George Boardman: The slow count, playing with fire and resistance to housing solutions |

George Boardman: The slow count, playing with fire and resistance to housing solutions

George Boardman

Observations from the center stripe: Litigation issue

NOW THAT CalFire has concluded PG&E is responsible for the Lobo and McCourtney fires, when is Nevada County going to sue? The utility has stated publicly it could be on the hook for almost $1 billion in damages for the Santa Rosa and other fires last year, and that may be a conservative figure…ANY ELECTED official who helps PG&E evade responsibility for the fires should be voted out of office…A BILL to put restrictions on the use of flamethrowers was derailed in the state Legislature in part by opposition from—you guessed it—the gun lobby...THE WORLD Cup started last week, but we already know one big loser: Fox paid $200 million for the U.S. broadcast rights before the American team failed to qualify, guaranteeing lower viewership for the games…

You can always tell the pioneers in Silicon Valley, the old saying goes: They’re the people with arrows in their backs.

The election officers in the five counties that volunteered to test drive the state’s new all-mail voting system in the June 5 primary might be feeling similar discomfort in their backs — or maybe their back sides — today as they struggle to tally all the votes cast almost two weeks after the election.

For Nevada County residents, a slow vote count is par for the course — that’s certainly been the case during the 18 years I’ve lived here. I’ve long suspected the problem is caused by the octogenarian Pony Express riders used to transport ballots from Truckee to Nevada City, but county officials decline to comment.

As was pointed out in The Union last week, 24,000 votes remained uncounted after the November 2016 election. But since counties have 30 days to certify the vote, what’s the big hurry? It’s a little late in the game to get outraged over the slow count in this county.

But when San Mateo County, known in the past for its lightning quick counts, is struggling to count the votes, you have to wonder what’s in store for California when the Voter’s Choice Act is implemented statewide. (The other three counties involved in the trial—Sacramento, Napa and Madera—report similar issues.)

Part of the problem is people not paying attention. I didn’t detect much publicity about the new voting system in the run up to election day (especially on social media), and it’s obvious a lot of voters didn’t get the message. There were numerous reports of people throwing away their ballots, showing up at polling places that don’t exist anymore, or waiting until the last minute to mail their ballots.

But the real problem is that in an age where computers permit transactions to take place in nanoseconds, California is going backwards by embracing a new voting system that is more labor intensive than the old one. It is ridiculous that it takes 2 to 4 hours to count 200 to 300 mail-in votes, if the county election office’s claim is true.

“The expectation that at 8 p.m. we can call a race, that is polling place thinking,” said Alice Jarboe, Sacramento County registrar of voters. “We are such a different culture now.”

Now is a good time to give some serious thought to whether we want to go all in with this new voting system.

Playing with fire

Just in time for the start of California’s fire season, a company run by future technology whiz Elon Musk handed out the first 1,000 of 20,000 flamethrowers sold to his adoring public. You read that right: People with $500 to (here it comes) burn and who need another toy to play with have acquired a device that will project a lethal flame 10 feet through the air.

The flamethrowers are being sold by Musk to raise money for one of his ventures, the Boring Co., a tunnel-digging outfit that wants to build hyperloops, a futuristic type of train-like transportation. The first 1,000 units were handed over to customers recently at a festive event in Hawthorne, where customers wielding demonstration flamethrowers roasted marsh mellows as staff showed them how to power the flames.

Dan Thorman, a 45-year-old (irony alert!) environmental scientist, drove 2,600 miles from North Carolina to claim his unit.

“Imagine if you had the opportunity to get a kite and key from Benjamin Franklin,” he explained. (Boring has a problem getting them to customers because UPS, among others, won’t deliver flamethrowers.)

Musk, ever the visionary, had some suggestions on what these alleged adults can do with their new toys.

“No more need to use a dainty ‘match’ to ignite” the fire in your fireplace or barbecue,” he Tweeted recently. “When the zombie apocalypse happens, you’ll be glad you bought a flamethrower,” he wrote in another post. “Works against hoards of the undead or your money back.”

Naturally, people have come up with their own uses for this novelty item. One guy posted a video that showed him lighting up a foot-long doobie with his flamethrower. Now there’s an image for Nevada County residents to ponder: A guy high on drugs or drunk playing with his flamethrower in our tinder dry wilderness. Regular readers of Police Blotter know this is an all too real possibility.

“Every year is worse and worse,” said Josh Sunde, a battalion chief with Nevada County Consolidated Fire, at a recent town hall on fire preparedness. “We have to be ready year-round. We have to train like every day is fire season because it is.”

And you thought we just had to worry about homeless campfires and children playing with matches.

Dead on arrival

California’s affordable housing crisis is beginning to resemble Mark Twain’s observation about the weather: Everybody talks about it, but woe betide the legislator who takes a stab at doing something about it.

That would be state Senator Scott Wiener (D, San Francisco), who introduced a bill that would increase housing density along transit corridors by allowing buildings up to five stories high as long as they had the required amount of affordable units and met local rules—except the ones that limit height.

The bill didn’t survive its first legislative hearing. Why, you might ask? Here’s the opinion of Willie Brown, long-time speaker of the California Assembly, former mayor of San Francisco, and one of the sharpest political minds around, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle:

“Local governments came out in force, saying they’d lose control over what gets built in their communities. Unions opposed it because it would take away their ability to use their political pull as a hammer on developers. Even some housing advocates came out against it because it would limit their ability to squeeze developers for money.

“The left opposed it because of progressives’ commitment to the endless process of how to plan and build anything is greater than their commitment to housing. The right fought it because conservatives basically don’t want poor people moving in next door.”

George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at

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