The Transportation Revolution – Fixing California Part Four

Reading California’s “Transportation Plan 2050” is a depressing journey into groupthink. Like everything coming out of the one-party bureaucracy, it is the bland product of endless meetings between “stakeholders” with the only common thread being a terror of contributing anything that might violate the pieties of climate alarm and the desperate need for “equity.” The result is a Stalinesque exercise in mediocrity, without even requiring a Stalin.

Actually, mediocre may be too light a term to describe this document, because mediocre implies something relatively inert. But the recommendations this document offers in 154 pages of mind-numbing detail, will serve to increase the momentum of policies that are guaranteed to further impoverish Californians.

California’s “Transportation Plan 2050” is consistent with a mentality that must be defeated. It is a dark vision of the future, where people will be priced out of owning and operating independent vehicles or flying, and public expenditures on transportation will be focused on modes of mass transit that are rapidly headed for obsolescence. It is a vision of the future where people of average income will be forced to live in multi-story apartment buildings and take mass transit everywhere they go, not by choice, but by economic policies and government spending choices that leave them no alternative.As with water and energy, the conventional wisdom that governs current planning is exactly the opposite of what is coming. The conventional wisdom is that abundance—in this case in the form of inexpensive, uncongested transportation options—is impossible. But, as with water and energy, this is false. The primary reason this is false is that new technologies make the common road the future of transportation, not the past, and because there are leapfrog technologies that will render most forms of passenger rail obsolete within a few decades, while also taking additional pressure off of roads.

The other concept missing from California’s current transportation consensus is mere practicality. It is not practical to rely on bicycles to get around. The situations where it’s possible to ride a bike to work or to shop or to class or to deliver children to their activities, and so on, are miniscule compared to the practical necessities of life. Bike activists are yet another example of a vocal and influential minority that are given voice by activists who think that cars are ecologically unsustainable. That, too, is a myth. It is self-evident that bikes will not replace more than a minute fraction of California’s transportation requirements. The case for cars is more complex but nonetheless unequivocal.

California has already seen the emergence of electric vehicles with performance specifications that outperform gasoline-powered vehicles in almost every respect. They have more horsepower, more torque, and lower maintenance. Their only weakness, and it’s a big one, is that the typical electric car, even at a fast-charging station, recharges at a rate of about 10-15 miles per minute. A gasoline-powered car, to use the same comparison, recharges at a rate of about 50-100 miles per minute. For the time being, this is a flaw that will prevent universal adoption of electric vehicles.

It would be a mistake, however, to write off the potential for ongoing breakthroughs in charge-time. Lucid Motors, a Silicon Valley startup, has announced its debut vehicle will be able to charge at a rate of 20 miles per minute. At that rate, EVs begin to approach refill times comparable to gasoline engines. Five minutes at the gas pump enables a 300-mile range; 15 minutes at a fast charger does the same.  According to Business Insider, a Chinese company has just announced an EV battery that can be fully recharged in five minutes.There are other objections to EVs. The environmental footprint of the EV is arguably as big as that of the gasoline-powered car. But that, too, is changing. Gasoline-powered cars, for example, are now almost completely recycled when scrapped. The same is increasingly possible for EVs, even including the batteries. Opponents of EVs are correct to point out their environmental footprint, but the same may be said about gasoline cars, as well as any form of mass transit. As EVs, and their batteries, become 100 percent recyclable, the argument is moot. Everything is going to have a footprint—another truth that is selectively recognized by California’s allegedly green clerisy.

But making a case for EVs, green, clean, and recyclable, is only one reason that roads are the future of transportation. What about the likely possibility that combustibles will become either carbon-neutral or carbon emissions-free? Biofuel processed from algae grown in tank farms that don’t consume a lot of space—don’t laugh, it could scale up fast—would be carbon neutral, and enable internal combustion engines to remain on the road forever. Fuel cells that run on emissions-free hydrogen, which already offer superior range when used on drones, may eventually become commercially viable power plants for EVs.These factors, some of which are likely to be realized in the near future, combined with the inevitable reality of cars that will drive themselves—freeing vehicle occupants to work, recreate, or sleep while in motion—are the reason roads are the future. Why on earth would anyone want to ride a bike to a rail station, wait for a train, marinate inside the railcars with passengers and pathogens, then walk or pedal a rent-a-bike to work, when one can simply convoy one’s individual vehicle into a smart lane and without so much as looking at the road ahead—travel from doorstep to destination?

Next-generation vehicles, in all sizes and configurations, have the potential to replace most if not all proposed mass transit solutions both for intercity and long-range travel. The maximum safe and sustainable cruising speed of a modern electric vehicle is conservatively pegged at 120 MPH. Vehicles of the future will not only be configured similarly to conventional cars and SUVs, they will also be mobile hotel rooms, entertainment lounges, offices, conference rooms, and buses of all sizes, offering countless levels of services. On properly designed and maintained roads, there is no reason these vehicular solutions cannot replace nearly all current or proposed modes of surface-based transit, certainly including California’s high-speed rail scheme but probably including most light rail as well.

This is the choice facing Californians, a choice that is completely denied by the “visionaries” that came up with the “California Transportation Plan 2050.”

There’s much more.

Nowhere in this document are other imminent transportation breakthroughs even mentioned. They mention high-speed rail, not bothering to admit that California’s tepid design is several generations behind the fastest trains being built in the rest of the world. If we’re going to build one, at least build one that’s cutting edge! But making fun of high-speed rail is easy. Instead of killing the project, an interesting twist, and something we ought to expect from leaders in a state as packed with innovators as California still is, would be to convert the miles of pylons already traversing Fresno and Kern counties into supports for a hyperloop prototype. The fastest bullet train on earth, operated by the Central Japan Railway Company, has been clocked at over 374 miles per hour. California’s bullet train is unlikely to even go half that fast. But a hyperloop can transport people, theoretically, at speeds in excess of jet airliners, over 500 MPH. Try that. If you’re going to fund a boondoggle, at least push the envelope.

Meanwhile, however, tunneling may be another way to relieve California’s congested urban boulevards and freeways. Elon Musk’s Boring Company is an example of a privately funded transit solution that can transport public and private vehicles point-to-point underground, moving them on and off surface streets with elevators. The Boring Company’s website makes a provocative assertion: “The construction industry is one of the only sectors in our economy that has not improved its productivity in the last 50 years.”

With achievements in aerospace productivity that have shocked the critics, there is no reason to doubt the revolutionary potential in Musk’s assertion. His reasons? He proposes the following innovations to lower the cost of tunneling by a factor of between 4 and 10: 1) triple the power output of the tunnel boring machine’s cutting unit, 2) continuously tunnel instead of alternating between boring and installing supporting walls, 3) automate the tunnel boring machine, eliminating most human operators, 4) go electric, and 5) engage in tunneling research and development.The combination of practical innovations and an optimistic perspective are how Musk’s SpaceX lowered the cost of lifting a payload into earth orbit by an order of magnitude in just 10 years. Why not allow Musk’s Boring Company and other tunneling innovators to go underneath California’s cities, starting with Los Angeles, and create radical new ways for ordinary people, with or without their cars, to cross the city?

And while underground offers space to move through tunnels, above-ground offers space to move through the air. And again, nowhere in California’s transportation planning is there mention of the imminent revolution in passenger drones. And just as with self-driving cars, virtually every aerospace, automotive, and high-tech company on earth is working on passenger drones. Perhaps ironically, most of the major players are operating in California. Uber has formed “Uber Air,” or Elevate, to develop aerial transportation systems. Google has two companies, operating in stealth, Cora, and Kitty Hawk. Also active in California are the companies Aurora, in partnership with Boeing, and Vahana, in partnership with Airbus.An interesting company based in Santa Cruz is Joby Aviation. With an IPO imminent, Joby Aviation appears to be a serious contender to deliver the first aerial taxi. Investors include Intel Capital, Toyota AI Ventures, JetBlue Technology Ventures, and Capricorn Investment Group.

This is fascinating stuff. Apparently most “air taxis” (or “sky cabs”) being developed are powered by electricity, and in many respects are just enlarged versions of the drones now commonly used by hobbyists and photographers. Joby Aviation’s initial aircraft design has a range of 150 miles on a single battery charge, carrying up to four passengers. The aircraft travels at relatively low altitudes to avoid having to pressurize the cabin. They are expected to be “100 times quieter during takeoff and landing than a helicopter and near-silent during flyovers.”

No discussion of the imminent revolution in vehicle transportation is complete without considering the possibility of travel by land and by air in the same passenger module, with a separate wheeled module (the “skateboard”) for land travel, which detaches and remains on the ground when the passenger module is lifted airborne by an independent flight module. As reported in, Audi and Airbus are working on just such a solution.

Policymakers have a choice. They can recognize that private industry is creating new ways to travel on land, underground, and in the air. They can cooperate to develop uniform standards and updated laws to expedite this transformation. They can revise zoning laws, redirect funding priorities, and invest in new roads and communications infrastructure. Or they can neglect road construction and instead continue to build public mass-transit systems that offer dubious prospects of ever solving growing transportation bottlenecks.

This is the enticing, bright future that is coming at California despite the pious proclamations of the political class. Where is the excitement? Where is the optimism? Instead of creating “equity” by cramming everyone into apartments and making them ride trains, why doesn’t California widen the roads, add smart lanes on the freeways for high-speed autonomous vehicles, work with the FAA to designate aerial lanes for passenger drones, unleash tunneling companies to create subterranean transportation corridors, and get out of the way. Spending precious government funds on light rail that nobody wants to ride is a fool’s errand. Declaring war on the car is shortsighted cruelty. We can do so much more.

This article originally appeared on the website American Greatness.

U.S. Supreme Court Overrules 9th Circuit on Ballot Harvesting

California Has 1.8M More Registered Voters Than it Should, the Globe reported recently. California’s November 3, 2020 election was marred by significant voting and registration irregularities, the Election Integrity Project® California, Inc. reported to California’s Secretary of State Shirley Weber June 17, 2021.

For several years, Election Integrity Project California, Inc. team leaders have trained thousands of citizens to monitor California elections. EIPCa collects and analyzes voter registration and voting data, as well as county policies and procedures for election management and ballot processing, and presents a unique, unbiased perspective on the impact that lack of voting protections has in the state of California, a friend of the court brief says.

EIPCa’s motto is “Every Lawfully Cast Vote Accurately Counted.” Ballot harvesting flouts that principle by facilitating unlawful voting through undue influence, duplicative votes from out-of-date registrations, and other tactics discussed below, the court brief explains.

“The Court need look no further than the state of California as the model for what occurs when most protections are removed. In 2018, lax voting protections, a failure to properly implement a new voter registration system and systematic failures to ensure accurate voter rolls led to widespread voter confusion and possible disenfranchisement,” the brief says.

“Abusive ballot harvesting is a common vulnerability in vote-by-mail and absentee ballot systems demanding Arizona’s legislative response.”

Last year, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that prohibiting ballot harvesting and requiring in-person voters to cast their vote at their designated precinct violated the Voting Rights Act in that they disproportionately affected minority voters and were enacted with discriminatory intent, an EIPCa press statement reports.

Non-partisan Election Integrity Project California (EIPCa) and Election Integrity Project Arizona (EIPAz), together with attorney Mike O’Neil of Landmark Legal Foundation filed the friend of the court brief informing the Court of the dangers of ballot harvesting.

EIPCa continued: Justice Alito, writing for the majority, noted that states have a legitimate interest in preventing voter fraud and that these policies work to prevent such fraud. “Fraud can affect the outcome of a close election, and fraudulent votes dilute the right of citizens to cast ballots that carry appropriate weight,” the Court continued. “Fraud can also undermine public confidence in the fairness of elections and the perceived legitimacy of the announced outcome.”

Thursday, the Supreme Court disagreed and overruled the 9th Circuit. Their decision ruled that federal law does not deprive states like Arizona of their authority to establish non-discriminatory voting rules to protect the sanctity of the vote nor did the Arizona legislature act with discriminatory intent when it enacted the policies.

Equally important, the Court found that “[e]nsuring that every vote is cast freely, without intimidation or undue influence, is [a] valid and important state interest.”

“We are heartened the Supreme Court has concluded that states have a right to enact commonsense laws that protect the integrity of the election process, thereby restoring the public’s faith in election outcomes,” Linda Paine, EIPCa President said. “Ballot harvesting removes the chain of custody protection allowing harvesters to seek out ballots that will be favorable to one side or another,” she added. “It is EIPCa’s major objective that California follow Arizona’s lead and begin to take steps to correct the many electoral vulnerabilities that have plagued our great state for years.”

The friend of the court brief explains:

Vote-by-mail or “absentee” voting, while becoming fashionable nationally as a method of voting, is particularly vulnerable to corruption such as vote manipulation, voter intimidation, and fraudulent ballot harvesting. What began decades ago as an ad hoc exemption for individual voters who would be absent from their locale on election day, has ballooned into common practice or even the legal standard. In the 2020 general election and in response to the COVID-19 crisis, around 65 million individuals cast their vote by mail. Michael McDonald, 2020 General Election Early Vote Statistics, U.S. Elections Project (Nov. 23, 2020).2 And states vary in how they regulate this type of voting.

Overturning the decision of the Ninth Circuit ensures that states may continue to implement commonsense protections for a method of voting that is outside the security of the election booth and inherently vulnerable. Removing protections such as limitations on the handling and delivery of vote-by-mail ballots will deny states a method to protect their electoral system from unscrupulous third parties who engage in ballot harvesting. Voter chaos ensues when protections are removed.

Even a study skeptical of the incidence of voter fraud generally acknowledges the dangers in vote-by-mail. It notes that, when fraud does occur, “absentee ballots are the method of choice.” The American Voting Experience: Report and Recommendations of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration 56 (2014).

Inaccuracies can, in part, be traced to states’ failures to enforce the provisions of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which require state election officials to ensure the accuracy of registration lists by confirming residency and periodically removing the names of dead or out of state residents from voter rolls. Millions of voters’ names appear on multiple state voter registration lists because states do not routinely share registration data.

Ballot-harvesting groups can easily exploit the situation and commit wholesale voter fraud. Such exploitation has occurred in the past.

California does not limit who may handle ballots and places very few restrictions on ballot collection. While ballot harvesters in California are required to write their name, signature, and relationship to the voter on the vote-by-mail envelope, a failure to provide this information will not cause a disqualification of the ballot.

Perhaps most important, the brief pointed out, “If the Ninth Circuit’s decision stands, voter protections throughout the country will be challenged and overturned. Activist groups will challenge similar laws in other states and courts will have to declare such laws illegal.”

The brief is fascinating and goes into great detail explaining just how shady ballot harvesting is.

Katy Grimes, the Editor of the California Globe, is a long-time Investigative Journalist covering the California State Capitol, and the co-author of California’s War Against Donald Trump: Who Wins? Who Loses?

This article was originally published by the California Globe.

Achieving Water Abundance – Fixing California Part Three

As Californians face another drought, the official consensus response is more rationing. Buy washers that don’t work very well. Install more flow restricters. Move down from a 50 gallon per person, per day limit for indoor water consumption to 40 gallons per person per day. For California’s farmers, recent legislation has not only lowered what percentage of river flow can be diverted to agriculture, but now also restricts groundwater pumping. The impact is regressive, with consequences ranging from petty and punitive to catastrophic and existential.

Wealthy homeowners pay the fines and water their lawns, while ordinary citizens are forced to obsess over every drop. Corporate farm operations navigate the countless regulatory agencies while family farmers are driven insolvent. And the worse it gets, the more the story stays the same: We have wasted water, destroyed ecosystems, and now we must embrace an era of limits. But this is a perilous path.

Maybe the consensus model of water management in California works for corporations that want to consolidate the agricultural industry. Maybe it benefits developers who want to build apartments with no yards, where the interiors are equipped with “water sipping” (lousy) appliances. Maybe the public utilities prefer a model where they don’t have to build new infrastructure because per capita consumption is driven down. Maybe the “smart growth” advocates for “infill” love the idea they can sell high density more easily because if everyone uses half as much water, twice as many households can occupy the same square mile of urban space. But as demand is ratcheted down closer and closer to supply, the system loses all resiliency.

The concept of abundance isn’t merely to preserve the lifestyles to which we have become accustomed. Abundance also protects against downside risk. What if the next drought doesn’t last five years, but goes on for a few decades or more? There is historical precedent for that in California, regardless of current worries about climate change. What if there’s a terrorist attack, a cyberattack, a war, or another natural disaster and California’s water infrastructure suffers significant damage?

Abundance means redundancy, diversity, resiliency. The case for water abundance in California is compelling not merely so California’s residents can enjoy amenities that citizens of a developed, modern nation are entitled to expect. Water abundance also means Californians are better prepared for cataclysms.

This was well understood in the 1960s, when California’s pragmatic Governor Pat Brown, and his successor Ronald Reagan, presided over the construction of the California Water Project, which remains the most impressive system of water engineering ever built. But starting in the 1970s, when Jerry Brown (Pat’s son) first became governor of California, water infrastructure became less of a priority. For the last 40 years, apart from some investment in wastewater recycling, there has been no significant new project in California designed to increase the supply of water. Conservation, a commendable objective, bought Californians 40 years. In that time, the population has grown from 25 million to nearly 40 million, while the supply of fresh water for people and agriculture has remained fixed.

Coming up with projects to restore water abundance to California is relatively easy: Build a few more surface storage assets, most notably the proposed Sites and Temperance Flat reservoirs. Upgrade and increase the capacity of existing surface storage, such as the San Luis and Shasta reservoirs. Complete the transition to total wastewater recycling to potable standards in all of California’s major urban areas, and supplement that, especially in Southern California, with additional coastline desalination plants. Repair existing aqueducts and upgrade the Delta levees—and voilà, you’re done.

Even at California prices, this entire assortment of major civil engineering projects could be accomplished for around $50 billion. With some of the work financed through revenue bonds, the entire debt burden on the average California household would be under $100 per year.

So why don’t we do it?

For one thing, special interests benefit from politically contrived scarcity and conservation mandates. And while these special interests exploit environmentalism, that doesn’t negate legitimate environmental concerns that can’t be ignored. Groundwater depletion has caused land subsidence. That’s the real reason for salt water intrusion into the Delta, far more of a factor than the relatively negligible impact of sea-level rise. Land subsidence has also damaged California’s aqueducts. And eventually depleted aquifers become so degraded they can no longer be recharged. Something had to be done.

Similarly, the health of aquatic ecosystems—California’s rivers and the Delta—are not only aesthetic and moral imperatives, but have a practical impact on commercial fisheries. Balancing the need to protect the environment with the needs of agricultural and urban consumers cannot be dismissed. But none of these considerations should preclude the commencement of new projects to increase California’s annual supply of water. Conservation is simply not enough.

And it is here where the role of California’s environmentalist lobby has been destructive.

Environmentalists and Other Obstructionists

Environmentalists in California, unfortunately, object to virtually every major project that would increase the supply of water. Desalination is relentlessly attacked, despite being in use throughout the world. Environmentalist litigation is the reason that desalination plants cost two to five times as much to construct in California as they do in other places, from Israel and Saudi Arabia to Singapore and Australia. As for surface storage, even off-stream reservoirs, such as the proposed Sites Reservoir that don’t impede the flow of any river, or those situated in-stream but upstream of existing dams, like the proposed Temperance Flat, or raising the height of the Shasta Dam, are anathema to environmentalists.

Objections to these projects are cases where environmentalists go too far. But they’re not alone. Libertarians and, more generally, anti-tax crusaders, are also unhelpful when it comes to the infrastructure that California badly needs. Even when projects are proposed that encounter fewer environmentalist objections, such as wastewater recycling, well-organized opponents who can’t accept any government spending on infrastructure dutifully join the fray. Both of these camps, the greens and the anti-tax gangs, have acquired influence that can only be countered by a broad revision in public attitudes.

Using general obligation bonds to finance water infrastructure socializes the cost of these amenities to all Californians. By financing half of a water project with general obligation bonds, the burden to the general public is reduced. For example, if half of a $50 billion water infrastructure budget were financed through general obligation bonds, the repayment burden on California’s 13 million households would only be $125 per year, and most of that would fall to the higher income groups for whom $125 means one less bottle of wine per year. But the benefit would accrue to allCalifornians. Because the other $25 billion in revenue bonds would be matched by general obligation bonds, the rates farmers would pay for water stored behind new dams would be cut nearly in half, as would the rates that urban households would pay for desalinated or recycled water.

This is a model for affordable abundant water in California. This is the achievement that has precedent in the water projects of the 1960s and could be realized in the 2020s if there were a change in attitude and a new consensus. This is the grand bargain that can inspire Californians to demand practical environmentalism and accept debt for worthy projects. This is a model to lower the cost of living.

By making California’s coastal cities independent of imported water, and by collecting millions of additional acre feet behind new dams during wet years to release during dry years, both farmers and California’s aquatic ecosystems have far more available water. Suddenly the tradeoffs between the needs of the environment and the agricultural industry become manageable.

Pragmatic solutions exist. Beyond a new resilience, abundance is possible. And optimism is the fuel to make it happen.

This article originally appeared on the website American Greatness.

Newsom’s Misguided Funding Priorities on Wildfire Prevention

With multiple wildfires raging across Northern California, you would think Gov. Newsom would be in line for good headlines for his handling of the wildfire fighting and prevention efforts. Think again. The Governor is apparently burning bridges with recent news that he misled Californians about wildfire protection.

On June 23, Capital Public Radio broke the news that Newsom had misled the public about the effectiveness of his administration’s more than 30 wildfire prevention projects treating 90,000 acres.

Newsom publicly declared the projects were complete in January 2020, but Capital Public Radio article gives us this sober reality about the Governor’s plan, “The investigation found Newsom overstated, by an astounding 690%, the number of acres treated with fuel breaks and prescribed burns in the very forestry projects he said needed to be prioritized to protect the state’s most vulnerable communities.”

According to the article, 11,399 acres received fire prevention work, not 90,000. But the Newsom fire acreage story is only half the issue.

The Newsom administration cut wildfire prevention funding by half in the final 2021-22 budget bill, according to Capital Public Radio reporting.

“Newsom had called for over $700 million for wildfire prevention and resilience in his revised budget in May,” the report said. “The Legislature increased that amount to $1 billion in its budget bill. But the final budget deal includes less than half of that — $458 million over the next year.”

The Newsom administration also reportedly pushed back the completion date for the state fire reduction fuel plan for 500,000 acres from 2023 to 2025, and administration officials said they had to turn down federal money because there wasn’t enough time to complete the projects. When has state government, especially a progressive one like California, turned down money?

It’s a political risky and potentially reckless move as California will inevitably face another round of destructive wildfires this summer.

Consider that the 2018 Camp Fire in Paradise, California, was the deadliest wildfire in state history with 85 people killed and more than $8 billion in damage.

Last year broke nearly every wildfire record in California; most acres burned (over 4.1 million) and five of the six largest fires in California history. Don’t forget those power shutoffs that left hundreds of thousands without power for days at a time with little notice. Many cities looked like an apocalyptic Hollywood movie due to the massive amount of smoke last year.

Californians do not need an argument about the impact wildfires have been having to the state. The risk to life, property, and well-being have been felt across the state for years.

Newsom’s overlooking and underfunding wildfire prevention projects and lack of investment are a head-scratcher. Add the state drought into the picture and it is almost negligent that the Newsom administration seemingly doesn’t have their stuff together on wildfires.

Hopefully, the state has a quiet fire season. But if the last several years are any indicator, we could be in for a long, hot summer. Let’s hope the state has the resources to keep up with wildfires and let’s pray none of the areas Newsom promised to clear go up in smoke.

Evan Harris is the media relations and outreach manager for PRI.

This article was originally published by the Pacific Research Institute.

Fixing California – Part Two, The Electric Age

If energy were abundant, clean, and sustainable, nearly every other daunting challenge facing humanity would be much easier to solve. Insufficient water? No problem. Pump more water around via inter-basin transfers and build more desalination plants. Can’t convert the transportation sector to all-electric vehicles? You can if energy is abundant. Generate all the electricity you need.

Energy solves almost every other resource-related challenge facing humanity. The more energy the better. As with water, energy abundance brings with it not only more practical options in almost every economic sector, and at a lower price, but it brings resilience as well.

On the other hand, pushing all excess out of the system via conservation mandates that amount to increasingly severe rationing leaves the system—and everything that depends on it—vulnerable to catastrophe under what might otherwise be a minor disruption.

The strategic goal of California’s energy planners is for the state to become “carbon neutral” as soon as possible. They view this both as an existential necessity and an achievable utopian dream. To accomplish this, California’s determination to be the first developed economy in the world to go fully electric is well established. Governor Gavin Newsom has decreed via executive order that new passenger car and truck sales have to be all-electric by 2035. In this he has the enthusiastic support of the state legislature. At the same time, the legislature is making it nearly impossible to install gas appliances in new homes. Expect that effort to only intensify in the coming years.

No gasoline allowed. No natural gas allowed. With those constraints, how will California ever achieve energy abundance? Gasoline, used almost exclusively as a transportation fuel, was responsible for 22 percent of the totalenergy consumed by Californians in 2019. In that same year, natural gas, which provided fuel for 43 percent of California’s total electricity generation, supplied 33 percent of the total energy consumed by Californians. Overall, natural gas and gasoline, the forbidden duo, provide over half of the energy on which Californians currently rely.

To create energy abundance without natural gas or gasoline, production of every other fuel Californians use would have to double. But what are these fuels? Are they acceptable? Not really. Additional fossil fuel sources include jet fuel at 8 percent, with other petroleum and distillate fuel oil adding another 12 percent. Despite all the work of recent decades, fossil fuel is still powering well over 80 percent of California’s economy.

The challenge doesn’t end there. Also out of favor is nuclear power, despite providing another two percent to the total energy Californians consume, and hydroelectric power, which adds another four percent. The favored few—biomass, solar, geothermal and wind—altogether account for only five percent of California’s total energy production. As for the rest, fully nine percent of California’s energy comes in the form of electricity imported from other states.

Understanding California’s Energy Landscape

These facts represent a reality that ought to have California’s legislators scratching their heads, instead of plunging headlong into additional renewables mandates and conservation schemes.

The underlying strategy is absolutely clear, but rarely expressed openly: Make energy cost so much that bleeding edge technologies can be mandated and the financing to pay for them will be covered by the consumer. And if the consumer can’t afford it, special government programs will subsidize those lower income households. Middle class Californians thus get a double hit—once as ratepayers for needlessly expensive energy, and again as taxpayers who have to pay to subsidize the less fortunate.

To get an idea of how complex the process is of getting from raw energy sources—fossil fuels, nuclear, hydro, wind and solar—to actual electrons running appliances or furnaces heating homes, Lawrence Livermore Labs and the U.S. Department of Energy have produced a flow chart that merits close study.

While there is a lot to digest in this energy flow chart, it offers valuable insight even without bombarding the observer with numbers. On the left, source fuel inputs are depicted, with the thickness of the lines (not the boxes) denoting the relative quantities of each fuel. Because electricity is not a source fuel, but has to be manufactured either using solar photons, or using a generator turned by wind, water, or fossil fuel, the box “Electricity Generation” shows up in the center left of the flow chart, in order to aggregate and redirect the quantities of source fuels that were converted into electricity. Further to the right, four boxes are used to aggregate and categorize what sectors make use of the various fuels including electricity, they are “Residential,” “Commercial,” “Industrial,” and “Transportation.”

It is immediately obvious that solar (yellow line) and wind energy (purple line) currently contribute an insignificant share of the total. Moreover, the method used by the study’s authors  to estimate the amount of solar energy contributed to the grid greatly overstates the actual amount. Their error was to take the amount of actual solar electricity generated in 2018, 27.5 gigawatt-hours which converts to 93 TBTU (trillion British thermal units), and improperly inflate it.

Instead of recognizing that photovoltaic power generation is directly transmitted to the grid without loss, the amount of solar power shown in the yellow box on the upper right of the flow chart declares 382 TBTUs of energy flowed into the grid. The reason for this error, based on a flawed assumption that is explained in the footnotes on the flow chart (which I confirmed with an electricity grid expert at the California Department of Energy), was to assume that solar power is subject to the same conversion inefficiencies as burning fossil fuel.

The implications of this are interesting. Out of 7,404 TBTUs (adjusted for the error, 7,115 TBTUs) of raw source fuels consumed, only 93 TBTUs came from solar electricity; that’s 1.3 percent. That means Californians are a long way off from entering the solar electric age.

And yet the fact that solar electricity loses very little power when going from photovoltaic power to the grid to an EV battery to an engine is an encouraging fact. Electric transmission losses are about 10 percent, with perhaps another 10 percent lost in the onboard battery’s charge/discharge cycle and the electric motor’s conversion of electrons into traction. Compare photovoltaic electricity’s 80 percent efficiency getting from source to end-user to the average natural gas power plant, which can only achieve efficiencies of around 42 percent, or a gasoline powered automobile, which at best can achieve efficiencies of 35 percent.

The consequences of energy inefficiency—the amount of source fuel inputs that are lost to excess heat and friction—are seen on the far right of the flow chart, in the box “rejected energy,” which is twice as much as the box “energy services.” Of the estimated 7,404 TBTU of source fuel consumed by Californians in 2018, 4,907 TBTUs were wasted, and only half that much was enjoyed by Californians in the form of lighting, heating and air-conditioning, vehicular traction, and so on. By how much could Californians reduce the amount of fuel input, while keeping level or increasing their actual energy services, if they went totally electric?

Understanding Units of Energy Measurement

Anyone who has spent enough time reading the publications and reports that tout a clean energy future sees the marketing images: windmills presiding benignly over green pastures, solar panels glinting in the sunlight, row after row, set against a scenic horizon. But how many of California’s politicians, much less the marketing consultants and graphic artists who are selling this dream, have actually tried to parse gigawatt-years into quadrillion British thermal units? It’s not tough math. But it’s awfully tedious.

Policymakers, along with anyone with strong opinions on California’s energy policies, are encouraged to wade through these calculations, because they are crucial variables affecting the future of every Californian.

The first variable to understand is quadrillion BTUs. A BTU, or British thermal unit, is a measurement of energy typically used by economists. It is the amount of energy required to heat one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. Economists refer to the total energy consumption of entire states and nations in “Quad BTUs,” which refers to 1 quadrillion (1,000,000,000,000,000) BTUs. California, in 2019, consumed 7.8 Quad BTUs of energy (up five percent from 2018). Another common term is TBTU, which stands for “trillion British thermal units” (1,000 TBTUs equals 1 Quad BTU).

The second variable to understand is gigawatt-years, which is a measurement unit used to measure large amounts of electricity. A gigawatt-year is the amount of electric energy that would be produced by a one gigawatt power plant, operating continuously for one year. Economists, energy planners, and utility executives typically prefer to report terawatt-hours, probably since most consumers understand kilowatt-hours. But gigawatt-years is a more useful measurement of electric power.

Conceptually, these units of energy measurement are all convertible. Which is to say that one Quad BTU is equivalent to 33.4 gigawatt-years, and one gigawatt-year is equivalent to 8.8 terawatt-hours. For all units of energy, from horsepower to joules, to kilowatt-hours to British thermal units, or cubic feet of natural gas to barrels of oil, there are conversion constants that allow any unit of one form of energy to be expressed using units of another form of energy. Understanding how BTUs of natural gas or gasoline convert into electricity is necessary in order to estimate how much electricity is required to eliminate natural gas or gasoline.

The other essential concept is conversion efficiency. If every form of energy converted into another form of energy with 100 percent efficiency, the conversion constants would be all that was ever needed. But as previously noted, natural gas converts into electricity in a modern power plant at about 42 percent efficiency. Gasoline converts into traction in modern automobiles at around a 35 percent efficiency. And solar electricity can be delivered through the grid to an EV and converted into traction at around an 80 percent efficiency.

It is a fair bet that most of California’s state legislators and their staffs haven’t got the slightest idea how all of this works, which is why lobbyists for special interests and their useful cadres of fanatical activists (equally ignorant of energy dynamics) are so powerful.

Is a Solar Electric Economy Possible?

If you fly from California’s capital city, Sacramento, southeast into Los Angeles, you’ll see a growing number of sparkling greyish silver patches occupying sections of what previously was irrigated farmland in the San Joaquin Valley. These are photovoltaic arrays, ordered in row after row like crops, tracking the sun, each of them making their contribution to California’s electricity grid. And catching up fast are battery farms, many of them located on the sites of decommissioned natural gas power plants, designed to soak up and store the surplus electricity generated during the hours of peak sunlight, for discharge typically in the early evening when grid demand goes up as the sun goes down.

It would go well beyond the scope of this analysis to try to precisely estimate how many TBTUs of energy input would be required to create energy abundance in a purely electric economy. But it is a relevant question to ask, since that’s where current policies are taking Californians.

For a rough estimate, therefore, take the amount of actual “energy services” consumed by all four sectors of California’s economy—residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation—during 2017. Assume that in an all-electric economy, instead of the reported 2,497 TBTUs of useful output requiring three times that amount of fuel input, based on the relative inefficiency of fossil fuel conversion to the various energy services, assume that only 25 percent more is required. Convert that to an electrical unit of measurement and you’ve got 104 gigawatt-years. Round that up to 125 gigawatt-years to be absolutely certain to achieve energy abundance.

The next thing to take into account, something heard incessantly from solar skeptics, and with good reason, is the expected amount of sunlight. Solar electricity capacity in California in 2019 was 14 gigawatts (almost all via photovoltaics, but including 1.2 gigawatts of solar thermal generating plants). But the solar electric output in that year was only 3.4 gigawatt-years. This disparity is due to the unfortunate reality of clouds and nighttime. By using gigawatt-years as the unit to measure total output, it is easy to see that the collective yield of California’s solar arrays is only 24 percent. It’s even less than that during the shorter daylight of winter. According to sources at the California Energy Commission, the average performance for the large photovoltaic farms (10 megawatts and up) is an impressive 38 percent in June and July, but a dismal 13 percent in December and barely improved 16 percent in January.

What this means is that for solar power to do the whole job, the size of the solar arrays have to be scaled to generate 125 gigawatts of continuous power in January. We may assume that battery substations on every street corner, power walls behind every garage, and 15 million electric vehicles with onboard batteries will guarantee continuous power on the smart grid. That’s part of the plan. But if the sun is only delivering 13 percent efficiency, that means you need an array of photovoltaic panels big enough to collect and store enough excess power while the winter sun does shine to discharge at a rate of 125 gigawatts all day and all night. That means the capacity of the collective solar arrays in an electrified California would have to be 125/.13, or 961 gigawatts.

This is an almost unimaginably large quantity of solar panels. Modern photovoltaic panels will produce about 15 watts per square foot in full sun. Allowing for panels sufficient to generate 961 gigawatts, while allowing an equal amount of space for access roads, transmission lines, and other balance of plant necessities, it would take 4,600 square miles of California’s land to replace natural gas and gasoline.

Can that be done? Is there room? Certainly. The sunny Mojave Desert occupies 50,000 square miles, with about half of that within California. The sunny San Joaquin Valley is 10,000 square miles. California has 25,000 square miles of grazing lands. To suggest there isn’t room for all these solar panels would be disingenuous. Skeptics of photovoltaic power because of the space it takes up should not be suggesting there’s plenty of space for new suburbs. Advocates for an explosion of photovoltaic farms should not be suggesting there is no room for new homes. California is a vast, nearly empty state. Surprisingly, because it was settled relatively late, California’s 40 million people are more concentrated in urban areas than any other state.

But is this desirable? Do we want to carpet an area roughly the size of Connecticut with solar panels?

Sure, solar panels could sit atop every roof and parking structure, but that wouldn’t accommodate more than maybe 20 percent of the required total and those installations would be far more expensive. Yes, improvements to the photovoltaic substrate may eventually yield panels that can produce 20 watts per square foot in full sun, chopping the land required down to 3,449 square miles. That’s still an awful lot of territory. And what about the heat island impact of thousands of square miles of heat absorbing dark solar collectors?

Sensible proponents might suggest limiting the state’s solar share of electricity generated to the amount required during summer. In June and July, 1,573 square miles of photovoltaic arrays would fulfill 100 percent of electrified California’s energy requirements, and during the rest of the year, wind power could make up the difference. But wind energy, notwithstanding the 200 tons of concrete required per tower; or the avian, insect, and bat slaughter; or the psychosis inducing thrum; or the hideous visual blight; is also intermittent.

The problem with intermittent power is that, to the extent you build intermittent power generation from wind or solar, you have to build backup systems. It would be nice to suppose that winter winds and summer sun perfectly balance the intermittency of wind generators with the intermittency of solar panels, but they don’t. Whatever else you build, therefore, incurs a capital cost for continuous operation, but can only be turned on when the favored forms of electricity generation cannot deliver. Batteries can mitigate daily cycles, but not seasonal ones.

The redundant systems needed to produce electricity during, for example, windless nights in winter, don’t cost less to build just because they only get turned on part-time. California’s natural gas peaking plants in 2019 had a capacity of 39.4 gigawatts, but they only delivered 10.5 gigawatt-years of power. That is, they were shut down 73 percent of the time. They still cost the same amount to build. Disingenuous foes of natural gas claim electricity from natural gas is expensive. It is. But the reason is that the construction costs are being amortized over 73 percent less operating revenue than if those plants were run continuously.

The cost of a solar electric California, taking into account not only solar panels but also battery farms, conventional backup power plants, and a much more robust transmission grid, is already felt in the average retail price Californians pay for electricity. At 22.7 cents per kilowatt hour, California shares the top spot with Connecticut. Other big states come in much cheaper. In Texas, consumers pay 11.4 cents per kilowatt hour. Even New York charges less, at 18 cents per kilowatt hour. And it doesn’t end there.

To accomplish California’s broader energy strategy, every home with a gas heater or gas water heater would have to be retrofitted and every gasoline powered automobile would have to be replaced. Electric charging stations would have to replace gas stations, everywhere. The total cost would be in the hundreds of billions, if not trillions, and the ordinary consumer would foot the bill. The sheer space required for these photovoltaics, taking into account their poor performance in the winter months when there is less daylight, has to be reckoned with in any honest appraisal of solar.

How Can Energy Abundance Be Achieved?

The good news in all of this is that energy abundance is possible, and can actually be achieved at far less expense. If we strike a balance between rapid, renewables-driven electrification and an all-of-the-above approach that phases in renewable energy over a longer span of time, we can achieve energy abundance without paying exorbitant prices. California is in no danger of losing her leadership in renewables deployment, even if we slow things way down.

The urgency of the “climate emergency” inspires California’s political leaders to demand precipitous changes, both to set an example to the world, and to perfect the technologies that we will roll out to the rest of the world. But developing nations are on a path towards achieving abundance for their citizens that will embrace an all-of-the-above strategy, not a strict renewables strategy. That reality is beyond serious debate. To face that reality squarely, California should set a stellar example of an all-of-the-above energy strategy. There are many elements to this.

Clearly the role of photovoltaic power is set to increase. Costs for solar panels and batteries continue to drop, at the same time as the efficiency of solar panels and the energy density of batteries continue to increase. California’s legislature should fast track private development of the state’s ample deposits of lithium, and confront the regulatory barriers to in-state manufacturing. To go renewable, California currently outsources labor exploitation and environmental havoc. Bring it home, and do it right. Set the example. And face the increased costs, which ought to curb the enthusiasm for treating solar power and batteries as the one and only solution.

The concept of implementing a clean and enlightened all-of-the-above strategy as an example for the world means that California should build more nuclear power plants, embracing new technologies including reprocessing the waste and commissioning large-scale as well as smaller modular plants. Instead of dismantling its natural gas infrastructure, California should be rebuilding it, possibly taking into account that this extensive network can eventually be repurposed to transport hydrogen. California should continue to develop geothermal power, and rebuild its biomass generating capacity.

Instead of shutting down natural gas power plants, California should be converting them all to combined cycle where the excess heat drives a parallel steam turbine, allowing efficiencies of up to 60 percent. California should then export these clean, ultra efficient technologies to nations like Indonesia, which isn’t about to abandon fossil fuel.

California should be developing its reserves of oil and natural gas; oil because pumping it here is better than importing it from Venezuela, natural gas because it is the cheapest, cleanest fossil fuel. Embracing nuclear power and clean fossil fuel as part of a portfolio of energy options is a practical route to affordable energy abundance.

Looking to the future, California should be sponsoring research into commercializing fusion energy, satellite solar power stations, hydrogen storage solutions, and next-generation biofuels that are grown and processed in factories, to name a few examples of what could come next. More generally, California’s policymakers must recognize that innovation is going to deliver energy solutions in the next few decades that we can’t imagine today. These unforeseeable energy innovations are coming, and they will not vindicate a one-dimensional renewables strategy. Rather, endless expanses of land covered with solar farms and wind turbines will be rendered obsolete, and revealed as a tremendously destructive waste.

From an economic standpoint, the strategy of rationing supply to raise prices, which in turn enables the financing of mandated, narrow solutions, is misanthropic and regressive. It is antithetical to solutions that are pragmatic, optimistic, and embrace abundance. In some cases, enabling infrastructure to create abundance requires socializing costs through general obligation bonds, which are in turn largely paid for by high income taxpayers. That is a progressive tax framework that delivers essential public amenities while sparing the low and middle income consumers. That solution may be necessary for transportation and water infrastructure. In the case of energy, however, it is largely unnecessary.

A measured all-of-the-above strategy for energy can be primarily accomplished by deregulating nuclear and natural gas energy solutions, allowing them to compete with the emerging solar, geothermal, and biomass solutions. Affordable, abundant, sustainable energy is a realistic, moral choice. It is an example California can set that the aspiring nations of the world will emulate instead of resist. And with abundant, affordable energy, everything else is possible.

This article originally appeared on the website American Greatness.

Fixing California – Part One, The Themes That Make Anything Possible

For conservatives across America, California has become the cautionary tale for the rest of the country. Anyone who actually lives in the Golden State, and enjoys the best weather and the most beautiful, diverse scenery on earth, knows there are two sides to the story of this captivating place. Nevertheless, the story keeps getting worse.

For every essential — homes, rent, tuition, gasoline, electricity, and water — Californians pay the among the highest prices in the continental United States. Californians endure the most hostile business climate in America, and pay the highest taxes. The public schools are failing, crime is soaring, electricity is unreliable, water is rationed, and the mismanaged forests are burning like hell. Yet all of this can be fixed.

The solutions aren’t mysteries. Deregulate housing permits. End the disastrous “housing-first” policies and instead give the homeless safe housing in inexpensive barracks where sobriety is a condition of entry. Repeal Proposition 47, which downgraded property and drug crimes. Build reservoirs, desalination, and wastewater recycling plants. Build nuclear power plants and develop California’s abundant natural gas reserves. Recognize that the common road is the future of transportation, not the past, and widen California’s freeways and highways. Let the timber companies harvest more lumber in exchange for maintaining the fire roads and power line corridors. Implement school choice and make public schools compete with private schools on the basis of excellence. Done.

It isn’t quite that simple, of course, and in the articles to follow in this series, each of these issues will be looked at in greater depth. But while fixing California requires both political will and smarter investment of public funds (OK, much smarter investment of public funds), none of this can happen without a change in attitude. How we think about problems needs to change.

This isn’t just about ideology. Going into that labyrinth can become a fool’s errand. The politicians who governed California during what arguably were its greatest years were Democrats. Old-timers refer to them as the Pat Brown Democrats, leaders whose approach to politics was pragmatic and focused on serving the people. During that heyday, homes were affordable and freeways weren’t crowded. Public schools were good, and the University of California campuses offered the best public higher education in the country. The California Water Project, taking barely more than a decade to construct, remains the most impressive feat of interbasin water transfers in the world.

What happened?

Some of the constraints that have led to today’s neglect and failures are legitimate. In the 1960s the air quality in California’s urban centers, from the Santa Clara Valley to the Los Angeles Basin, was far worse than it is today, despite the fact that four times as many people are living in those basins now. Back in the 1960s, the San Francisco Bay was choking on pollution, and was on track to be filled in to make room for more suburbs.

Nobody wants to turn back the clock on an environmental cleanup that has been heroic. But today, environmentalism has gone too far. Regulations and litigation have stopped development in its tracks. More than anything else, environmentalism run amok is the reason Californians live with scarcity and high prices.

The extent and complexity of environmental regulations have allowed special interests to put their agenda ahead of the interests of ordinary Californians. Public employee unions, which didn’t even exist when Pat Brown was California’s governor 60 years ago, now exercise almost complete control over California’s state and local government agencies. Freezing infrastructure spending allows government funds to be redirected to pay and benefits for state bureaucrats, instead of to freeways and water projects. And tying development up in knots with more regulations always means more government hiring.

Also benefiting from extreme environmentalism are California’s high-tech billionaires, who now have a lucrative mandate to create an “internet of things” to monitor the consumption of resources. Public utilities benefit because their profits (which are regulated by law at a fixed percentage of revenues) soar when the per-unit costs for electricity and water go way up to pay for renewables and to cope with artificially imposed scarcity. This imposed scarcity keeps housing unaffordable, locking out homebuyers but yielding high returns to real estate speculators.

While this radical environmentalism that would have John Muir turning in his grave provides moral cover to California’s economic tyrants, a similar perversion of ideals has happened with respect to race. California is one of the last places one may find racism in the 21st century. Through the second half of the 20th century — certainly compared to every other state in America — California was not known for racism. But suddenly racism is an existential crisis. As if California’s beleaguered citizens didn’t have enough to contend with, now their failing public schools are moving even further from teaching the basics, turning instead to teach every subject through the lens of critical race theory.

We’ve heard all this before. Much of what Californians face are challenges confronting everyone in America. But California, the biggest state, and the bluest state, is a powerful trendsetter. California is broken, hijacked by opportunists wielding overwhelming financial and political power. How does this change?

The solutions to be discussed can’t succeed merely on their merits, despite a compelling case for each of them. Politicians and influencers who want to fix California have to change how people think. They have to reiterate themes that change the filters through which people form opinions. California’s voters are the victims of 50 years of increasingly effective brainwashing by the media, the public school system, Democratic politicians, and more recently (and more virulently than ever), by social media. They have to be deprogrammed.

The themes that will inspire Californians and alter their perception of issues might begin with the concept of abundance instead of scarcity. Californians have been convinced that rationing of water and energy and land is necessary to save the planet. But it isn’t. As will be seen, resources and technologies already exist to create abundance. There are ways to unlock open land for development, and there are ways to increase the supply and lower the price for water and electricity, without harming the environment. Urban civilization has an inevitable footprint on ecosystems. But the solutions being proposed — thousands of square miles of wind turbines and solar farms, tens of thousands of square miles of biofuel plantations — are far worse than the conventional alternatives.

Embracing abundance and rejecting the necessity for rationing, while making a realistic assessment of the tradeoffs between various environmental solutions, are themes that cannot be emphasized enough. But other themes offer additional vital support to a new way of thinking. The Pat Brown Democrats back in the 1960s, and even a few of them today, put practical solutions ahead of ideology. Ideological extremes are hindrances to practical solutions. Republicans and Libertarians tend to reflexively offer principled opposition to government spending on infrastructure. When they do this, they’re playing into the hands of the special interests, just described, that profit when infrastructure is neglected. It isn’t government spending that’s bad — that judgment depends on what the spending is for.

The theme that can attract coalition partners and create majorities, building on the themes of abundance and pragmatism, is optimism. Even the liberal media ridiculed Jerry Brown as “Governor Moonbeam” when he suggested in the late 1970s that California develop its own space program. But if Pat Brown’s son didn’t get much right—he is the quintessential Malthusian—when it comes to a space program in California, he was a prophet. Elon Musk has proven that. And Musk, whom libertarians tend to deride as someone who collected subsidies while building SpaceX, has—in one decade—brought down the cost of lifting a payload into earth orbit by an order of magnitude. Musk is a quintessential Californian, and SpaceX is a perfect example of government funds that were invested with a tremendous return.

Optimism is an irresistible theme. With optimism, dreaming is possible, reconciliation is possible, partnerships and coalitions are possible. With optimism, abundance is not a fantasy, it is a choice, and rationing is easily overcome. With optimism, grand bargains are possible, and big things get done. With optimism, a sense of urgency isn’t oppressive, it’s inspiring. Optimism is anathema to environmentalist extremists and “anti-racist” fanatics, it is the antidote to the politics of fear and resentment. Optimism, which California’s ruling class has abandoned, is nonetheless in California’s cultural DNA, written across the centuries.

In the installments to come, focusing on energy, water, transportation, housing, law and order, the homeless, forest management, and education, these themes of promise and potential still to be achieved will be woven into the narrative — because without them, nothing is possible, and with them, anything is possible.

This article originally appeared on the website American Greatness.

Higher Education Is On An Unsustainable Path

How much is a college education worth, and why?

According to the United States government’s National Center for Education Statistics, college tuition has increased by 33% in the last two decades, from $18,992 in the 2001-02 school year to $27,357 in 2017-18.

The Manhattan Institute reports that the average cost of tuition and fees at private four-year colleges was $36,880 for the 2019-20 academic year, up by $12,990 from 20 years earlier. For public four-year colleges, the annual cost of tuition and fees averaged $10,440 for 2019-20. Twenty years ago, it was just $5,270. That’s a 100% price increase.

For a public two-year college, tuition and fees averaged $3,730 for 2019-20, up from $2,540 in 20 years.

That’s what it costs. What’s it worth?

That depends on many factors. A degree in any major from certain highly regarded academic institutions may be a lifetime pass to good jobs. A degree in certain highly valued majors from any school may be a reliable path to high earnings. At the other extreme, it’s probably not a good investment to sink tens of thousands of dollars into a degree from a less-than-top school in a major that does not correspond to any skills or knowledge needed in any workplace.

One clue that something is wildly overpriced is that the people selling it emphasize something other than the core product or service when trying to separate you from your money. In the case of higher education, school officials sometimes wax poetic about the college experience. Today, some have shifted from poetic to defensive as more than 300 lawsuits have been filed on behalf of students and parents demanding refunds over the lack of the promised “college experience” during the COVID-19 shutdowns.

The disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic may be deeper and longer lasting in education than in other areas. There are indications that some people may have spent their lockdown time evaluating all their options. For example, California community college officials have been shaken up by new statistics showing that minority students are increasingly choosing for-profit colleges over state-run schools.

The California Community College Chancellor’s Office has actually produced public-service TV commercials in an effort to reach what they call “underrepresented students.” One ad shows an actress sitting in the library of the College of Marin to convey what a spokesman called “a general scent of college life.”

Although tuition at a for-profit college averages about $16,000 nationally, far more than the cost of a community college, the private schools are persuading more and more students to sign up. quoted one official in the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office as admitting that the for-profits “do a good job at taking the administrative burden off students and easing the path into their institutions.”

In other words, the non-government schools make it easier to enroll and offer more flexibility. But there’s more to this than just easier navigation. Private for-profit colleges are offering focused education and a faster path to higher earnings. They’re not loading up the curriculum with irrelevant requirements or politically-driven content that paying customers don’t want.

People who don’t have money to burn are apparently deciding that for-profit colleges, even at ten times the price of a community college, are a good value.

EdSource reports that across the country, community colleges lost 12% of their students this spring, but for-profits lost only 1.5%. And in 2020, for-profits saw a 3% increase in enrollment.

In the 2018-19 school year, almost 38% of Black students who transferred to colleges in California went to a for-profit school, which was double the rate just two years earlier. Native Americans and Pacific Islanders also are choosing for-profit schools in disproportionately high numbers.

Community college officials complain that they can’t match the slick marketing campaigns of the for-profit schools. They also warn that the private schools charge high interest on the loans they offer students to cover the balance of the tuition that exceeds what students can receive in financial aid.

But it’s patronizing to suggest that students from underrepresented communities can’t judge the value of educational offerings from competing institutions. What’s actually happening is that students are voting with their feet, and they’re not voting for government schools. That may be a canary in the coal mine for the entire educational establishment in America. Perhaps the pandemic has accelerated a shift in the way many people think about the time and money they are expected to invest in a college degree.

Another wild card is the potential effect of changes to the college admissions process. The University of California announced in May that it is dropping the SAT and ACT exams as a freshman admission requirement, a change that could take hold nationally. If it means some high-achieving students will be turned away from top schools because the admissions process values immutable personal characteristics over grades and test scores, it’s possible that more than one type of educational institution will step into the breach and offer those students another path to high-salaried jobs.

Stagnant or failing institutions can survive for a long time on their old reputations, but a sudden change of circumstances can cause a permanent shift of perspective, like a sight that can’t be unseen. A health scare and a year away from the classroom may have done it. Higher education in America might be headed for a reckoning.

Susan Shelley is an editorial writer and columnist for the Southern California News Group. [email protected] Twitter: @Susan_Shelley

This article was originally published by the Orange County Register

What the Supreme Court NCAA Ruling Means for Student Athlete Compensation

Student athletes got a big win on Monday, June 21, 2021, when the United States Supreme Court ruled that the National Collegiate Athletic Association, or NCAA, cannot limit education-related benefits like graduate scholarships, computers, paid internships, and more.

The Ruling

Writing for the court, Justice Neil Gorsuch said, “The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s order in Alston, holding that the NCAA could no longer enforce rules restricting certain education-related benefits that its member institutions could offer to student-athletes.” The ruling unanimously upheld the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in National Collegiate Athletic Association v. Alston in 2020 that found the NCAA violated American antitrust law.

Late last year, I wrote that the Supreme Court could institute “name, image, and likeness,” or NIL, policy changes to justly compensate college athletes for their talents, skills, services, and marketability.

I thought the June 21 ruling would bring student athletes closer to some form of compensation, but I underestimated its importance.

Kavanaugh Paves the Way for NIL

The Supreme Court ruling does not directly address NIL. But if read into a separate opinion penned by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, NIL could be on the horizon.

Here are three highlights:

  • Kavanaugh says the NCAA’s “remaining compensation rules” raise serious questions.
  • He argues that the NCAA and colleges are suppressing student athlete pay and that student athletes are the only ones left out of the billions of dollars in revenue.
  • Writing that “nowhere else in America can businesses get away with agreeing to not pay their workers a fair market rate,” he concludes that, “the NCAA is not above the law.”

The Impact of July 1

Where does the June 21 ruling leave the NCAA and student athlete compensation? According to Alicia Jessop, associate professor at Pepperdine University with a focus on sports and law, schools are free to give unlimited education-related benefits.

Jessop also thinks it is likely that state legislatures will draft or speed-up implementation of NIL laws, as well as the NCAA governing body.

But the biggest issue impacting the NCAA is today, July 1. Eight states are adding NIL provisions into law starting today, July 1, 2021, according to the New York Times. Without input from Congress on federal legislation and the June 21 Supreme Court ruling, the NCAA implemented some emergency measures to address college athlete compensation.

NCAA Caves (A Little Bit)

Yesterday, the NCAA approved monetary benefits for college athletes from autograph signings, personal appearances, endorsements and social media. The NCAA and colleges will also use “a mixture of state laws and NCAA guidelines […] to provide a rough outline for what kind of money-making ventures will be allowed. . .”

I wrote about several high-profile congressional bills on student athlete compensation and NIL in the spring. Many of the federal proposals are a mixed bag and none have moved since being introduced at Capitol Hill. Congress was probably waiting for the Supreme Court ruling before moving ahead with any legislation and it is anyone’s bet about which bill will be the frontrunner.

The good news from all of this is college athletes are already set to earn money. Haley and Hanna Cavinder from the Fresno State University women’s basketball team and Ohio State lacrosse player Mitchell Pehlke are some of the many college athletes who can now be sponsored because of their influential social media presence.

The Cavinders and Phelke were featured in a Fox News article this week, outlining how popular college athletes are using their social media following for sponsorships and deals. With the Supreme Court ruling and yesterday’s rule change by the NCAA, these sponsorships are nor legal.

College athletes of all levels deserve fair access to the financial benefits they bring to their colleges regardless of where their athletic potential takes them.

Whether these changes come from a court decision or Congress is irrelevant. The most important thing to recognize is that it is time to give college athletes their fair stake in the billions flowing through college sports.

The Supreme Court decision and the NCAA caving are small steps in the right direction.

Evan Harris is the media relations and outreach manager for PRI.

This article was originally published by the Pacific Research Institute.

Newsom Recall Election Set For Sept. 14

California voters will decide on Sept. 14 whether to throw Gov. Gavin Newsom out of office, making him the second governor in state history — and just the fourth nationwide — to face a recall

The announcement today from Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis comes after weeks of procedural wrangling by Democratic lawmakers and state officials to speed up the process for choosing a recall election date. Their apparent calculation is that the Democratic governor has better odds of defeating the GOP-backed recall if an election is held sooner rather than later

“I believe we have chosen a fair and reasonable date for this election to take place,” Kounalakis said in a statement. “It has always been my intention to choose an election date that gives election officials and the public ample time to ensure a smooth election with broad participation.”

Newsom’s public approval has been rising as the state rebounds from the coronavirus pandemic, and he’s already amassed a hefty war chest to fight the recall. Holding the election on Sept. 14 protects the governor from being leveraged by special interests and fellow Democrats during most of the critical bill-signing period that ends Oct. 10.

Delaying a vote until later in the fall would give his opponents more time to mobilize — and raises the possibility that voters could sour on Newsom if conditions in the state worsen due to the pandemic, wildfire season or other unforeseen calamities.

Though the recall effort — led by conservative activists critical of Newsom’s opposition to the death penalty and California’s high taxes, widespread homelessness and immigrant-friendly policies — began before the pandemic hit, it gained support as the virus surged and Newsom imposed strict lockdowns to contain it. He was widely blasted as a hypocrite when reports surfaced in November that a maskless Newsom had attended a lobbyist friend’s birthday party at the ritzy French Laundry restaurant, even as he told Californians to mask up and avoid socializing. 

Only about 55,000 voters had signed recall petitions at the time of dinner. A judge gave proponents more time to collect signatures due to the pandemic. And by the deadline in April, some 1.7 million voters signed the recall petition, more than enough to trigger the recall. 

But the state law governing recall elections lays out a lengthy process between gathering signatures and holding a vote. To speed things up, the Democratic-controlled Legislature on Monday passed a bill allowing lawmakers to skip a 30-day financial review of election costs if they’ve already set money aside in the budget to pay for a recall — and Newsom signed it into law within hours. The new state budget they passed includes $250 million to pay for putting on the election.  

“Politicians play partisan games. It’s all about retaining power,” GOP businessman John Cox, who lost to Newsom in 2018 and is challenging him again, said during a morning campaign stop in Sacramento. 

“I think people will see what’s going on. And it’ll backfire.”

Newsom immediately vowed to defeat the recall and continued the theme he’s been hammering for months — that the recall is a power grab led by “Trump Republicans” who refuse to accept the outcome when they lose elections. 

“On September 14, Californians will have the chance to defend our state and reject this Republican power grab once and for all,” said a statement from Newsom’s campaign manager Juan Rodriguez.

The Republican Party in California has diminished dramatically since 2003, when voters threw Democratic Gov. Gray Davis out of office in a GOP-backed recall and replaced him with Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger. Voters haven’t elected a Republican for statewide office since Schwarzenegger’s reelection in 2006. And Republicans hold so few seats in the Legislature — about one-fourth — that they don’t have the power to influence policy or budget decisions.

But a recall creates an opportunity for Republicans, because the rules are different from an ordinary election

A recall ballot contains two questions. First: Should Gavin Newsom be recalled? And second: If he is recalled, who should replace him? If more than 50% of voters say “yes” to the first question, the person who gets the most votes on the second question wins — even if they have less than a majority. That’s because there’s no limit to how many people can run in the recall

Already, 55 people have filed a statement of intention to run, including former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, former Sacramento-area U.S. Rep. Doug Ose and reality TV personality Caitlyn Jenner — all Republicans. Conservative talk show host Larry Elder also is considering a run, Politico reported

Faulconer has tried to appeal to voters across the political spectrum by highlighting his work with a Democratic city council as San Diego mayor. “This movement is powered by Californians from every community – Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. I am ready to lead this recall and begin the California Comebackto clean up our streets, cut taxes on the middle class, and reopen our schools,” he said in a statement. 

Candidates have until July 16 to finalize their decision to run in the recall. In 2003, 135 people ran to replace Davis. But now there’s a new requirement that could narrow the field: candidates must submit five years of tax returns.

Voters will be sent a ballot in the mail in August. Everyone will be able to mail in their ballot, but options for returning it in person will vary by county.Local election officials had raised alarms about the rapid timeline, saying they couldn’t pull it off any sooner than Sept. 14. Even then, some are still concerned they may have a hard time getting the special paper and envelopes required, and securing locations for voters to cast ballots.  

“It’s a good thing that we at least have a date now so we can at least focus on those items,” said Donna Johnston, the registrar of voters in Sutter County and president of the statewide association of election officials.

“It’s going to be like climbing a mountain. And of course once we get to the top and carry off a successful election the view will be nice.” 

Not surprisingly, Republicans are very fired up about the recall, with a recent poll showing 75% are highly interested in it. But only 36% of Democrats said the same, which means Newsom’s challenge in the next two-and-a-half months will be to motivate them to vote. 

CalMatters reporters Sameea Kamal and Manuela Tobias contributed to this report.

This article was originally published by

Enough of Politicians’ Expensive Toys

With President Joe Biden now making federal transportation policy, the reckless California high-speed rail project is in line for a $929 million grant from Washington, D.C. The funds will surely be squandered in similar fashion to the billions already wasted.

The grant had been sensibly pulled by Donald Trump in 2019. In announcing the cancellation, the Federal Railroad Administration said California had “abandoned its original vision of a high-speed passenger rail service connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles, which was essential to its applications for” funding. Sacramento recovered what Gov. Gavin Newsom said is California’s money only after suing the federal government and settling earlier this month with the Biden administration.

The nearly $1 billion gift of American taxpayer dollars will give bullet train supporters further reason to harden their positions, but it won’t cover much in a project that grew from an originally estimated cost of $33 billion to $117 billion before being pared back to roughly $100 billion. It is also “a drop in the bucket,” says Wendell Cox, three-term appointee to the L.A. County Transportation Commission and co-author of three reports on the high-speed rail project, “compared to the cost escalation on just the first 119-mile segment.”

Its price tag has more than doubled, from $6 billion to nearly $14 billion, even as it’s “probably the easiest segment to build.”

Newsom called the settlement “further proof that California and the Biden-Harris Administration share a common vision – clean, electrified transportation that will serve generations to come.” But there’s a generation of California drivers in the present wasting hours on overcrowded and torn-up highways, reaching into their wallets to pay for repairs because the neglected roads are wrecking their automobiles – and at the same time paying the highest prices for all grades of gasoline in the nation, and second-highest prices for diesel. Wouldn’t that $929 billion be of some use to them?

Meanwhile, there’s no way to know exactly when those generations Newsom mentioned will begin to be served. The best scientific guess is not any time soon. Jerry Brown’s bullet train was supposed to be fully operable across its entire length, from San Diego through Los Angeles, connecting San Francisco, then ending in Sacramento, by 2020. We’re now the middle of 2021, and the project is struggling to finish a 171-mile stretch between Bakersfield and Merced, “two places,” Chapman University fellow in urban studies Joel Kotkin tells Reason, “that don’t have any particular relationship with each other.”

But the impracticality goes well beyond a train linking a pair of cities that aren’t traditionally knit together.

“You have to get a car once you get to the station” in both cities, Kotkin added, since Merced and Bakersfield wouldn’t be final destinations for most travelers, as San Diego, Los Angeles and Sacramento would be. Neither are they job centers “that anyone is going to commute” to and from the other city.

That particular stretch, which has been called a starter system, won’t be offering even interim service until 2029 (and its cost will be more than 60% of the initial estimates for the entire 800-mile system). Once completed, it will remain an orphan until 2033, when the Los Angeles/Anaheim-San Francisco segment is finally open. In the meantime, drivers and passengers will continue to use beaten, battered and jammed roads while billions in transportation funds are misallocated.

Biden, who picked up the tag “Amtrak Joe” because of the 7,000 or so trips he’s made between his Delaware home and Washington, D.C., says he has an emotional connection with the “cherished American institution” of rail travel.

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg says he “can’t wait” for high-speed rail to spread across the country.

Former Gov. Jerry Brown has compared the laying of track for the bullet train to the construction of the great cathedrals of Europe, and in his final State of the State address said, “I make no bones about it: I like trains, and I like high-speed trains even better.”

Public projects should not be expensive playthings for politicians, or tools for burnishing their legacies, and there’s no greater example of this sort of political turpitude than the refusal to shut down California’s high-speed rail. This isn’t shocking, though. Elected officials, as columnist Dan Walters has written, operate by the rule “that launching new programs enhances one’s standing.” Abandoning plans is considered an admission of defeat.

There’d be great respect, though, for those who showed the courage to stand athwart the bullet train’s unfinished tracks and say stop.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

This article was originally published by the Pacific Research Institute.