More than a year after publicly airing their complaints in a July 2008 cover story in The Santa Barbara Independent, the taxicab drivers of Santa Barbara have coalesced into an official body that they hope will empower their fight for proper planning by City Hall, which has allowed nearly 50 companies and 400 drivers to work the streets, and sensible treatment from the police, which now must play a cat-and-mouse game with cabbies due to limited legal parking spots in the downtown area.
After 10 months of sporadic and casual meetings at the Rusty’s Pizza Parlor on Carrillo Street, the Santa Barbara Taxi Association crossed the street to hold its first official meeting on Tuesday, September 15, at the Eagle’s Club on Bath Street. There, the 25 or so drivers and cab company owners in attendance unanimously voted to elect Richard Honigman as president. The most outspoken critic of City Hall’s lack of comprehensive cabbie oversight, Honigman has already since met with City Councilmember and mayoral candidate Helene Schneider, who he said is “very aware” of the problems. The two spoke for a half-hour about the possible creation of a taxi commission, in which representatives of the police department, fire department, taxicab companies, City Hall, downtown businesses, and other interested parties would meet on a regular basis.
“The city is just flooded with cabs,” said Honigman on Friday afternoon as he got ready for the night’s shift, issuing his repeated complaint that too many cabbies have been allowed without any guidelines for the police on how to deal with them. “We feel like second-class citizens and we don’t feel like respectable, honest businessmen because we’re not treated that way by the city.”
Among other particular complaints, Honigman – who never blames the individual police officers because he understands it’s a City Hall problem – explained that the new taxi stands that were promised in June for a handful of places near State Street have not been installed yet. It’s also very much a public safety issue, said Honigman. “The situation in front of Eos nightclub is an accident waiting to happen,” he explained, recounting scenes of double-lane left-hand turns onto Haley Street and drunk people running across the street to catch cabs. Sharkeez on Monday nights is also hectic, said Honigman, who dreams of one day having stop-and-drop spots along State Street.
The Tuesday meeting only had about 25 or so attendees, representing what Honigman estimated to be about a quarter of the cab companies in town. “I’d like to see more, but it’s going to take time to grow,” said Honigman, expressing hope that media coverage – perhaps even a spot by KEYT’s John Palminteri – will help the association catch momentum.
And it’s very much needed, said Honigman. “We’re getting tickets now for being parked at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf on the 800 block!” he exclaimed. “There is no way to adequately serve Paseo Nuevo. How do I get that little old lady at Nordstrom on Canon Perdido home? For a $6 ride to the Rivieria, I am risking a $400 fine. It’s a ridiculous way to live.”
Perhaps with the association in place and Honigman at the wheel, life as a cabbie in Santa Barbara might become a little more sane.