SAN DIEGO — By industry-in-recession standards, last night’s meeting of the Greater California Livery Association would qualify as a respectable blowout.
President Alan Shanedling and executive vice president Jonna Sabroff were initially worried about turnout after the meetings in San Francisco in March and in Los Angeles in April were either at or slightly below the break-even threshold. But the minimum 60 attendees showed up last night — and then some — at the waterfront Tom Ham’s Lighthouse restaurant across the bay from the San Diego skyline.
By 7:15, operators and guests almost needed to have their drinks yanked out of their hands and set on the dinner tables in order to get them to sit down for the buffet call. Despite the recession and business travel woes, it was encouraging that GCLA cocktail-mode still endures.
In fact, there was plenty of mingling, business card connecting, questioning, and venting, helped along with a speaker line-up that revolved around the general themes of bureaucratic and regulatory frustrations. It makes one think how much time, effort, and money needs to be put into an organization such as the GCLA — all because state and municipal governments have gotten so big and unwieldy, making hassles multiply for business owners who simply want to take customers from point A to point B in luxurious vehicles. Leave it to big, fat bureaucratic government to complicate such a straightforward business endeavor as driving people around in big, safe, black vehicles.
In a fairer, more rational regulatory climate, the GCLA would ideally only need two meetings a year — and the agenda would revolve around celebrating smaller, efficient government handing out streamlined permits, and the resulting savings to operators that could be spent on closing down the bar instead of compliance costs.
While operators anecdotally reported having to cut back on fleets amid this 18-month-and-counting recession, I picked up a few random tidbits from operators that the industry pulse may be quickening a little: “At least the phone is ringing again, and people are calling to ask questions,” one operator said. Another two operators both told me how their revenues are surprisingly up over last year, thanks to hustling for new clients and getting some good contracts. Given the recessionary meltdown in California, that is quite an accomplishment. In fact, while many regulatory trends, both for good and ill, originate in the most populous state with the most livery activity, it’s also becoming obvious from the voter rebuke to panicky, purse-picking Sacramento politicians, that when California screws something up, it really screws it up big.
But getting back to possible positive signs, while driving down from Los Angeles through the San Joaquin Hills of Orange County, I passed a convoy of two black luxury Ford Vans with Empire CLS logos fully loaded. I assume it should be encouraging that on a Wednesday afternoon in May some group somewhere is at least springing for a corporate road trip. Also hopeful is the fact that the vans on the road belong to Empire CLS, which given industry scuttlebutt, should be seen maybe as a good sign? (Yes, LCT got THAT e-mail, too, but had to “delete it.”)
The highlights of the after-dessert program included Gregg Cook, the GCLA lobbyist, who went off on the California Public Utilities Commission, and while referring to a prominent bureaucrat, vowed to “go after his ass.” Given comparisons of Cook to Robert Redford, he could probably do it.
Fortunately, Mike Nakasone of the PUC, while not the aforementioned bureaucrat, did leave the meeting with his ass intact after giving a talk that followed Cook’s presentation.
LCT will explain what all of this is about in next week’s Driving Force e-newsletter, including coverage of the latest efforts to bust illegal limo operators and a new law dealing with student limo transportation that takes effect June 1.
Meanwhile, an upbeat Alan Shanedling, beaming from the turnout, and the GCLA plan to convene again in the fall after the association takes its annual summer hiatus from monthly operator dinners.
For now, Memorial Day weekend beckons. . .
— Martin Romjue, LCT editor
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