_Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood: Once upon a time, People's Lawyer Jim Rogers -- yes, he of the late-night ads for the Lotto-buying, whiplash-suffering crowd -- was a force to be reckoned with in East Bay politics. In the early '90s, Mr. Rogers made his mark with a victorious bid for the Richmond City Council. He then chased his career-ambulance to the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors in 1994, defeating Maria Viramontes. But then it all came crashing down. He failed to win the Democratic nomination to the 14th Assembly District seat in 1996 despite dumping more than $200K of his family's dough into the cause. Two years later, incumbent Rogers couldn't even retain his own supervisorial seat (having been tagged by the courts for overcharging clients certainly didn't help his credibility). Two years ago, the People's Carrot Top couldn't even manage to place in the race for Richmond City Council.
Nonetheless, Jimbo confesses to 7 Days that he's pondering another attempt for the Richmond City Council in November. Rogers says he has been discussing his options with local operatives including political fixer Darrell Reese, the convicted tax-evader who, according to press reports, was under investigation by the FBI for allegedly bribing elected city officials. (Such pesky allegations don't prevent Reese from still being a player in Refinery Town politics.)
So is Rogers looking for redemption after his fall from the dais? Nah. "Some things," he explains, "still need to be done." Unfortunately, we can't recall what those things are because we were more curious about persistent rumors that even back in 1999, when Rogers unsuccessfully ran for council, rumors abounded that he really lived in Berkeley (where he studied as an undergrad). Rogers assures us that just ain't true. "There's a lot of BS that goes on," he sighs.
Meanwhile, we hear that Rogers' old nemesis, Maria Viramontes, plans to toss her tiara in the ring. And that ain't no BS.
_Driven to Protest: We're betting things don't feel too friendly around the Friendly Cab Company in Oakland this month. Friendly is one of the largest taxi services in the East Bay, part of the cab monopoly held by Baljin and Surinder Singh. Years ago, the Singhs found a loophole in the city's rule that one person cannot own more than thirty percent of taxi permits in the city, and since then, their cabbie employers complain, they've raised fees for drivers to intolerable levels. Last spring, cabbies staged a strike and started organizing a union, but the Singhs held a trump card: As independent contractors, the drivers were not eligible for unionization. But Teamsters Local 70 organizer Odus Hall says that doesn't mean the movement is dead. "We're setting things in motion to create a Teamsters-Alameda County cabdrivers association," he says. "We've already met a few times and have a meeting scheduled for next week. The association would lobby the city and the county for improved conditions for cabdrivers and set up industry standards that would assist them in gaining dignity and respect as workers."
And then last week attorneys from the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund stuck another thorn in the taxi giant's side: They sued the company under California law for allegedly discriminating against people with disabilities. The DREDF says two of their clients have repeatedly been refused service by Friendly Cab when waiting for a ride with their guide dogs. "California law explicitly provides that individuals with disabilities who rely on guide dogs are to enjoy the same access to businesses, including taxi services, as anyone else," DREDF attorney Sherri Rita said in a statement. "Friendly cannot just decide that it won't pick up customers who use guide dogs."
_Logging Off: The lights are off and the computer screens are dark at Webvan, the Foster City-based online grocer that maintained its Bay Area distribution hub at a massive warehouse in East Oakland. Last week, the company laid off its remaining 2,000 employees and declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy after burning through $1.2 billion in funding. Webvan's stock price, once as high as $34 dollars a share, had dropped to about six cents by the time management decided to call it quits.
Despite the organizing efforts of the Teamsters and the United Commercial Food Workers, Webvan's employees -- which include truck drivers, meat cutters, and other warehouse workers -- were never unionized. "It's unfortunate because they would have had some options; now they don't have any," says UCFW spokesman Rich Hedges. "They're absolutely unprotected; there's no one to negotiate severance for them." Despite the lavish severance packages previously offered to Webvan higher-ups like former CEO George Shaheen, who was promised $31,250 a month for life when he resigned in April, departing workers collected only their salaries through Sunday, reimbursement for remaining vacation time, and a $900 check from an anonymous donor. (However, Shaheen, as an unsecured creditor, will have to get in line with everyone else to collect his cash.) According to Hedges, Webvan administrators threw a party at the Foster City office on Friday night, but failed to alert blue-collar workers about the company's shutdown until the following Monday morning, when employees began turning up to work at the company's various warehouses. (Workers at the San Carlos facility got an even less nice good-bye when Webvan's loss protection department, presumably worried about sacked employees looting the place, requested police help in guarding the facility, resulting in a countywide "Phase One Tactical Alert.")