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With h. brown

h. "Court Jester" brown.
Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

Court Jester's BOS meeting post-mortem

By h. brown

February 13, 2008

“Hey Lazar, how much McGoldrick cost you?”

“You’d be surprised how cheap. Did you get that hundred dollars I sent you?”
(John Lazar, Luxor cab President and General Manager)

“I only cost a bottle of whiskey.”

Happy birthday to my granddaughter, Tandiwe who is 5 today, and to Abe Lincoln who’d be a bit older (notice the similarities in Lincoln and Barack Obama?). It was quite a day at the Board too. One of the best I’ve seen in a long while.

The opening exchange occurred after I left the meeting and paused in the Susan Leal crosswalk in front of Da Dome and yelled back to working-class cabbie oppressor, William J. Lazar who was sitting outside savoring victory in he and the Mayor and Peskin’s campaign to destroy what’s left of Quentin Kopp’s carefully constructed fairest cab system in the country.

Luxor chief John Lazar

“McGoldrick? … Absent.”
(cabbie vote tied at 5-5)

I’m sure Lazar didn’t pay Jake. He was kidding with me as do most of the ‘majah playahs’ under ‘Da Dome’ (yes, it is a fun game for me – you should be blessed with such a rewarding retirement) … most of them just consider me amusing and not personal because I do it to everyone (rake them across the literary coals – I do hope he comes through on the whiskey though but he’ll have to have the first drink out of the bottle with me to prove it ain’t hemlock).

And, Jake? Whatever his faults (and, he’s a much better person than me – how hard is that, really?), he’s honest and hard-working. But, enough of being nice.

There was this unsubstantiated rumor that some of the Downtown crowd had funded the recall of Jake last year just so they could donate to his campaign and get him in their debt.

Are they that smart? Could be.

There was that stench about him getting thousands at a fundraiser from construction folks pushing a project on Caesar Chavez the night before the Board considered the matter, and Jake broke pattern with past votes and essentially voted against the neighborhood.

McGoldrick in bathroom while a million wait

The item I’m leading with here, to get back to the point, is a push by 1,500 cabbies to raise the gate rental fee per 10-hour shift from $91.50 up to $104.00.

Because there is no attendant provision to raise the meter rate, it’s kind of like you paying your boss who is already making a ton of money, an extra an extra 15 percent a day just to come to work (proponents on the Board like ‘will-never-be-a judge’ Gerardo Sandoval, argued that drivers would make up the difference in gas saved from driving ‘green’ vehicles which aren’t even mandated for at least 4 years and the new ordinance fails to take into account the certain rise in the price of fuel).

If you’re one of the 4,500 people who rent these things, it’s a bitch. Giving the boss a raise when you’re barely getting by. And, you have no health care. I’m not certain if the Board’s most recent ‘sick days’ ordinance covers them, but I doubt it. As I recall, even if you can’t drive a day, you must pay the rental fee (‘gate’). It’s brutal, huh?

Why would anyone take such a job? More history.

A medallion can be a poor man or woman’s ticket to relative financial independence. It works like this:

1. You go down and pass a police check and get a permit to operate a taxi cab in the City of San Francisco.

2. You get a job at a cab company and start learning the City (takes at least a year) and paying your gate and having some really interesting experiences. It’s a great job if you’re a fledgling writer or artist who can sleep in a corner, or on a couch somewhere and wait.

3. You go get on the list for medallions. Last I looked, it is around 15 years long. Seem like a long time? It is, but it’s a shorter time than it takes to retire from the military and not as dangerous. And, once you get your medallion (Lord, Lord, do they fight over those things – Taxi Commission is one of best shows on TV and I’m gonna miss it when Peskin folds it into Muni and it goes away) … once you get your medallion … I’m ahead of myself.

4. You drive for 15 years and your biggest enemy during that time (like most jobs, I guess) are the people who gave you the job. Even tougher than most, I’d guess. You are the medallion holder’s piggy banks and they know you want their medallions. It’s a strange symbiotic relationship that has more side-changes than a Board hearing on the subject. Boil it down to, you bitch and moan and groan but you hang on because you have that ‘list’ that you’re on (that Quentin Kopp created) that medallion holders would like to destroy forever. I’ll get to the ‘why’ on that at the end.

5. While 15 years is the standard waiting period for a medallion, there are short-cuts and drivers, a clever lot (mix as I said of artists and poets and philosophers - listen to Harry Chapin’s song ‘Taxi’ about driving a cab in San Francisco) … if you drive a ‘Ramp’ taxi and agree to pick up the disabled, I believe you can get a proscribed medallion in 7 or 8 years (I think that’s what Grasshopper Alec Kaplan, my buddy, was driving when we ran for mayor last year to give you some context).

Harry Chapin--Taxi

Then, after all the years of being ‘tyrannized’ by the medallion holders, you become one.

6. ‘My turn now’. There was a lady on the Taxi Commission (I won’t name her) who was the leading advocate on that commission for drivers without medallions. Then, she got her medallion and everything changed. She became management and she suddenly (as they all do) had a glimpse of the holy grail of the cab industry in this town. What if she could sell her medallion? It’s no exaggeration to say that this is the core thought that drives the industry from top to bottom to this day.

But, Kopp’s legislation was designed to keep the medallions turning over. They are the property, in the end, of the City and County of San Francisco. Kopp’s legislation was and is humane and fair. Fairer, I’ve been told (and, I’ve driven a few cabs over the years) than any other American city.

You drive for 15 years. You get a medallion. You triple your income and halve your working hours for as long as you’re physically able to drive (I’ve seen lawyers for medallion holders argue before the commission that just because their client was blind didn’t mean that they shouldn’t be licensed to operate a taxi in San Francisco!).

Think of the possibilities (that’s what cabbies do while sitting in the rain and fog and enduring the long years of wait). Think that if you get your medallion when you’re 40, you can have a cab company like Lazar’s Luxor take care of your vehicle while you drive part-time and take up another career, or just spend your time writing that play or doing very bad sculpture, or (as some have done) moving to far away cities and still managing to stay eligible to hold onto the things. Because...

Because, what if you could overturn Kopp’s cab law and sell your medallion at market rate?

They sell in NYC for around $400k these days and people in the industry claim they’d draw a half million in San Francisco.

Holy palooza!! A half million dollar nest egg for 15 years of toughing it out? That ain’t bad. The Army won’t give you that after spending 30 years getting shot at. But, how do you dump the list?

Then you realize, you don’t own it. The City of San Francisco owns it and you don’t have a half million dollars. But, it’s in your name! Maybe you can work out a deal with a few politicians to share the spoils and walk away singing.

So, you hire lawyers through your cooperative who fight against giving anything to the riff raff on the list (of whom you were just recently on) … the usual things you fought for (sick days, health care) you now strongly oppose. Drivers should pay more per shift and rides should be cheaper to the public. You make more. The public is happy (except that the drivers get more surly and seem to lose their way to build fares to survive). Only the drivers on the list suffer.

Step by step and year by year, the cab companies (medallion holder collectives) have gone through, I believe, 11 elections in which they’ve tried to overturn Kopp’s law and give them the freedom to sell the medallions (having worked out a deal with the City).

But, will you have to share with the people on the ‘list’? So, chase people off.

Make conditions tougher for those who advocate for the working-class drivers. Give them terrible cabs that eat more gas and break down. Use every trick in the book.

Lemme wrap this up

This has become more of a chapter from a novel (which it will be) but too long for a column. Suffice to say that yesterday the Board voted for the first time to give a raise to the medallion holders without giving the other drivers a chance to break even.

No raise in the meter.

It was a total screw job and Jake McGoldrick came out of the bathroom, tugging up his pants (get suspenders to go with that belt, Jake) and put the final nail in this particular coffin. Then, he went over and shook hands (were they washed?) with Billy Lazar just as Pilate shook on his deal … little too far?

Yeah, it was sad and I was angry at Peskin and Jake and Sandoval who call themselves Progressives but screwed the little guy on this one and I still am mad at them.

I awoke this morning understanding their point more and realized that it is a microcosm of the Earth. The minority with the money and resources control the masses and that’s the cab industry in a nutshell. The wealthy minority pay off the politicians with donations and meals, starting and rescinding recall elections and stuff, and they get the votes to turn the screws tighter until, in the end, you have a revolution.

I’m not predicting a revolution over this. It’s just that, for the first time, I understand that the reason Peskin and Sandoval and McGoldrick broke with their principles. Although there are 4,500 drivers getting screwed who can bad-mouth them, there are 1,500 drivers who have money who will praise them and help them for the rest of their lives, or as soon as their out of office, whichever comes first.

I’ve mulled this one over and over and the only payback I can see is fighting against Sandoval’s fight to become a judge.

Peskin’s unreachable and smarter than an Australian shepherd (the dog I mean). Jake’s unreachable in a different way, if you know what I mean (it was said early in his first term that McGoldrick always votes the way the last person he talked to walking into the chambers tells him how to vote, and it ain’t far off). Sooo:

No on Sandoval for judge. He screwed the cab drivers. He’ll screw you, too.

The day wasn’t a total loss. In fact, it was glorious. I got to watch a remarkable man face down Bevan Dufty in his angry and ugly insults while Gerardo Sandoval, who compared himself to Barack Obama (I know, ‘Oh, pullleeeze!’ but he did), and Sophie Maxwell voting to send a ‘brother’ hiking while the white guy got a pass.

The Dick Sklar Show

Want a treat? Tune into the next meeting of the SF Public Utilities Commission and watch the former U.N. Ambassador nit-pick contracts designed by a staff fighting like hell to give away sweetheart deals in the $4.3 billion dollar Hetch-Hetchy rebuild.

He does it every week and he’s probably the best mind in the world at it. Or, watch, a re-run from the sfgtv.org archive of yesterday’s (2-12-08) Full Board meeting and skip to Item #26. I’m gonna paraphrase a couple of exchanges for you:

Supe: You’re against Public Power and for PG&E?

Sklar: You know, you can build your own public power grid. PG&E’s grid is old and decrepit and you should consider replacing it with a new system. I fought Governor Davis because he gave PG&E too good a deal during the energy crunch. I’m no friend to PG&E."

Supe: You’d tear down Hetch-Hetchy?

Sklar: When that was suggested, I advised that we build it 50 feet higher (the dam) because the terrain would support it and we could double our power with alternative energy.

You gotta watch the hearing when it's made available. It was the most tastefully done presentation I’ve seen. All of these things are choreographed like mini-Broadway shows and this one had class.

His people were of all ages but obviously serious professionals. There were $2k suits and there were polo shirts and golf slacks but this wasn’t the Swells.

He packed the house and they all held up little white pieces of paper. Simple 8x10” signs with the words: "Please reappoint Dick Sklar. Integrity should count for everything."

They didn’t cheer. They didn’t clap. They didn’t hiss. Only Espanola Jackson and I were heard in the half hour or so of the exchange of Sklar with the committee. Espanola gave a few ‘amens’ in support of Sklar from her front row seat and I couldn’t help chuckling every now and then when Dufty or Sandoval said something completely idiotic.

It was quiet as a tomb. They just sat there, maybe a 100 of them, holding up their little white slips of paper. I mean, cowboys and cowgirls, I’ve seen people climb over the rails and go after the supervisors. Sklar’s people were much more powerful.

Daly put him over

The one person on the Board continuously attacked everyone for being about petty politics and vindictiveness (he’s not) … the one guy saddled with the bum rap by the press raised above the fray and said with his vote that he was prepared to stop attacking good people who become, as Sklar said: “collateral damage” in turf wars.

In an astounding move, Daly broke with the lynch mob. Joshua Sabatini reported in the this morning's Examiner, “Daly offered the surprise vote that secured Sklar’s reappointment."

Supervisor Chris Daly

Daly said he backed Sklar because he has exhibited ‘political independence.’”
(Chris knows something about that)

Reappointed Public Utilities Commissioner Richard Sklar

Rogue’s Gallery

I don’t know who’s running security of information at Kevin Ryan’s new office but he better start looking more closely. The place leaks like a sieve. I got a call telling me that Ryan and a cadre of cronies were going to be at the Board in the back row for this meeting and they were there to watch Sean Elsbernd push some changes to legislation regarding surveillance cameras that would somehow cut the Public Defender’s Office out of the loop.

That ain’t kosher.

So, I made a bee-line for the back row and there they were. I got a seat right next to mayoral mouthpiece Nathan Ballard, Police Commissioner Thomas P. Mazzucco - who used to be a cop - and Kevin Ryan.

Ballard said that he was surprised I was in favor of Dick Sklar’s reappointment and I told him I thought they didn’t want him reappointed, and on and on, and he got out of there. I asked Ryan (who was surrounded by some bodyguards who made Roger Clemens look like Woody Allen) if he really thought he was going to be able to withhold evidence from the Public Defender, and he said ‘no.' I asked the Mazzucco and he said the same thing and they huddled and the item (#11) was continued at the request of Sandoval who is very well connected with that side of the aisle these days.

Listen, I don’t kid myself. Luke Thomas calls me ‘Court Jester’ when he prints my stuff (which is around 1 in 5, so if you aren’t on my private list, you don’t read 80 percent of my more acerbic work) … anyway, any of these guys could crush me like the bug they consider me to be. Ryan kept Josh Wolf in prison for a year just for being the kind of journalist I like to think I am. I couldn’t get by with jabbing all these local movers and shakers as I do if they didn’t consider me to be not only no threat, but also a joke. That’s my defense (that, and Angela Alioto). What’s yours?

They’re burning flags in Berkeley again!!

Luke and Bobby Brigham and I watched the returns from the presidential primaries again last evening from Chez Brown, my writer’s studio dwelling down the street from City Hall and kept 3 screens and an ipod going to stay at least a half hour ahead of what the networks (who are on the ground!) had and discuss our predictions.

Brigham is amazing and we phonebanked 3 remote and one landline connections, taking calls from people who know more, and we exchange information. We’re really not that smart, we’re just very well-informed and focused. OK, we’re smart too.

Brigham kept arranging the trouble light we use to make the ‘Amado ‘08’ sign we painted on my window next to the ‘FogCityJournal.com’ panel glow when seen from the street. It’s pretty gaudy anyway, with the fluorescent pink and yellow background and the light just. The sun does great things with it in the daytime and the trouble light makes us one of the few illuminated Obama ‘billboards’ in town, I’d bet. It’s a beauty and the more amazing cause we were drunk as skunks when we painted it (don’t worry, TNDC, it all washes off – I've been doing this for years).

So, we kept the City Council of Berkeley meeting Luke went to last night tuned in and Luke went over after he left here and I was musing about how all that over there was the result of how someone wrote just a line or two about war and the military and kids and got the words a bit wrong and now there were riot police and students pushing at each other and flags were burning and I was glad to be alive.

Words are funny, aren’t they? Pictures too. I was the only site in SF who’d publish the Danish cartoonist’s Mohammed cartoons (they were dull, dull, dull) and here that is back in the news with a group arrested planning to kill the guy who started the cartoon contest. Words, pictures, beer, politics. Could it get better?

Yeah, bring on the girls!

An old friend used to say: “Keep your words short and sweet. In case, you might have to eat them.”

Advice I’ve seldom taken.




h. brown is a 62 year-old keeper of sfbulldog.com, an eclectic site featuring a half dozen City Hall denizens. h is a former sailor, firefighter, teacher, nightclub owner, and a hard-living satirical muckraker. Email h at h@ludd.net.


Editor's Note: Views expressed by columnists published on FogCityJournal.com are not necessarily the views or beliefs of Fog City Journal. Fog City Journal supports free speech in all its varied forms and provides a forum for a complete spectrum of viewpoints.



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