Where’s Al?

Liberal radio network won't air in the Bay Area for now. And Feeder goes after a firm that issues pseudo parking tickets.

It seemed like a match made in liberal heaven: Air America Radio, the upstart lefty radio network, and the San Francisco Bay Area, the progressive capital of the Left Coast. But it looks as if the Anti-Rush won’t be coming to local airwaves — at least not anytime soon.

According to AirAmericaRadio.com, the network now broadcasts in eighteen regions, including the less-than-major markets of Kauai, Key West, and (coming soon!) Santa Cruz — all places where Hacky Sack is still seriously cool. In early April, Air America announced plans to air its programming — most notably The Al Franken Show — on two small AM radio stations, KVTO in Berkeley and KVVN in the South Bay.

Both belong to Inner City Broadcasting, which also owns the station that broadcasts Air America programs to the New York market. Local people expected the liberal network to go live by the end of April. But three months later, both Bay Area stations continue to air Korean- and Chinese-language programming.

In the interim, Air America has suffered from well-publicized financial and managerial troubles. Several top execs have quit. After a money dispute involving allegations of bounced checks, the network was pulled off the air in Chicago and Los Angeles. Somewhere along the way, Air America’s plans for the Bay Area quietly unraveled. “Air America is off as far as we’re concerned,” says Harvey Stone, station manager for KVTO and KVVN, as well as FM sister station KBLX. “It just made no sense with what they were going through with their financial situation.”

Adam Schiff, a spokesman for Air America, was irritatingly obtuse about the network’s future plans for the bay. Basically, there’s no longer any timeline for when, or even if, the new face of liberal talk radio might debut here. “While there’s nothing to be announced today about San Francisco,” Schiff sniffs, “that’s not to say there won’t be.”

Unless, of course, Air America announces its bankruptcy first.

Feeder on Your Side
Ever get out of the movie theater only to find your car missing? Well, that’s what happened to Nancy Gordon after she finished watching The Fog of War at the Act 1 & 2 Theater in downtown Berkeley on a Sunday afternoon. But her Ford Ranger hadn’t been stolen. It had been towed from the Bank of America lot across the street, where drivers must prepay to park during nonbusiness hours. And it cost her $382.50 to get it back — a lot of dough for someone who makes a living as a paid signature-gatherer.

Fortunately, Gordon came to the right gossip columnist. Feeder could immediately tell there was something hinky about the whole thing. On top of the $182.50 towing and storage fee, Gordon had to clear a mysterious $200 parking “fee” before she could get her truck back. Her parking “invoice” didn’t say why she owed so much money — there was simply a Sharpie scribble, “Owes $200” and a disclaimer, “This parking charge notice is not issued by the city.” Gordon wanted justice — and her money. “Hopefully you can help me do something about these crooks,” she implored.

Feeder promised to spring into action and then promptly forgot about the whole thing for a few months. Several binges and hangovers later, he got another call from his persistent reader. Had Feeder looked into her case any further? No, no, I hadn’t, but I promised to do so as soon as this hangover wore off. A month later, Gordon is finally getting her money back from the ticketing agency. Well, sixty bucks of her money. Okay, so I couldn’t get all of it back. What do you people want from me?

Anyway, here’s the story behind the glory: Gordon was ticketed and towed by Walnut Creek-based Regional Parking Inc. Downtown businesses in Berkeley and other congested East Bay cities where street parking is hard to find hire the company to patrol their lots and punish loitering noncustomers who ignore the warning signs. At the Downtown Berkeley Bank of America, for instance, signs warn violators they will be charged a $28 parking fee, which rises to $56 after 21 days. According to Robert Power, the head of Regional Parking, his agent ordered Gordon’s car towed because she had two previous unpaid tickets, er, “fees.” What Power didn’t say is that without having towed Gordon’s truck, Regional Parking wouldn’t have had any real leverage to collect its money. As a private company, it doesn’t have access to confidential DMV address information. Therefore, drivers could theoretically ignore a ticket from the company without consequence unless they later parked in a private lot patrolled by the company.

Regional Parking, meanwhile, has been lobbying state legislators for access to those DMV records. AB 559, a recent bill that would have done just that, stalled in the state Senate’s Transportation Committee.

Six years ago Jim Sepulveda, a deputy district attorney in Contra Costa County, warned Regional Parking to stop issuing its pseudo-tickets in private lots in downtown Walnut Creek. The DA and city officials had heard many complaints about the parking fees, which drivers often mistakenly confused with genuine tickets from the city. Sepulveda said what Regional Parking was doing was illegal: “Private individuals don’t have the authority to enforce parking.”

When the controversy first erupted, Sepulveda suggested there was one way to make the practice legal: The city needed to pass a law authorizing enforcement of private parking lots by Regional Parking or similar firms. So that’s what the Walnut Creek City Council did (and what nearby Concord did two years later). Berkeley, which is in Alameda County, has no such enabling law. The city council briefly considered the issue in the 1990s but for unknown reasons never did anything.

Feeder helpfully passed along all this background information to Berkeley Councilman Kriss Worthington (whom Gordon also had contacted). Worthington, in turn, sent a letter to Regional Parking saying, in part, “I am under the impression that there is some question regarding the legality of these charges.” Lo and behold, Power called back and said he would give Gordon a partial refund.

He explained that Gordon was accidentally charged too much money because of a glitch that is now being corrected. He also disputed Sepulveda’s contention that cities needed to pass laws to make his business legal. Power says Regional Parking has the legal right to charge private-parking lot violators as long as warning signs are clearly posted, which they indeed are at the lot from which Gordon’s truck was towed. “It’s perfectly legal because it’s a binding contract,” he says.

Worthington isn’t so sure. He’s considering introducing a proposal to regulate private-parking enforcement in the city. The councilman suspects there are other angry drivers out there who’ve been improperly charged $200.

As for Ms. Gordon, she sent Feeder a nice thank-you card. But she isn’t satisfied with her partial refund. “I should have everything,” she says.

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