Regulation Clearlake Style

   Clearlake City Hall does not create much original content.  They administer even less.  The original City Code was a boiler plated Lake County Code.  New laws or ordinances tend to be boiler plated versions of other cities’ ordinances or “me too” copies of Lake County regs.  Therefore, large chunks of Clearlake’s working documents are not understood or agreed with by staff or council.  Some provisions lay dormant for years until an opportunity arises to use them as an ad hoc club for some unrelated purpose.

   For some reason poor little Clearlake decided they needed a massive expansion of local taxi regulation.  As a taxi driver I took a personal interest.  To start with, I wanted to know why a few struggling drivers needed a big city regulatory structure when the existing regulations were not being administered or enforced by the police department.

   Normally when a sweeping new regulatory scheme is proposed the existing companies are brought into the process.  This is because the economic effects may not be known to those creating the regulations.  There is a block of data that only the companies themselves can provide.  Unless a city or agency is completely indifferent to the harmful effects of a given regulation they should be interested in this data.  Clearlake was not.

   Since the drivers, companies, and the public were not brought in at the beginning of the process, the announcement of a first reading of new taxi regulations caught those affected by surprise.  For unknown reasons this was a very fast tracked item.  Since I was a literate driver contracting with the only functional cab company, we engaged the City.

   We got a copy of the draft ordinance and demanded a delay so we could respond.  I went line by line through this massive tome while the owner did a lengthy online search to see what city or county birthed this beast.  Margie Huit found a perfect fit for the wealthy suburb of Woodland, a city six times larger than Clearlake.  Their taxi regs were an exact duplicate of what the the City Administrator was trying to shove down our throats.  They did not even delete the absurd references to theatres and railroad stations, terms which will never be uttered in the same sentence with Clearlake.

   Margie and I then went on a road trip to study Ukiah’s taxi regs and scheduled a meeting with the City Administrator, Police Chief, and the Police Lieutenant who would be enforcing these edicts, which includes shaking down the companies and drivers for fees.

   Ukiah is Lake County ‘s nearest neighbor, has only a few more people than Clearlake, and was recently voted the most livable city in California.  We got copies of their ordinance as well as all the “to do” lists from the Police Department, then talked with staff.  Ukiah’s regulations are more extensive than Clearlake’s existing ordinance but within the realm of reason.  And unlike the cribbed-to-impress Woodland ordinance, was written in plain English.

   The owners of the other two taxi companies in town are disfunctional on several levels.  Our so-called representatives on the City Council are mere rubber stamps for the City Administrator and do not raise any issues that would expose their severe learning disabilities.  This meant Margie and I were bucking the City alone.

   I came to our meeting with my written analysis and Margie came with Ukiah’s ordinance and associated documents as an alternative. We also wanted to know why this was being rammed through since they were not even administering the old ordinance.  None of our concerns were addressed in a meaningful way, including telling us what the real agenda was.  We were nobodies, peasants, insignificant, and therefore irrelevant.

   I did prove that our police did not understand the big city boiler plate either.  One of their implementations required all taxis to be sequentially numbered and those numbers listed on each car’s annual permits.  I pointed out that as cars are taken out of service the new sequential numbers would not match up with each car’s permits.  Over time, it would be impossible for anyone to be in compliance.  This section and the railroad reference were the only changes we could get.  There is no stigma in being unreasonable but looking stupid sticks to your face.

   To delay the steamroller longer Margie had to hire a lawyer to write a couple fast and dirty letters.  It was all she could afford.  But it did force the City to send those letters and my articles to the City’s attorneys.  The City’s bottom feeders knew we couldn’t bankroll a legal battle so they called our bluff with absurdities, asserting they could copy any city’s ordinance they wanted without even knowing everything in it and without collecting any cost or market data.  So there.

   Before the final reading the Administrator thought she could weasel out of responsibility for this travesty by declaring her only motivation was to comply with DMV, PUC, and group risk sharing requirements.  So I went to my computer and checked.  She lied.  In fact, the PUC explicitly stated they do not regulate taxis.  I also spent $200 for a data set from the taxi and limo association. Throughout the struggle I wrote about ten articles of various types.

   The City Council did not care that I proved the Administrator was a liar and I was the best informed person in the room on the issue. The crushing regulations passed unanimously.  As promised, I quit a month later.

   A year went by, Margie and her drivers were hounded for fees, licenses, and a tripling of insurance requirements.  Modifications to taxis and drug tests were demanded.  Some of these fees were supposed to pay for police to administer the ordinance but they never inspected the cars or delivered the ID’s that were paid for.  It turns out the police did not know how this new “live scan” requirement in the regs worked either.  Margie was told to get a special Department of Justice number before having the drivers live scanned but it turns out that’s the police’s job.

   The other companies did not have these problems.  They waited to see if they were forced to comply.  If they were hit with enforcement provisions they said they would just go out of business.  After about eight months City Hall’s famously short attention span ran out and the threatening letters to do still more, ended.  I found out that another taxi owner has been telling new hires that Clearlake has no taxi regulation.

   This is how regulation works in Clearlake.  You pay lots of money to do business in an area that’s poor and crime ridden while getting nothing in return.  That is why Clearlake is a true city of industry…. the industry of fleecing marks.

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