Claire Mullen

Consequences of inaction


The San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance, although it sounds bright and cheery, remains shrouded in a cloud of inaction. Meant to increase transparency in city government, it hasn’t emerged from the bureaucratic fog since its establishment in 1994. Cases wait years to be heard and even blatant violations go unpunished, due to infighting and power disputes between the commissions that are supposed to enforce government compliance.

The Sunshine Ordinance outlines citizen’s rights to request document and information. Citizens can take their complaints about request denials to the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force, an 11-member committee appointed by the Board of Supervisors to ensure government compliance. If the task force decides a violation has occurred the case is handed over to the Ethics Commission, a five-member appointed board that will supposedly enforce the rulings with fines or ordering documents to be made public.

George Wooding, reporter for the Westside Observer and president of the West of Twin Peaks Central Council, is the complainant in one of the task force’s most recent cases. This spring Wooding requested emails from the Recreation and Park Department multiple times but was told the documents did not exist. What RPD didn’t know was that Wooding had the emails all along.

The task force unanimously found RPD guilty of withholding emails. This is the third major sunshine violation by RPD in three years. Even more surprising, not one RPD employee has been fined, suspended, or faced any kind of punishment or corrective action.

The episode is a case study in the total eclipse of sunshine enforcement in the city, and how one embattled department — the RPD, which has come under heavy scrutiny for efforts to monetize park resources (see “Parks Inc.”, July 12) — used that dysfunction to stifle dissent.



George Wooding v. RPD began when Wooding was asked to be a panelist at a Commonwealth Club event on May 11. The event, titled “Golden Gate Park Under Siege,” was to be a discussion about possible development projects in the park. Other panelists were representatives of environmental and anti-development groups who claimed they were not given time to voice their concerns in Board of Supervisors meetings, and wanted a forum to do so.

Wooding says that the Commonwealth Club was bombarded with phone calls and emails weeks before the discussion.

“They were saying our panel was one-sided, which is really unusual, and the Commonwealth Club told us they were getting a lot of heat for such a little panel discussion,” Wooding said. “It was not going to be a big deal, in all honesty.”

The emails that Wooding had and the department denied include correspondence from Sarah Ballard, RPD’s director of policy and public affairs, to Kerry Curtis, co-chair of the Commonwealth Club Environment & Natural Resources Forum, indicating she had phoned the club as well and asked that the discussion be canceled due to its “deeply biased panel that has no interest in discussing facts.”

There are also emails between Susan Hirsch, director of the City Fields Foundation, a private group that has been installing artificial turf in public parks, from her business email address to the panel moderator Jim Chappell’s private email, urging him to reconsider the event.

“You and I discussed this project years ago; the private sector is contributing far more than $20 million to provide safe, accessibly, and yes, environmentally sound fields for kids all across San Francisco to use. We have a unique private/public partnership with Rec and Park; it’s too bad the focus is on something negative, rather than the positive impact,” Hirsch wrote.

Mark Buell, president of the Recreation and Park Commission, also emailed Greg Dalton, Commonwealth Club’s COO, from his private email address: “I find the title inflammatory, the participants biased, and the fact that no one from the Rec and Park Department invited hard to understand. As president of the Commission I would like to urge the club to both alter the title of the event to ‘issues facing the park’ and have the club ask a representative of the department to be on the panel.”

Shortly thereafter, Buell was added to the panel and the event was renamed “Golden Gate Park Under Siege?”

Buell says the situation has been blown out of proportion. “I got on the panel because I’ve been active with the Commonwealth Club for years and all of a sudden I read a very slanted title about something tantamount to the ruination of Golden Gate Park, and a panel of people who are all critics,” Buell told us.

Wooding says the panel went smoothly, but he was unsettled by the last minute changes. He asked around for any information about what happened and got the emails through a knowledgeable source close to the RPD.

“[RPD] has pissed off a lot of people because they came in with a hammer when they didn’t need a sledge hammer. One of the people they pissed off was really upset and ended up giving me the correspondence,” Wooding told us.

As a journalist, Wooding said, “I was thinking, ‘this is a great story but wait, I can’t use any of this information,’ so I thought about how I could get the information legitimately?”

Wooding immediately emailed Olivia Gong, a RPD secretary, making clear that he was requesting the emails in accordance with the Sunshine Ordinance. Gong replied that the department did not have any documents matching the request.

“Imagine how amazed I was when they claimed they didn’t exist,” Wooding said.

After a second request turned up nothing, Wooding knew they were hiding the emails. He then asked Gong how she had determined the emails did not exist. Gong forwarded emails she had sent to department members who replied they did not have responsive documents.

Wooding then filed a complaint with the task force, which voted unanimously that RPD was in the wrong. Not only did it claim the emails did not exist, but when it became clear that they did, the department said that members deleted the emails because some were sent on private accounts and did not directly pertain to RPD affairs.

“I just delete everything,” Buell says. “It’s not that I did anything, it’s just that I didn’t know the rules that you’re supposed to keep everything.”

Task Force Chair Hope Johnson says she was shocked by this argument. The California Public Records Act, which is more lenient than the Sunshine Ordinance, clearly lists emails as a form of government document that must be handed over on request. The Sunshine Ordinance covers emails as well, and all officials who serve on city boards were required to undergo sunshine training last year, outlining what public documents are and noting that it’s illegal under state law to destroy them.

“Just switching over to another email address lends itself to the idea that this is something they knew was underhanded and would not be received positively by the public,” Johnson said.

She says this is becoming a problem throughout city government.

“There’s not a lot of specificity about keeping emails. They need a retention policy,” Johnson says. “Obviously I think that they prefer it to be as vague as possible.”



Although the task force found RDP in violation, punishment is up to the Ethics Commission, a separate entity at City Hall.

Enter bureaucratic gloom and doom.

Since 1993 the task force has given the Ethics Commission 19 sunshine violation cases. Only one has even been heard. The other 18 were dismissed or are still “pending investigation.” Government officials are therefore under no serious threat if they disobey the law.

Richard Knee, former chair of the task force, says there is obvious animosity between the task force and commission staff. Rather than enforcing punishment, the Ethic Commission staff claim that cases can be dismissed on the grounds of insufficient evidence, or require additional investigation, which stalls the process indefinitely.

“I don’t think there’s any confusion, I think it’s merely resistance,” Knee said. “We are not asking the Ethics Commission to re-adjudicate something we have already adjudicated. When we refer a matter to the Ethics Commission we are asking them to tack some kind of enforcement action on a violation we have already found exists.”

In the one case Ethics did hear, it turned the punishment decision over to the mayor as the “appointing officer,” who did nothing. It has, therefore, never enforced a penalty on any government official that the task force found guilty.

A report released in August by the Civil Grand Jury, entitled “San Francisco’s Ethics Commission: The Sleeping Watchdog,” criticizes the body’s record of inaction on both sunshine and campaign finance complaints.

“Because of the Ethics Commission’s lack of enforcement, no city employee has been disciplined for failing to adhere to the Sunshine Ordinance. The Commission has allowed some city officials to ignore the rulings of the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force,” the report says.

Johnson says that since the report came out, her correspondence with the Ethics Commission has shifted slightly.

“They used to send us letters back saying they dismissed it, but recently we’ve sent over two cases and they agreed that there had been a violation,” Johnson said. “But they said they wouldn’t be able to do enforcements of any kind.”

She says that the Sunshine Ordinance won’t be taken seriously until the very people it is meant to monitor begin to enforce its stipulations.

“It’s difficult with the Ethics Commission because they keep all of their investigations secret,” Johnson says. “There is no external oversight, it is all the politicians, all of the people who appointed them, they are the only people who monitor what they’re doing.”

In response to the report, Johnson hopes the Ethics Commission will be urged to actually hear sunshine cases, and Wooding’s could be one of the first.

“The George Wooding case is a good example of how the Sunshine Ordinance can reveal oppression of a group of people who wanted to come together and have a constructive analysis,” Johnson said. “That should be something that’s allowed, and here’s the very entity that they want to have an analysis and discussion about shutting them down. And here are some documents that prove it.”

Wooding’s case will be heard once more by the task force on Sept. 27. It will almost certainly be sent to the Ethics Commission, but Wooding may be waiting awhile for any resolution.

“It’s probably going to take forever,” Wooding says. “Either I’ll just end up being another file in a cabinet somewhere, or this may even become an example, if it moves through, of how things should be done. There might be a lot more life in this than anyone ever imagined.”




Justice begins with seeds

The California Biosafety Alliance hosts a two-day conference bringing together farmers, activists, and experts to discuss the threats of genetically modified foods. Speakers will discuss the corporate food model, how it impacts our lives and environment, and what people can do to change it. Dr. Vandana Shiva, activist and environmental justice leader, will be the keynote speaker.

Friday 9 a.m. to Saturday 6 p.m., $50–$200 sliding scale

The Women’s Building

3543 18th St. # 8



Stop corporate kleptocracy

Occupy Wall Street is a campaign started by Adbusters to sound the call of “Democracy NOT Corporatocracy” aimed at national policy makers. Organizers say 20,000-plus people will swarm Wall Street with peaceful barricades to set up tents and remain there until demands are met. To show West Coast solidarity, Occupy Financial District SF will host its own stay-in at the former Bank of America Building, which now houses Bank of America and Goldman Sachs offices.

2 p.m., free

555 California, SF

or Brian Cerney at



Colossal coastal cleanup

Join 80,000 people to keep our waterways pristine as part of the annual California Coastal Cleanup Day. Environmental organizations are hosting cleanups throughout the Bay Area, so find a group cleaning a place near and dear to you at Bring a bucket, sunscreen, and a can-do attitude to show your appreciation for our beautiful outdoors.

9 a.m.-noon, free

Throughout Bay Area



Protest BART violence

Come to protest the recent violence propagated by BART police and discuss how to use other forms of public transportation as part of a BART boycott. Artists, poets, musicians, bicyclists, skateboarders, roller skaters and all are invited to come with their creativity flowing to this “celebration of life free of oppression.”

2-4:30 p.m., free

Ferry Building

Market and Embarcadero, SF

Jeremy Miller, 415-595-2894,

Mesha Monge Irizarry, 415-595-8251,



Experiment with direct democracy

Hear a panel of experts speak to California’s direct democracy (or lack of) and join the discussion about how to return the political process to the people. Panelists include Kim Alexander of the California Voter Foundation; Bruno Kaufmann, Swiss-Swedish journalist and president of Initiative & Referendum Institute Europe; Paul Jacob, president of the Citizens in Charge Foundation; and James H. Fowler, medical geneticist and political scientist at UC San Diego.

7 p.m., free

Golden Gate Room, Building A Fort Mason Center

Marina and Buchanan, SF


Mail items for Alerts to the Guardian Building, 135 Mississippi St., SF, CA 94107; fax to (415) 437-3658; or e-mail Please include a contact telephone number. Items must be received at least one week prior to the publication date.





The Guardian Forum

This summer, the Bay Guardian — along with cosponsors that include SEIU 1021, the San Francisco Tenants Union, and the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club — has held a series of public forums framing progressive issues for the mayor’s race and beyond. This fifth and final forum focuses on the Environment, Energy, and Climate Change and the panel is Guardian Executive Editor Tim Redmond, Antonio Diaz with People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights, Alicia Garza with People Organized to Win Employment Right, former Supervisor Aaron Peskin, and Arc Ecology’s Saul Bloom.

5:30 p.m., free

Koret Auditorium, SF Main Library

100 Larkin, SF



Torture and Yoo

The California Young Republican Federation hosts John Yoo as welcoming speaker for its first state convention. Yoo has had international complaints filed against him for his complicity in torture and other crimes against humanity at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay after writing legal memos justifying harsh interrogation techniques for the Bush White House. Yoo is a professor at UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law. Anti-war protestors will gather at the doors to “welcome” convention attendees and protest Yoo.

6:30-8:00 p.m., free

Marine Memorial Club & Hotel

609 Sutter Street, SF


Green Tea Party

The Tea Party Express national bus tour is kicking off in Napa, of all places. To counter the event, the Napa County Green Party is throwing a Green Tea Party with prominent progressive speakers, vegetarian cuisine, fun info booths, and iced green tea. The event will end with a march to the Napa Valley Expo Fairgrounds, where presidential candidates are expected to be speaking to Tea Party supporters. Participants are encouraged to wear green.

10:30 a.m., free

Veterans Memorial Park

Corner of Main and Third, Napa

(707) 257-7435



Preserving the Harvest

The Ecology Center of San Francisco (ECOSF) is hosting a community workshop entitled “Preserving the Harvest: Canning and Drying,” along with a potluck and solar oven pizza making. Spend time with neighbors and friends while learning how to can fruits and tomatoes in the most energy efficient way. ECOSF’s mission is to promote cooperation, community, and respect for the environment, so bring a dish made from your garden to share.

11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Near School of Arts athletic field

555 Portola, SF


Mail items for Alerts to the Guardian Building, 135 Mississippi St., SF, CA 94107; fax to (415) 437-3658; or e-mail Please include a contact telephone number. Items must be received at least one week prior to the publication date.

The foodie crackdown


Yet another blow was dealt to the San Francisco’s free-thinking food scene on June 11 when the final Underground Market was staged by ForageSF, at least for the time being. The market was shut down by the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) in a clash between small-time food businesses and city officials over permitting and regulatory issues.

“I was ready for this for a while,” ForageSF founder Iso Rabins told us. “I thought someone would show up eventually to say something about this, and now they have.”

Rabins began the Underground Market in 2009 as a monthly venue for food entrepreneurs to share their goods without financial and bureaucratic red tape. It’s basically a farmers market without the permits, fees, and commercial kitchen requirements that add thousands of dollars to the cost of staging an event. Throw in live music, drinks, a little subversive thrill, and you’ve got a gathering that has proven enormously popular.

Until now, the market has operated as a private event. It is held in a private space and attendees are required to sign a membership form and pay a $5 entrance fee. It’s become a huge draw for foodies, with 1,500 to 3,200 patrons per event, according to Rabins, so the state government got wind of its largely unregulated operations.

Alicia Saam, the temporary events coordinator with SFDPH, says her department was asked by state officials to observe the market. It’s now too big to be considered private, she says, so it must adhere to health code and public safety regulations just like any other public event.

“One of the things that differentiate private versus public events is how much advertisement goes out there,” Saam said. “Something that is advertised and has grown big enough to have a following, that becomes a concern for us as a public event.”

Without official oversight, rules are bound to be broken. As with any novice venture, mistakes are made. When officials came to the Underground Market, they saw some vendors acting more like friends at a house party than professional food vendors, which is the complicated line that the market tries to toe.

“We observed operators and vendors eating and then handling the food, and that’s a huge contamination hazard for us,” Saam said. “They weren’t washing their hands before continuing food service, nor did they have a hand-washing set-up right there at their booth. There looked to be temperature issues as far as some of the food that was being stored, such as protein foods, sausages, and dairy. Some foods were not protected but were displayed on the table uncovered. People come up and they’re excited and curious, there’s a lot of creativity there, so they’re hovering over the food and possibly contaminating it with all sorts of things. The source of food, such as the kitchen where the food is coming from, needs to be an approved space where there are no animals, or cats like in some homes. It needs to be a commercial space that is properly cleaned and sanitized.”

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, one in six Americans get sick each year from eating contaminated food. Salmonella infection is of particular concern because food can be contaminated anywhere from the fields to kitchen surfaces.

The SFDPH has already allowed the Underground Market to operate unregulated for more than a year without any reported food illnesses, but Rabins is quick to agree that these health concerns are real.

“I do believe that these issues of health are important, and although I feel that all the vendors at the market are very careful about what they make, we do want to institute some Serve-Safe classes, basic food safety,” Rabins says.

He says that on the whole, people cooking small batches pay much more attention to their ingredients and processes than industrial food companies do. Rabin said that while the country’s food safety system works pretty well, it doesn’t allow for much locally based innovation in new models for making and sharing food.

“The Health Department’s position makes sense because this is the system that has existed, this is the system that they know and that their jobs support, and it’s a system that works in a lot of ways. But it’s also a system that was really created for industrial processes,” Rabins says. “Unfortunately the way regulations work, top-down is one-size-fits-all, but that’s just not the way it is.”

That gets to the meat of the issue: whether and how much the city should get involved in people’s food habits. Where is the line between public restaurants and private homes — and are there ways of creating hybrids of the two? It’s an ongoing battle in San Francisco between regulating restaurants (and netting taxes) while still promoting an innovative food industry that attracts locals and tourists alike.

In the past few years, the mobile food truck craze has hit San Francisco with little bits of foodie culture from all over the world. Entrepreneurs say it’s too difficult and expensive to start a successful restaurant in SF, so they’re trying small-time pop-ups instead.

At first they went unregulated, but now laws define what they can sell, the permits they need, and limit their mobility. Permits are expensive too, starting at $1660 for initial basic coverage, which is why Rabins says the Underground Market provides an additional support for motivated locals. As city officials have closed big budget deficits year after year without any substantial increases in general tax revenue, fees and permit costs have risen substantially in recent years.

According to Rabins, getting the Underground Market up to code means, “getting all the vendors commercial kitchen space, making them get catering licenses, which is around $600, making them pay for vendor event permits, which is $140 per event, and then I would have to buy a sponsor permit which is another $1200 per event plus event insurance plus, plus, plus all these things that would essentially destroy the spirit of the event. It would make the bar way too high.”

Tightening the membership rules is another option, such as making people sign up weeks in advance or requiring member cards. Richard Lee, the director of environmental health regulatory programs at SFPHD, says that regardless of the vendor’s complaints, the regulations must be met.

“We think that these are reasonable options,” Lee said. “Anyone who is going to sell to the public needs to meet certain requirements, and unfortunately some of those requirements are going to be costly. They have to pay for permits and whatever those permits cost they’re going to have to pay.”

Until some agreement can be reached, the Underground Market won’t be operating, and San Franciscans will have to find their fix at the numerous above ground markets and restaurants. Lee says that he hopes that the market meets city demands, and soon, as this kind of entrepreneurial innovation is essential to a thriving food economy.

“We do encourage the micro-enterprises, and there are possible ways to have that started in San Francisco,” Lee said. “It is possible that there may be legislation in the future that might be supported by the Board [of Supervisors] to make it easier for them to get permitted, so there are things that can be done. For us, though, it is food safety and public health that are the most important things.”

But Rabins is already looking far beyond just the small market model.

“They just want to make it another farmers market,” Rabins said. “I’m not interested in running another farmers market. There are plenty of farmers markets around and people who have been doing them for years and know how to do them.”

He also isn’t interested in conforming to the pre-set expectations and sees the motivation behind the market taking it to new heights. In addition to reopening, he says that ForageSF has secured a kitchen space for helping entrepreneurs launch their small businesses and host public classes.

“We are going to hopefully have a rooftop garden with a movie screen, a retail space in front that sells products being made in the kitchen by vendors, and possibly a small-scale brewery in back,” Rabins said.

He is also reaching out to other similar market organizers, such as some in Los Angeles, to brainstorm ways to make this business model more acceptable across the country. He says they are in the initial phases of creating a model that is reproducible for others who want to start their own markets.

Once again, in the place where the organic food movement first bloomed, people are coming together to create new interactions between producers, consumers, and their food.

Shuttle wars at SFO


It’s a misty morning at San Francisco International Airport, with the fog breaking into a slight drizzle. At the ground transportation area, travelers were repeatedly running in to each other in their head-down dash across packed taxi lanes.

The biggest bottleneck wasn’t the cars, though; it was the confused populace staring up at multicolored, multiarrowed transportation-related signs. Taxi? No. Shuttle? Yes, but which shuttle — reserved, hotel, or shared-ride?

I watch the collective confusion from the shared-ride zone, itself a tricolor ménage. A small sign shows that the red, yellow, and blue zones each correspond to a set of shuttle companies, but it takes some time to figure out which is which. Someone (official or not, I can’t tell) has crossed out and reassigned companies with a permanent marker. Good thing I don’t actually need a ride.

I ask a curb coordinator on duty, Carlos Marenco, about the colored zones. He explains that there are eight small shuttle companies that share the yellow zone — they rotate every five minutes. Two companies use the red zone and rotate every seven minutes. And one company, SuperShuttle, has its own blue zone. Why are the zones distributed like this, I ask?

“SuperShuttle and Lorrie’s (a red zone company) are bigger. More people know them, so they need more space,” Marenco said.

Just then a bewildered couple approached the shared-ride zone. They began talking to the driver of a small yellow zone company who is about to finish his allotted five minutes.

“No,” a coordinator shouts as he comes bustling toward passengers. “You need to go down to the blue zone.”

“Why?” the man asks.

“It is not this driver’s turn. You need to go to the blue zone,”

The coordinator takes their bags from the driver and begins wheeling them to the blue zone.

“They want to ride with me!” he shouts.

The couple is already down the sidewalk though, guiltily following their bags to a waiting SuperShuttle — and the next yellow zone driver idles nearby waiting for their spot at the curb. The driver curses, slams his door, and drives off empty.



Curb space at SFO is prime real estate, and a battle is underway between the giant SuperShuttle — owned by a French conglomerate — and a group of small, locally owned airport shuttle companies that say that they’re being pushed aside.

It gets heated out at the curb — when I talked to him after the unlucky driver left without his potential passengers, Marenco explained that the coordinators are often yelled at by enraged drivers.

“They think we cheat them, but we do not,” Marenco said. He says his job is to make sure drivers do not solicit passengers and that each zone gets an equal number of walk-up customers. He has come up with his own system — three large rectangular red, yellow, and blue magnets he puts on a pole at the front of the line to show drivers who gets the next passenger.

But Aaron Chan, owner of Advance Airporter, a small company stuck in the yellow zone, said that “the drivers are always telling me that the curb coordinators give many more passengers to SuperShuttle, even when it is not their turn.” And some small companies say that the big outfit pays the coordinators for more favorable treatment.

Marenco insists he never took money (which you can call tips or bribes, depending on your attitude). But Matt Curwood, San Francisco SuperShuttle general manager, acknowledged that “there have been a number of situations where our drivers are forced into circumstances where coordinators will only escort passengers to their shuttle if they are provided with payment of some form.”

There are no shining angels here. Both parties blame the other side; both deny bribery themselves (but claim the others do it), and the coordinators deny it happens at all.

And the whole mess is getting dropped in the lap of the Airport Commission, which in the past has been very friendly to SuperShuttle.



When the new Terminal 2 opened in April, airport staff asked each shuttle company to submit a letter discussing how zoning should be organized at the new curb. SuperShuttle responded — and took the opportunity to push a topic it has been trying to get SFO officials to adopt since the early 1990s: limiting the number of shuttle companies allowed to serve SFO to no more than two or three.

Curwood says that of the airports SuperShuttle operates in, SFO is the most difficult for customers to navigate. In the letter, he proposed the solution of “a competitive RFP process [that] enables competition and improves the quality of service the customer currently experiences. The essence of the problem SFO faces is that it is trying to accommodate too many substandard operators at the jeopardy of the public’s experience and safety.”

Gil Sharabi, general manager of Airport Express, a yellow zone company his father started in 1979, told me that his company has a perfect safety record and is just as qualified to serve the public as SuperShuttle. Sharabi says that SuperShuttle is really aiming to eliminate local business competition.

SuperShuttle’s corporate offices are in Illinois, and it serves 36 airports in the United States.

Curwood says it’s unfair to make this about the big company versus the little guy. “When you see one of those SuperShuttles on the road, that’s its own business. That’s its own franchise. I want that to be clear because we talk about small companies, and in fact what we are is a franchise for over 100 small companies.”

SuperShuttle may be made up of franchises, but the company itself is owned by Veolia Transportation, part of French multinational company Veolia Environment. Veolia is a Fortune 200 company with four divisions — water, energy, environmental services, and transport — and is the 34th-largest employer in the world. Its website boasts that it is the leading private water service provider in the world and the “No. 1 private transportation operator in Europe and North America.” So much for the little guy.

Sharabi says that aside from monopolization threats, the real problem is the special treatment SuperShuttle is given by airport staff.

The current tricolor system began in 1993 when the airport tried to terminate space in the yellow zone. The issue went to the Board of Supervisors, which directed the airport to give yellow zone companies their space back.

Since then, the companies in the yellow zone have been forced to share their space eight ways, which means fewer customers for them. If each colored zone gets one-third of walk-up customers, a company in the yellow zone — if it’s lucky — one out of every 24. SuperShuttle, on the other hand, gets all blue zone customers and can wait to pile in passengers, saving on gas and time. Furthermore, the eight yellow zone companies pay more of the third-party curb coordinator’s salaries than SuperShuttle.



Ray Sloan-Zayotti of the local lobbying firm Public Policy Advocates, which has represented the eight yellow zone companies since 1993, said that by not making SuperShuttle rotate, “they essentially have a free billboard right outside the terminal — and they don’t have to pay the fees the others pay to loop through the airport.”

Sharabi said the situation at SFO is unusual. “There are even more shuttles at Oakland Airport, but no one complains there,” Sharabi said. “It’s because everyone over there is treated fairly — and that’s all we’re asking for.”

Indeed, Sharabi said, one of the most aggravating parts of this debate is that the day after airport staff received SuperShuttle’s letter, it led to a long discussion at the Airport Commission. He said his and other yellow zone companies have been trying for years to get the commission and staff to listen to their complaints of unequal treatment.

“They don’t want to listen to us,” Sharabi said. “They have decided that they want SuperShuttle here, and not us. And they haven’t given us a reason why.

“We’ve been sending letters and doing proposals and lots of work for years,” he added. “And they have not only never cared for us, they have never forwarded anything to the commission,” Sharabi said.

In exasperation, the eight yellow zone companies sent a response letter directly to the Airport Commission outlining their position. “For nearly two decades a majority of companies — many that have been around much longer than SuperShuttle — have sent letters to SFO and the commission that have been received with little or no interest,” it stated. The letter went on to ask the commission to consider giving all 11 companies equal time at the curb.



Sharabi and Sloan-Zayotti both point out that SuperShuttle hired Platinum Advisors, a well-known local lobbying firm. Curwood confirmed that SuperShuttle has hired the company, adding that it’s common for businesses dealing with the city to hire lobbyists. (Indeed, yellow zone companies have a lobbyist of their own.) He said SuperShuttle’s proposal will benefit passengers, but that it is ultimately up to the commissioners and airport staff.

“The system is right now catering to the small companies to ensure their survival rather than catering to the public,” Curwood said. “[The letter is] not saying ‘I want to kick everyone out of business,’ it’s saying that these are serious issues our customers say they face and proposing a way to put standards in place that will change it.”

“In all honesty, we understand what SuperShuttle is doing — and that’s reducing the competition for them,” Sharabi said. “It’s business, right? But what’s not right is that unelected officials get to make decisions that affect small business owners like us without having to answer to the public. That right there is the problem.”

“I do not know where that’s coming from,” said Michael McCarron, director of the SFO Bureau of Community Affairs. “We listen to everyone. We can’t make everyone happy, but we try to listen to everyone and work out the best possible arrangements for all the operators.”

Sharabi disagreed. “Everybody drops the line ‘You know we support the local people.’ But it couldn’t be further from the truth.”