Monday, January 29, 2024






        The press release made the so-called Delta Conveyance Project seem like a sure thing after the massive $16 billion project received its final formal state approval early in January.


        “Today marks another significant milestone in our

efforts to modernize state water infrastructure and adapt to the challenges of changing precipitation patterns,” went the statement from Karla Nemeth, director of the state Department of Water Resources (DWR).


        It didn’t take a genius to realize that despite such talk from Nemeth and other state officials, this was no done deal. Bulldozers were not about to appear overnight to start installing the project’s planned 39-foot-high culverts, which would dwarf even the largest Hamas tunnel.


        Within minutes, opponents of the California tunnel vowed to keep fighting it in court and anywhere else they can think of.


The first big devil-in-the-details to appear turns out to be rather significant: Where is that $16 billion (a figure almost certain to expand) going to come from?


        The state bureaucrats’ plan was to use revenue bonds, borrowing the money and then paying it back from fees paid by users of the approximately 500,000 acre feet of water the giant project would send south from the delta of the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers via the state Water Project.


        The bureaucrats (and Gov. Gavin Newsom, a huge backer of the plan) figured they would issue bonds via a 1959 law authorizing the DWR to make changes to the water project.


        Uh-uh, said a Sacramento judge less than two weeks after Nemeth’s almost giddy press release. Any bonds will need approval from either the voters or the Legislature – and possibly both, if legislators should pass them only to see them challenged by a ballot referendum.


        Superior Court Judge Kenneth Mennemeier, appointed in 2016 by then-Gov. Jerry Brown – long a supporter of the tunnel or something similar – said the 1959 law was too broad and would give the state unchecked authority to build whatever it wants wherever it wants. That’s not allowed under other laws, Mennemeier ruled.



        This brought joy to outfits like Stockton-based Restore the Delta, the conservation-minded Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity.


        The center had sued the DWR just after the Nemeth announcement, saying state analysts did not consider how a dramatically reduced river flow would affect wildlife like the Delta smelt, Chinook salmon and other fish.


        It charged the tunnel would take away about one-third of the flow that now both nurtures aquatic life and helps keep saltwater intrusion at bay.


        “The court was right to recognize that the state’s scheme to finance the environmentally disastrous Delta tunnel was unlawful,” said John Buse of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Without the bonds to fund this boondoggle, the project’s future is bleak and that’s very good news for people and wildlife in the Delta.”


        It’s likely also good news for most voters in northern parts of the state.


        For the current tunnel plan is but another iteration of an idea originally passed by the Legislature in 1980, which initiated today’s common practice of challenging legislative actions with ballot referenda.


        The project then was called the Peripheral Canal. Rather than a tunnel, it would have created a steep and deep 45-mile-long ditch to divert Sacramento River water south.


Fully 93 percent of all voters from Modesto north voted in 1980 to cancel the Peripheral Canal. That was much more than needed to override the 60 percent approval the project got from voters in Southern California and came as close as America has ever seen to a Soviet-style plebiscite.


        Many of 1980's voters, of course, have passed on, but there’s no reason to believe a vote today would go any different. Because Northern California legislators know this, there’s very little chance bonds for the more elaborate modern tunnel project would get legislative approval.


        That’s probably why the state never sought such approval, but tried instead to ramrod a revenue bond issue through with little attention.


        The bottom line here is that hopes have been dashed for anyone who banked on the state’s giddy, almost gloating announcement that it had approved this old idea at last. It may happen someday, but for now, that day remains far in the future.


    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








        For many years, California drivers and Republican politicians have blamed Democrats and high gas taxes for the huge difference in the price of gasoline here compared to other states.


        It turns out they’ve been wrong, some of them just plain self-serving.


        We know this with certainty now for the first time because of a year-old state law with the odd designation of SBX1-2, passed in an emergency legislative session after extreme gasoline price increases during last February. In that month, pump prices leaped more than $2 per gallon over just two days, oil refiners explaining that they had some “unexpected” shutdowns.


        Gov. Gavin Newsom called this a “fleecing” of California drivers, and oil company profits in this state jumped to levels 70 percent above what they were elsewhere. They’ve dropped a little since then.


        So we got a new law forcing refiners in the state to report their per-gallon profit margins to a new division of the state Energy Commission, which must publish them and then decide whether they constitute price gouging. If the commission makes that ruling, it can then impose price limits.


        The first reports came in late last year and received virtually no media coverage. It turned out big California refiners like Valero, Chevron, Conoco-Phillips, Marathon and PBF raked in an average of $1.49 per gallon in gross refining profits during the fairly typical month of September, almost three times their 66 cent margins in January 2023. That’s after the costs of crude oil, taxes, environmental fees and transportation are subtracted.


        Of course, the 66 cent January 2023 margins were already unusually high, about one-third more than the previously normal margins of about 50 cents the refiners historically reaped here.


        Said Jamie Court, president of the Consumer Watchdog advocacy group, “This data proves California oil refiners profited wildly from California gas price spikes… It is precisely why California needs to implement a strong price gouging penalty as soon as possible.”


        He’s right. The figures prove that while government causes some gas price inflation here, refiners actually cause most of the price differential of more than a dollar a gallon between California and other states.


        Essentially, they are treating California like a gigantic ATM with unlimited reserves.


        This all demonstrates that even though prices are down somewhat since last February, they remain much higher than previously, with refiners not being the least bit bashful about upping their profits whenever they please.


        September brought such a moment, as they raised margins from $1.29 per gallon in August. This was a 13 percent increase in a single month, when no extraordinary events occurred.


        Court suggests the Energy Commission, which now ought to exercise for the first time its option of setting a “reasonable maximum” profit, should limit margins to 60 cents per gallon, just below the levels of January 2023. That would amount to a 10 percent penalty to the refiners for their gouging of the last year.


        For consumers, this could mean a quick price drop of almost a dollar a gallon, a welcome relief in the state with America’s second highest average cost of living.


        But so far, the Energy Commission has not acted on its mandate, saying it is still determining whether any of this constituted price gouging. That decision is due by June at the latest.


        But the September numbers leave no doubt of what the finding will need to be: It’s eminently clear the refiners have gouged and are deserving of the penalty SBX1-2 calls for.


        Yes, there would be bleating from oil companies about how the state is wrecking its business environment – an environment they have exploited to the tune of billions of dollars over the last year.


        If they don’t pay a price for their unfair business practices now, it’s hard to see when one would ever be justified or imposed on any price-gouging business or industry.



    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, January 22, 2024






        So you think California has a serious property insurance crisis, with one company (State Farm) getting a 20 percent increase just as 2023 ended and others demanding even higher increases as some threaten to halt new policy sales in the state?


        As big as this crisis is, it does not compare with what’s going on in other states like Florida and North Carolina, where Republican-dominated legislatures may soon be forced to take measures the GOP has long called “socialistic.”


        Take Florida, whose Republican governor and former presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis loves to seize on every difficulty that arises in California, blaming everything from homelessness to high electric rates on Democratic dominance of state government.


        Florida already has a state-owned and -run insurance company called Citizen Property Insurance, which functions much like California’s Fair Plan. These agencies are funded largely by extra-high premiums paid by homeowners who for a variety of reasons can’t get policies from private companies.


        In California, most of the problems are confined to discrete areas the insurance companies deem subject to wildfires, either because they’ve already had some or because their foliage, climate and terrain makes them vulnerable to everything from a stray match to arsonists to negligence by electric companies.


        But in Florida, where the biggest waves of claims stem from hurricanes, there are no discrete boundaries, as hurricanes have hit almost all parts of the state.


        Home insurance costs there have risen hugely without a law like California’s 1988 Proposition 103 to restrain them. The cost of home insurance in the Sunshine State lately saw the average Florida homeowner paying more than $6,000 in 2023 and more increases on the horizon. That was an increase of more than 102 percent over the last three years.


        It doesn’t quite make up for the difference in home prices between California and Florida, but it does make Florida real estate more expensive than prices and rents make it appear.


        Enter “socialism.” Fully 15 insurance companies have pulled out of Florida in recent years and homeowners therefore suffer problems getting coverage. So the GOP-led Legislature is considering a huge increase in the maximum value of homes that can be covered by Citizen Property. The limit is now $1 million in assessed value, but lawmakers are considering upping that by half, to $1.5 million. That would leave very few Florida homes ineligible.


        DeSantis suggests making up for all this with decreases in property taxes, which are much higher than California’s because Florida lacks limits like those in this state’s 1978 Proposition 13.


        Republican legislators previously killed expansions of Citizen Property due to the “socialism” tag, but two GOPers are lead sponsors of the current expansion plan.


        Things are not quite so extreme in North Carolina, but homeowners are about to be hit almost as hard there as in Florida and much harder than in California. Insurance companies have not yet left North Carolina en masse, but several now seek increases between 42 and 99 percent in annual premiums. Increases could be even higher in the hurricane-prone eastern areas of that state.


        These levels of proposed increase would arouse huge protests in California, where the Consumer Watchdog advocacy group – whose founder Harvey Rosenfield wrote Proposition 103 – is now working to cut State Farm’s 20 percent rate hike, which seems paltry compared to what’s happening elsewhere.


        It’s one case of a serious California crisis with far worse counterparts elsewhere.


        Yes, California has weather-related disasters, but when they happen in Texas and Florida, they can be even more devastating than ours. What’s more, insurance companies have had it easier here since they leveraged their losses from the 1994 Northridge earthquake to end their obligation to write quake insurance. Instead, the state-run California Earthquake Authority has lucked out for almost 30 years, taking in large premiums from property owners without experiencing any truly massive temblors since Northridge in 1994.


        That’s allowed its reserves to pile up more than anyone could have expected back in the 1990s.


        It’s all just another example of why moving away from California doesn’t necessarily lead to the problem-free existence many emigrants expect in other states.



    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








        A silly, very expensive and possibly exhausting all-year election season is coming up this year in one corner of California mainly because of one man’s desire to end his humiliation and embarrassment.


        That man is Kevin McCarthy, deposed last fall as the Republican speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.


        When members of Congress resign or retire, they usually stay until their terms end, rather than leaving in the middle. Not McCarthy. Barely a month after his fellow Republicans rejected his leadership, McCarthy in early December announced that if he could no longer be the kingpin of the House, he would walk out. Then he left.


        That left without representation his 23rd Congressional district, centered on Bakersfield, but also running north into Tulare County and east to Ridgecrest in the high desert of Kern County. It also left Republicans with a meager three-vote majority in the House and another speaker who could be thrown out at any moment by his seemingly impossible to satisfy party mates.


        Also affected are people in the overlapping 32nd California Assembly District, who face as many as seven elections this year because of McCarthy’s quick and selfish exit and the ambitions of his former aide, current Assemblyman Vince Fong.


        Upon McCarthy’s departure, Fong announced he would try to replace his former boss in Congress. Trouble was, he was already signed up to run for reelection in the 32nd Assembly District, which raised the interesting question of whether anyone can run for two offices at once.


        Inevitably, lawsuits ensued. Strangely, they were decided in a Sacramento court, rather than in Bakersfield, where the decision would be felt most. Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne W.L. Chang ruled Fong can run for both offices simultaneously. She said nothing about whether he can serve in both the Legislature and Congress at the same time. Chances are that if he replaces McCarthy this spring, Fong will resign from the Assembly, even if that’s not required by law. Logistically, it would be almost impossible to do both jobs at once.


        There would be simultaneous hearings and floor votes in both capitols and Fong could only make both if he sent a clone or a doppelganger to one or the other.


        Besides, state law is ambiguous over whether any of this is legal. “A public officer shall not simultaneously hold two public offices that are incompatible…” goes the law. Who’s to say if these two offices are incompatible? Maybe another judge?


        This leaves the election schedule up in the air. A few things

are certain: Fong and others will contest in the March 5 state

primary for slots in the November general election for a full

two-year term in Congress and for another two-year term in

Sacramento That’s two votes. Then, on March

19 comes a special election set by Gov. Gavin Newsom for the rest of McCarthy’s current term. If no one wins a majority then, a runoff will follow, likely in late April or early May.


        That makes four likely votes, three on the congressional seat alone. If Fong wins those races and then resigns his Assembly spot, as would be normal practice, another special election would follow to pick new Assembly nominees for both the rest of the current term, and possibly also for the next two-year term. Should no one get majorities in those two possibly identical races, another special election would follow for the seat for at least the rest of this year, while the runoff for the next term would likely be held together with the rest of the November election.


        That makes a total of seven likely trips to the ballot box or the mailbox for voters in the overlapping Assembly and Congressional districts.


        There are, of course, costs for all this. A single special election in Tulare County runs at least $200,000, while those in larger counties like Kern and Fresno, each of which contains pieces of at least one of these districts, cost much more.


        The eventual cost to taxpayers could be well over $2 million, just because one man wanted an end to the humiliation his previously boundless ambition brought on. What a guy!



    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, January 15, 2024






        Here’s an open question for the U.S. Supreme Court, which has taken a strongly originalist stance toward gun control: Do you want blood on your hands again?


        That’s right, again. The nation’s highest court has sometimes issued rulings that led directly to killings, even murders. One was the infamous Dred Scott ruling of 1857, which held that the Constitution did not grant citizenship or rights to anyone of Black African descent. This led to the killing or recapture of numerous escaped slaves who had fled to so-called “free” states prior to the Civil War.


        Or its much more recent 2022 ruling in the Bruen case that ended New York’s limits on concealed carrying of guns, the high court holding that since there is no multi-century American history of such regulations, they are overridden by the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms.


        Now another gun control case, called U.S. vs. Rahimi confronts the court with questions of whether it’s legal to prohibit domestic violence offenders or those under restraining orders from owning firearms.


        Right now, they can’t, under a federal law signed by former President Donald Trump. But the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals early in 2023 sided with gun rights supporters and held that law unconstitutional.


        This did not end such laws in other appellate circuits, including the Ninth, covering California and most of the West. Indications from the public arguments over the Rahimi lawsuit indicate the justices might let the Trump-era law stand.


That would be good for California women, now protected under a 10-year-old state law. Said state Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta, “The data is clear. Domestic violence abusers should not have firearms. When an abuser has access to a firearm, it endangers the safety of those around them.”


        Here’s some of that data:


        Fully 83 percent of shooting victims in domestic violence cases are females killed or wounded by a current or former intimate partner. In more than 68 percent of mass shootings, the perpetrator either killed one partner or family member or had a history of domestic violence. American women are 11 times more likely to be killed by guns than women in other “advanced” countries. And domestic violence calls involving firearms increased by 63 percent between 1993 and 2022. Female victims of domestic violence are five times more likely to be killed if the male involved has access to a gun.


        If that history doesn’t make a strong case for keeping guns away from persons under domestic violence restraining orders, it’s hard to see what might.


        That why current California law makes sense in requiring state-funded domestic violence clinics to offer every victim a gun violence restraining order. Such an order should keep guns away from people known to have assailed their wives or partners.


        But if the Supreme Court should go counter to the impression it left during its late 2023 hearing of arguments on Rahimi, those protections would disappear.


        And the high court very likely would once again have serious culpability, with the strong likelihood of a return to old gun violence habits in domestic situations.


        Such an outcome would be almost inevitable if the current federal law were struck down on the grounds it has no basis in 18th or 19th Century American history. In fact, there is no such basis: domestic violence restraining orders were unheard of in those times, with wife beating a common event.


        Evidence abounds that human nature has not changed in such situations. The strongest indicator is that during the pre-vaccine days of the coronavirus pandemic between 2019 and 2021, domestic violence calls to police increased by 80 percent, as couples confined to their homes had few safety valves. That number is even more remarkable considering the drop in such cases during the surrounding years.


        All of which means this life-and-death issue is now completely up to Supreme Court justices, who have the opportunity to sustain a law proven to save thousands of lives in domestic disputes.


        If they don’t, they will once again have considerable blood on their hands.



    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








        For years, ex-President Donald Trump has spoken and acted as if loyalty to him is more important to the national well-being than loyalty to laws and the Constitution.


        So it came as no great surprise when he threatened “big trouble” if the U.S. Supreme Court does not overturn a Colorado state Supreme Court decision to knock his name off that state’s primary election ballot. Oral arguments on Trump’s appeal of that order are set for Feb. 8.


        “I just hope we get fair treatment,” Trump said to a rally during the heated Iowa caucus campaign earlier this month. “Because if we don’t, our country’s in big, big trouble. Does everybody understand what I’m saying?”


        Yes, most folks did understand. He clearly meant that if he doesn’t get his way with the three U.S. Supreme Court justices he appointed and others, he might try to sic his loyal followers on the court system or state election officials who might follow Colorado in keeping his name off their ballots. Trump critics contend his actions surrounding the Jan. 6, 2021 invasion of the national Capitol building amounted to participation in an insurrection against the government and render him ineligible to be president again, under terms of the 14th Amendment.


        Trump also allowed to a podcaster that if returned to office, he would become a “dictator, “but just for Day 1.” He called convicted Jan. 6 rioters “hostages,” promising a blanket pardon for them all if he’s elected. He vocally hoped for an economic collapse before November, on grounds it might help his election chances, and he gloated about “killing” Roe v. Wade and abortion rights for most women.


So far, polls indicate none of this incendiary rhetoric dented Trump’s base of support any more than the multiple indictments against him. The biggest test of the conventional wisdom that all this actually helps Trump will come March 5, when he appears on the California primary ballot.


        Although currently charged, Trump has yet to be convicted of being an insurrectionist, so California Secretary of State Shirley Weber wasn’t ready to exclude him, even though the 14th Amendment does not require a conviction.


        Another 14 states will join California in voting on the March 5 “Super Tuesday,” but, like Iowa, New Hampshire and other small, early primary and caucus states, none provides the same test as California. Republicans in states like Texas, North Carolina and Massachusetts are less diverse than here, where voters come closer than any others to matching the nation’s demographics.


        Trump has enjoyed support from well over 50 percent of the state’s Republicans in every poll taken so far, the latest indicating nothing that's happened changed many Republican minds here.


        Meanwhile, the California Republican Party shows no sign of deviating from its course of trying to clinch the GOP nomination for Trump. Last spring, the state party convention voted to give all California’s 169 GOP convention delegates to any candidate who gets 50 percent plus one vote among party voters March 5. That meant Trump.


        Only registered Republicans can vote in the GOP primary, the sole California election where party registration factors into whom a voter can choose. The Democratic presidential primary and all others here are conducted as open elections, with all voters eligible to back any candidate of any party.


        That’s why a drive began in early January encouraging registered Democrats to switch to the GOP for a short while to vote against Trump. Organizers encourage votes for former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley as an alternative who might deprive Trump of many California delegates. With a 50 percent-plus vote, Trump would most likely be assured after March 5 of having the 1,215 convention delegates needed to win his third Republican nomination.


        This could make the California primary the most interesting of Super Tuesday and perhaps the entire spring season.


        If California – which has never come close to backing Trump in a general election – ices the nomination for him, it would also mark the first time since 1972 that any presidential primary here has counted for much.     




    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, January 8, 2024








        The three prominent congressional Democrats in the running for the U.S. Senate seat long held by the late and formidable Dianne Feinstein act as if they believe an all-Democrat November runoff is inevitable.


        But that may not happen.


        None of the three contesting Congress members – not Adam Schiff of Burbank, Katie Porter of Irvine or Barbara Lee of Oakland – so much as acknowledges that Republican Steve Garvey is in the running.


        But polls that startle some Democrats show Garvey now running second in this four-horse primary race despite his lack of much television advertising and his dearth of high-profile campaigning.


        That’s because Garvey, formerly an all-star first baseman who helped first the Los Angeles Dodgers and later the San Diego Padres into the World Series, possesses more name recognition than all three Democrats combined.


        Yes, that’s even true for Schiff, who led two impeachment efforts against former President Donald Trump, becoming a national Democratic hero in the process.


        Garvey’s name recognition allows him to take advantage of the simple math that governs many California primary elections, especially those at the statewide level like this one.


        That arithmetic says almost half of all registered voters call themselves Democrats, while about one-fourth list themselves with no party preference (NPP) and another quarter identify as Republicans.


        In a typical primary, slightly over half the NPP voters end up casting ballots for Republicans. Because the GOP has lately included very few politicians of major prominence, those votes have usually been splintered. But the latest surveys show Garvey, a political neophyte at 75,  has managed to gain support from most Republicans. So the GOP vote will likely not be as divided as it often is in the election that begins soon, when mail ballots arrive in most mailboxes.


        But the Democrats will be as fractured as ever. A January poll conducted for Politico and Morning Consult showed Schiff leading the field with 26 percent support to 14 percent for Porter and Lee with 12 percent. Meanwhile, Garvey snuck into second place in this survey at 15 percent, meaning he’s getting about 60 percent of all GOP support. As the primary grows closer, Garvey figures to draw more support away from other Republicans like the initial GOP leader, lawyer and die-hard Donald Trump backer Eric Early.


        Schiff’s lead in the Politico/Morning Consult survey was his largest in any poll yet, as many voters listed earlier as undecided began to make up their minds.


        He also differentiated himself from the field by refusing to call for an early cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war, saying he agrees with Israeli politicians who say the fighting must continue until Hamas is decimated.


        Meanwhile, Garvey has hinted at a similar stance. But he has spoken mostly in generalities, not pretending to be a political expert.


        Because most Schiff stances are congruent with those of Porter and Lee, with only a shade of difference on the Middle East, chances are Schiff would have little trouble consolidating former Porter and Lee supporters behind him in the November vote, even if Garvey becomes the first Republican in 10 years to make a California Senate runoff ballot.


        Even with millions of voters still undecided, the three Democrats combine to draw support from more than 50 percent of likely voters today. That phenomenon figures to turn into a majority of about 60 percent for whichever Democrat makes the runoff, if just one does.


        But if two Democrats make it through to November, the fall race could be much tighter than if it involves a Republican.


        For that would likely mean either Porter or Lee would be contesting Schiff, and either figures to draw a large groundswell of support from liberal women.


        All of which means this race should only grow more interesting and lively as the primary nears and the contest then moves toward November. The eventual outcome is easily predictable if just one Democrat makes the runoff, but very difficult to forecast if the ultimate matchup pits two Democrats against each other in a third consecutive California Senate race.




    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







One of the more interesting statements in a recent news story about the just-arrived $34.50 per month increase in the average household bill came from California’s largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, came Carla Peterman. a top PG&E executive.


The money PG&E (soon to be matched by its south state counterparts Southern California Edison, Southern California Gas and San Diego Gas & Electric) will receive in this new $414 per year average levy on each PG&E customer will be used to make the electric system safer and more renewable, Peterman claimed.


That’s pious talk typical of major utility executives, who usually take home high six-figure salaries and have never been held personally accountable for their professional actions and failings. One example: When PG&E was criminally convicted and fined hundreds of millions for causing multi-fatal disasters like a natural gas explosion and the wildfire destruction of virtually an entire town, no executive suffered any legal consequence.


No one has even asked executives to speak under oath about why they didn’t make their system safer long before the many disasters of the last seven years.


Peterman, it turns out, has had a major role in all this. Now executive vice president and a major spokeswoman for PG&E, she was not long ago one of the five state regulators who consistently neglected to hold utility executives responsible for their actions. Was this part of a plan or a deal?


From December 2012 until December 2018, Peterman was one of the virtually untouchable members of the California Public Utilities Commission, holding an appointive job where she could not be fired, not even by the governor who put her there, Jerry Brown.


        This sequence leads to questions about whose interests Peterman really pursued while a utility regulator – those of the mass of Californians who are utility customers or those of the utility company whose ranks she would later join. There could also be reasonable questions about whether her votes on the commission were motivated at least in part by promises of a high-paying future job.


        No one but Peterman and the folks who put her where she now is can know for sure about that. But if she had held a federal regulatory job with policy-making power similar to the post she occupied for six years, she at least could not have joined any company under her old job’s purview until five years after leaving the government post.


        Peterman is not unique. A similar apparent conflict of interest for Michael Peevey, a former president of SoCal Edison, all 14 years he was a PUC member, serving as its its president most of that time before resigning in disgrace in 2014. Peevey was implicated in an apparent conspiracy with Edison executives over whether customers or the company would pay most costs of the Edison blunder that wrecked the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.


        Peevey was first appointed a commissioner by Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, then reappointed by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger and again by Democrat Brown. The Peevey conflict of interest had an opposite sequence to Peterman’s, as he ruled repeatedly on rates for the company he formerly ran.


     Meanwhile, the sequence for John Bryson was almost identical to Peterman’s. Bryson, a 1970s-era Brown appointee as commission president, became SoCal Edison’s president soon after his six years on the PUC were up, later becoming U.S. Secretary of Commerce under President Barack Obama.


        These are just three examples of the kind of conflicts of interest spawned by a system where the five PUC commissioners are essentially immune from public pressure during their terms. There has often been speculation about whether some had secret understandings with regulated companies involving high-paying positions in exchange for favors done.


        What’s known right now is that as PG&E bills begin arriving in the mailboxes and computers of both private customers and businesses of all sizes, costs for everything from food to roofing to appliances will rise. Plus, the $34.50 rate hike itself will mean less food, less heat and less flexibility for myriad Californians.


        If that’s not a loud call for state legislators to take action to preclude future conflicts of interest, it’s hard to see what could be.




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