By Doug Porter
Years of grass roots organizing paid off yesterday as the City Council voted 8-1 to eliminate a cap on the number of taxi permits issued in San Diego.
The United Taxi Workers of San Diego (UTWSD) grew out of an unsuccessful driver strike in December, 2009. Roughly 300 drivers took part, asking for a reduced weekly lease rate, a guaranteed day off per week, sick days, better job security and better-maintained vehicles.
The taxi industry in San Diego has been functioning as a government licensed fiefdom, with a several hundred permit holders leasing their vehicles to immigrants (mostly) from East Africa who introduce others to the job after arriving in the region.
These immigrants were “independent contractors” marginalized with no protections from labor law and virtually no control over the way they were allowed to run their “business” of driving a cab.
From a September commentary published on this site by UTWSD organizer Sarah Saez:
After they tried negotiating directly with taxi permit holders and the Metropolitan Transit System staff and board with little to no success, they went to the City of San Diego who owns the permits for help. They also reached out to the public and the labor movement for support.
Their persistence is what has gotten them to the point of radically shifting the dynamics in the taxi industry that have worked to benefit only a minority of people while the 90% of taxi lease drivers who run the industry suffer under restrictive regulations and a lack of upward mobility
The UTWSD was recognized by the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council as a membership-based organization. Over the years the group build trust and relationships one at a time.
This organizing effort yielded small victories along the way leading up to yesterday’s City Council vote. The UTWSD campaigned and won driver representation on the MTS (Metropolitan Transit System) taxi advisory committee. And they obtained legal representation for taxi drivers through Employee Rights Center.
The plan passed 8-1 by the council also limits the age of taxicabs to 10 years, prohibits the use of vehicles with salvage titles as taxis, reduces a requirement that a prospective permittee have five years of driving or management experience to six months, and clarifies language regarding citizenship and legal U.S. residency.
Supporters of removing the cap on permits, led by Councilwoman Marti Emerald, said the current level of 993 permits creates a limited supply, so they’re being resold in an underground market.
She said the permits, administered for the city by the Metropolitan Transit System and issued for a $3,000 fee, are fetching up to $140,000 in some cases, and buyers pass along costs to drivers, who have to work long hours at low pay as a result.
City Councilwoman Marti Emerald, who has continued to spearhead the fight on behalf of the drivers even as she goes through treatment for cancer, took to Facebook to savor the victory:
Celebrating a historic night for San Diego taxicab drivers. They all sacrificed losing wages and their jobs for fighting for what they believed in. I am glad that my colleagues understood the need to reform our taxicab industry and voted (8-1) to lift a 30 year cap on the number of permits. I share with the drivers the excitement they are feeling tonight with new opportunity they have to start their own small business as permit owners. As I told my staff earlier this afternoon, this is why we do this.
For Emerald, the cause was personal. She once drove a cab for a living.
The battle may not be over. Permit holders are lobbying Mayor Kevin Faulconer to veto the City Council vote and are threatening lawsuits. (Based on stories I’ve heard over the past couple of years, threatening is one thing these guys are very good at.)
From UT-San Diego:
….Critics say lifting the cap on permits will flood the streets with taxis when supply already outpaces demand. They also say the city is relying on a 2013 San Diego State University study that didn’t analyze how more taxis would affect demand in the local market….
…Critics of the change said the SDSU study was biased, stressing that only drivers were surveyed, not medallion owners.
They also said drivers are known for underestimating their earnings to avoid taxes and to increase public sympathy. Why wouldn’t drivers take jobs at 7-Eleven if they were truly earning less than minimum wage, they asked….
The study referenced was actually done by both San Diego State University and the Center for Policy Initiatives.
These changes may be too little, too late. But it was the right thing for the Council to do, an assessment shared by both liberals and conservatives (except Lorie Zapf).
Again, from UT-San Diego:
Council President Todd Gloria, a Democrat, predicted Monday’s change wouldn’t be enough to keep the industry prospering in the face of new competition from ride-sharing services. He said the city might soon have to consider lowering taxi fares and requiring less insurance.
Doing the Right Thing on Net Neutrality
President Obama has urged the Federal Communications Commission to aggressively regulate Internet service providers such as Verizon and Comcast, treating broadband like a public utility as essential as water, phone service and electricity.
Now that the President has made a stand, Republicans like Senator Ted Cruz are against it.
“Net Neutrality” is Obamacare for the Internet; the Internet should not operate at the speed of government.
— Senator Ted Cruz (@SenTedCruz) November 10, 2014
Senior economics correspondent for The New York Times Neil Irwin made understanding the President’s stance simple enough for even a Republican not blinded by Obama Derangement Disorder to understand it:
One theory of the case, and the one that the Obama administration embraced Monday, is that the Internet is like electricity. It is fundamental to the 21st century economy, as essential to functioning in modern society as electricity. It is a public utility. “We cannot allow Internet service providers (ISPs) to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas,” the president said in his written statement.
In the president’s logic, and that of the Internet content companies that are the most aggressive supporters of net neutrality, just as your electric utility has no say in how you use the electricity they sell you, the Internet should be a reliable way to access content produced by anyone, regardless of whether they have any special business arrangement with the utility.
Those arguing against net neutrality, most significantly the cable companies, say the Internet will be a richer experience if the profit motive applies, if they can negotiate deals with major content providers (the equivalent of cable channels) so that Netflix or Hulu or other streaming services that use huge bandwidth have to pay for the privilege.
Jan Goldsmith and the War on Truth
It should be no surprise to anybody reading these pages regularly that we’re supporters of efforts by groups like San Diegans for Open Government. In a city with a rich history (and present) of insider deals favoring a few at the expense of taxpayers, they are one of the few checks we have on such excesses.
Your tax dollars are paying for City Attorney Jan Goldsmith’s inquisition against these groups. It’s Goldsmith’s assertion that SDOG is just a front for attorney Cory Brigg’s law practice. At the risk of seeming redundant, let me repeat myself: they (SDOG) are one of the few checks we have on such excesses.
From the Reader:
San Diego’s top attorney continues his mission to discredit the authenticity of advocacy group San Diegans for Open Government. Last week, the city attorney’s office issued a handful of subpoenas to several group members, ostensibly to poke holes in the nonprofit and thus gain an advantage in their lawsuit that challenges Business Improvement Districts.
In recent months, as the city and Cory Briggs — attorney for San Diegans for Open Government — grapple over high-profile cases, Goldsmith and his attorneys have seemingly looked to find proof that the nonprofit is not about justice but instead is a tool to line Briggs’ pockets.
The city attorney has demanded to see contracts, membership dues, or anything else that shows the group is what it says it is. Most recently, Goldsmith and deputy city attorneys have tried to show that the group’s members, if in fact they are members, are without legal standing because they do not own businesses.
Briggs has argued successfully in court of the need to keep SDOG’s membership private to protect them from legal harassment.
The Reader goes on to quote a small business owner who’s been “identified” by the City Attorney:
“Last Saturday morning while at home I was served a subpoena to produce documents and testify as a witness by the City Attorney’s office on December 3, 2014,” wrote Mat Wahlstrom, part owner and manager of Roberts Electric Services. His company is based in Hillcrest and a member of the Hillcrest Business Improvement District.
Wahlstrom joined San Diegans for Open Government after years of fighting what he calls a corrupt assessment district in Hillcrest.
“It was my first time being served, so I assumed that the city attorney was finally responding to my many email allegations about the Hillcrest [Business Improvement District] and its numerous violations, including misappropriation of parking funds and charity fraud. But, silly me, it appears it’s just the city attorney trying to intimidate now-exposed individual members of San Diegans for Open Government, whose identities attorney Briggs was keeping secret for this exact reason.”
I’m taking liberties by excessively quoting Dorian Hargrove’s reporting here because this is a BIG deal. Some day the behind-the-scenes activities of some (not all) San Diego’s Business Improvement Districts will be revealed. What’s been lacking is proof, and Brigg’s lawsuits may lead to that day of reckoning.
I really don’t care whether SDOG is real or not (it is). This is just a tactic on the part of the City Attorney to keep the facts from the public.
Scott Peters spokesman Alex Roth reports he’s alive and well, thank you. He mentioned something about “deluxe poutine” and “handmade pork gyozas” and a trip to Canada. Good to hear.
The Saddest Comment on Veterans Day…
— Jason Leopold (@JasonLeopold) November 11, 2014
On This Day: 1919– A confrontation between American Legionnaires and Wobblies during an Armistice Day Parade in Centralia, Wash., results in six deaths. One Wobbly reportedly was beaten, his teeth bashed in with a rifle butt, castrated and hanged: local officials listed his death as a suicide 1984 – President Ronald Reagan accepted the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as a gift to the nation from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. 1989 – In Germany, Melissa Etheridge and Joe Cocker entertained Germans that were celebrating the newly tumbled Berlin Wall.
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