engineer the first nationally televised debate between two governors with no known future in some other office at stake.

 

        So Republicans are doing what they can to keep Newsom off the national road by trying to make him the first California governor ever to face two ballot recall drives. (Others have faced more attempts, but only two ever made a ballot).

 

        They haven’t been able to find anything criminal about Newsom or any moral failings Newsom hasn’t already confessed to and apologized for (like his long-ago marital infidelity and the infamous French  Laundry restaurant incident, where he dined out with friends in a swank eatery while ordering other state residents to lock down in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic).

 

        Instead, they’re going after him for policy differences: They don’t like his okay of Medi-Cal health benefits for undocumented immigrants, they don’t like California’s taxes and its high spending on efforts to reduce homelessness, they didn’t like school closures during the pandemic.

 

        Some of those were among the grounds they gave for the other recall the GOP engineered against Newsom, that one soundly beaten back in 2021, barely a year before Newsom was due to face the voters anyhow. Many voters saw it as a colossal waste of money, and voted “no” on those grounds alone.

 

        This time, recall sponsors will need to gather 1.38 million valid voter signatures before the end of May in order to get a recall question and a list of alternative candidates for governor onto the November general election ballot. That’s hundreds of thousands more signatures than are needed to qualify an ordinary initiative or referendum for a statewide vote, making the new recall unlikely to get a November vote.

 

        So this recall – if it qualifies – will likely need a special election, costing tens of millions of dollars and coming less than two years before Newsom will be term limited out of office anyhow. This from a party that often grouses about excessive and pointless government spending.

 

        If it all sounds like an unnecessary exercise in futility, that’s because it may be. And not merely because the GOP has virtually no one ready to step up as a credible alternate candidate, the way muscleman actor Arnold Schwarzenegger did in the state’s only successful gubernatorial recall, against ex-Gov. Gray Davis in 2003, when he had three years left in his second term.

 

        Nevertheless, Newsom’s team insists he won’t ignore the new recall effort. “We are taking it seriously,” said longtime Newsom spokesman Nathan Click. “These Trump Republicans are targeting Gov. Newsom because he’s out there defending democracy and fighting for the reelection of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. He’s not going to be distracted from that fight. Democracy is on the ballot, and he’s going to keep fighting.”

 

        If that eventually helps Newsom raise money for a presidential bid of his own and makes him the Democrats’ de facto leading spokesman should Biden lose this fall, so much the better for him. Just like the last time, the recall advocates might again be doing him a big favor. 

       

 

    -30-

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

CALEXIT’ SENTIMENT MIGHT BE RISING

 

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE:
TUESDAY, APRIL 5, 2024, OR THEREAFTER

 

BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “’CALEXIT’ SENTIMENT MIGHT BE RISING”

 

        The poll results this spring were startling: fully half of America’s Republicans now believe California is in decline and 48 percent of them think this state “is not really American.”

 

        That translates to roughly one-fourth of all Americans holding distinctly negative views about California. Those were the conclusions of a survey taken for the Los Angeles Times.

 

        But most Californians simply shrug their shoulders at this, suggests another study that quickly followed. That one, by the political polling firm YouGov, shows the vast majority of Californians thumb their noses at anti-California sentiment, despite years of overblown talk about “the great California exodus.”

 

        Yes, the state has lost some population over the last 10 years, leading to the loss of one of its former 53 seats in the House of Representatives. But the 52 remaining Californians in Congress still form by far the largest state delegation, as about 12 percent of the nation’s people continue to live here.

 

        Most of those folks, despite the reality they could drastically cut living expenses by moving elsewhere, have no intention of leaving. What’s more, a significant number of Californians would be perfectly happy for their state to leave the USA, if it were possible to do that peacefully.

 

        The second poll, financed by the Marin County-based Independent California Institute, also indicated that 68 percent of Californians believe they would be better off than they are now if the state negotiated for itself a “special autonomous status within the U.S.” and arranged for transfer of almost all federal land and water infrastructure here to state and local governments. More than a supermajority, then, want at least special standing.

 

        No one should expect anything like quick action toward either that or California seceding outright from the USA, however. For one thing, Gov. Gavin Newsom will not hear of it. As early as 2018, during his first successful run for governor, he said in an interview that secession is ridiculous, a “non-starter.” That was before he became involved in presidential campaigning, while he still denied any interest in the top national office.

 

        In the new YouGov poll, 29 percent of Californians supported secession, almost identical to the portion of Alaskans and Texans who would like independence for their states.

 

        But 60 percent of Californians believe the Civil War made it impossible for either this state or any other to simply leave, even if some presidential candidates (Donald Trump, for one) have indicated they actually like the idea of a United States without California.

 

        As long ago as 2017, Reuters/Ipsos and Stanford University conducted polls that found about 30 percent of Californians supported Calexit, one name for secession. So sentiment on that has not changed much over time.

 

        But Independent California Institute director Coyote Marin focused on the 68 percent who said they think they’d be better off separated in some way from the rest of America. “Those are much higher numbers than found in polls which simply asked if California should secede,” Marin said.

 

        No one knows where such numbers might go if Trump were elected this fall and quickly declared martial law, something he considered attempting after his 2000 election defeat.

 

        The YouGov survey also found that Californians are not nearly as depressed about their state as outsiders. Fully 63 percent of the 500-plus Californians polled in carefully structured sampling said they cannot imagine wanting to live anywhere outside California.

 

        That’s in stark contrast to the 40 percent of non-California Republicans in the LA Times poll who said they don’t think California is even a good place to visit.

 

        There’s also the LA Times finding that half of all Republicans nationally would be glad to vote California out of the Union, an act that YouGov indicated would probably be welcomed by most Californians.

 

        For now, this is all sheer speculation and talk, with no real action on the horizon. But much depends on the November election outcome, which could sharply shift both national attitudes about California and Californians’ feelings about remaining American.

       

       

-30-

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