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Taxi firm sues airport over lost license

Beach Cities Cab is suing the county airport for half a million dollars for yanking its license to do business there after airport managers were told — apparently erroneously — that the company’s insurance had been canceled.

Beach Cities Cab owner and chief executive officer Jeff Goldenberg said the company’s commercial vehicle transportation license was canceled in an April 13, 2009, letter from Richard Howell, manager of the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport.

Howell’s letter said he was taking the action because Goldenberg’s insurance had been canceled twice in the previous six months.

However, Goldenberg said, his insurer sent a fax to Howell the same day stating that Beach Cities Cab’s “insurance has not been canceled.” He added that his insurance has never lapsed.

“There was no lapse in coverage, nor actual cancellation of the policy, and it remains in full force and effect,” according to the fax sent to Howell from David C. Haley, president of American Business Services.

Howell insisted in an e-mail to The Tribune that Goldenberg’s insurance had been canceled twice in that six-month period, adding that the county spent “a tremendous amount of time” investigating those cancellations and exploring the adequacy of Goldenberg’s permit to do business.

While conducting those investigations, the county found that Goldenberg was behind in his permit payments and had failed to file quarterly reports about his vehicles, Howell wrote.

Consequently, Howell wrote, “the county decided to terminate the permit due to multiple permit violations.”

Goldenberg denies that he was behind in permit fees, and says that, until the current brouhaha, airport officials never had asked him for quarterly reports or told him he was late in filing them.

Howell wrote to Goldenberg that, should Beach Cities get its insurance reinstated, it could submit a new application. “Please note, given current staff loads, we will not be able to immediately reconsider a new permit request,” Howell wrote.

However, in his e-mail this week to The Tribune, Howell wrote that Beach Cities is not going to get a permit.

“In discussions with County Counsel and General Services Agency management it was believed to be in the best interests of the traveling public not to issue a permit given the history of Beach Cities’ operations at the airport,” Howell wrote.

Without Beach Cities, there are two taxi, two shuttle and four limousine operators providing service at the airport, according to Howell.

But Goldenberg said keeping him from the airport leaves the facility short of service.

He said he has been doing business at the airport since 2001 and before his license was canceled, he was making 50 or 60 trips there daily. He has 22 employees, he said.

Goldenberg also said the airport staff has been giving him $50 tickets for “illegal parking of for-hire vehicles” when he drops off passengers outside the airport property. He has accumulated $8,000 worth, he said.

“In order to protest the tickets, I need the opportunity to meet with the airport heads,” Goldenberg wrote, “and they refuse to afford me any meeting time.”

Goldenberg said he does not understand how he can be ticketed for dropping off passengers in a public place.

He says the contretemps perplexes and bothers him because he has operated a designated driver program, paid for anti-drunk driving advertisements, and has coached and sponsored youth sports. He said he suspects there is something personal behind his battle with Howell, although he could not provide specifics.

Howell said his motivations have been professional, not personal. “The information I had available to me at the time (of the cancellation) was that Beach Cities Cab was operating a taxi service at the airport without insurance. This is something they had a history of doing, the last being January 2009. I did do everything in my power to protect our customers,” he wrote.

“County Airport Services …. (seeks to) protect the interests of the county and our customers. This was and continues to be the basis for the actions we took relating to Beach Cities Cab,” he wrote.

Goldenberg seeks a minimum of $500,000 for alleged loss of income and punitive damages.

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