With h. brown
h. "Court Jester" brown.
Court Jester's BOS meeting post-mortem
February 13, 2008
Hey Lazar, how much McGoldrick cost you?
Youd 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 whod 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 Ive 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 Peskins
campaign to destroy whats left of Quentin Kopps carefully
constructed fairest cab system in the country.
Luxor chief John Lazar
(cabbie vote tied at 5-5)
Im sure Lazar didnt 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 hell have to have the
first drink out of the bottle with me to prove it aint hemlock).
And, Jake? Whatever his faults (and, hes a much better
person than me how hard is that, really?), hes 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 Im 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,
its 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 arent
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 youre one of the 4,500 people who rent these things,
its a bitch. Giving the boss a raise when youre barely
getting by. And, you have no health care. Im not certain
if the Boards most recent sick days ordinance
covers them, but I doubt it. As I recall, even if you cant
drive a day, you must pay the rental fee (gate). Its
Why would anyone take such a job? More history.
A medallion can be a poor man or womans 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. Its a great job if youre
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 its
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 Im gonna miss it when Peskin folds
it into Muni and it goes away)
once you get your medallion
Im 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, Id guess. You are the medallion
holders piggy banks and they know you want their medallions.
Its 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 youre on (that Quentin Kopp created) that medallion
holders would like to destroy forever. Ill 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 Chapins
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 thats what Grasshopper Alec Kaplan, my
buddy, was driving when we ran for mayor last year to give you
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 wont 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? Its
no exaggeration to say that this is the core thought that drives
the industry from top to bottom to this day.
But, Kopps legislation was designed to keep the medallions
turning over. They are the property, in the end, of the City and
County of San Francisco. Kopps legislation was and is humane
and fair. Fairer, Ive been told (and, Ive 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 youre
physically able to drive (Ive seen lawyers for medallion
holders argue before the commission that just because their client
was blind didnt mean that they shouldnt be licensed
to operate a taxi in San Francisco!).
Think of the possibilities (thats 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 youre 40, you
can have a cab company like Lazars 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 Kopps cab law and
sell your medallion at market rate?
They sell in NYC for around $400k these days and people in the
industry claim theyd draw a half million in San Francisco.
Holy palooza!! A half million dollar nest egg for 15 years of
toughing it out? That aint bad. The Army wont give
you that after spending 30 years getting shot at. But, how do
you dump the list?
Then you realize, you dont own it. The City of San Francisco
owns it and you dont have a half million dollars. But, its
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 theyve tried to overturn Kopps 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 thats 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.
Im not predicting a revolution over this. Its 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.
Ive mulled this one over and over and the only payback
I can see is fighting against Sandovals fight to become
Peskins unreachable and smarter than an Australian shepherd
(the dog I mean). Jakes 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 aint far
No on Sandoval for judge. He screwed the cab drivers. Hell
screw you, too.
The day wasnt 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 hes probably the best mind in
the world at it. Or, watch, a re-run from the sfgtv.org archive
of yesterdays (2-12-08) Full Board meeting and skip to Item
#26. Im gonna paraphrase a couple of exchanges for you:
Supe: Youre against Public Power and for PG&E?
Sklar: You know, you can build your own public power grid. PG&Es
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. Im no friend to
Supe: Youd 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 Ive 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 wasnt 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 didnt cheer. They didnt clap. They didnt
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 couldnt 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, Ive seen people climb over the rails and go
after the supervisors. Sklars 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 (hes 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 Sklars reappointment."
Supervisor Chris Daly
Daly said he backed Sklar because he has exhibited political
(Chris knows something about that)
Reappointed Public Utilities Commissioner Richard Sklar
I dont know whos running security of information
at Kevin Ryans 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 Defenders Office
out of the loop.
That aint 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 Sklars
reappointment and I told him I thought they didnt 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
Listen, I dont kid myself. Luke Thomas calls me Court
Jester when he prints my stuff (which is around 1 in 5,
so if you arent on my private list, you dont 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 couldnt get by with jabbing
all these local movers and shakers as I do if they didnt
consider me to be not only no threat, but also a joke. Thats
my defense (that, and Angela Alioto). Whats yours?
Theyre 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 writers
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. Were really not that smart, were just
very well-informed and focused. OK, were 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. Its 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, Id
bet. Its a beauty and the more amazing cause we were drunk
as skunks when we painted it (dont 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, arent they? Pictures too. I was the only
site in SF whod publish the Danish cartoonists 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
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 Ive 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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