TIME Food and Beverage Industry

Big Comeback Planned for the All-American Drive-in Burger Joint

Wendy's hamburger has become more popular than McDonald's.
Paul Vernon / AP

The once-ubiquitous drive-in restaurant–you know, the kind with rollerskating waitresses–will be seen again very soon in all parts of the country, even in states where you wouldn’t want to eat outside for much of the year.

Sonic, the old-fashioned burger-and-shake chain known as “America’s Drive-in,” grew steadily in the early years of the new century. The company hit the 2,000-location market in 1999, and promptly leaped up to 3,000 drive-in locations by 2005. By late 2008, the 3,500th Sonic location opened in the U.S.

However, that’s where the expansion leveled off. Here we are, six years later, and the Sonic website lists the number of locations as simply “more than 3,500.”

It’s understandable that Sonic’s growth might slow substantially of late. The company’s franchise expansion stalled around the time of the Great Recession, when business slowed across a wide range of industries. Over the past five years or so, fast food lunch and dinner sales totals have generally plateaued, and a perception has taken hold that perhaps we’re reaching the point when American consumers just can’t handle any more fast food burger joints.

What’s more, Sonic stands out in the crowded field due to its drive-in feature, in which customers pull up into parking spots in their cars, place their order, and wait for one of the restaurant’s old-fashioned “carhop” staffers to delivery the food. It’s a charming custom, but the charm wears off when, say, it’s 20 degrees and there’s 18 inches of snow on the ground.

“The main difference that sets drive-ins and drive-thrus apart is that the demand for drive-ins is more heavily dependent on the weather,” Hester Jeon, an analyst with IBIS World, explained recently to Marketplace. “Sonic’s business dips pretty dramatically during the colder months.”

So another reason that Sonic’s growth slowed is that it was running out of warm-weather spots to open up more franchises. The company is based in Oklahoma, and its restaurants have traditionally been concentrated there and in Texas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and throughout the South—pretty much everywhere that spring starts early and the chill of fall sets in late.

Nonetheless, Sonic just announced huge plans for growth, with expansion in the U.S. expected to reach roughly the same pace it reached in the early ’00s. The numbers thrown around by Sonic are bold, and nice and round: 1,000 new locations over the next 10 years.

In light of the company’s already heavy presence in the South, how will Sonic do it? First, it’s targeting states with mild climates that don’t already have an abundance of Sonics, namely California. Over the next six years, the goal is to open 15 Sonics in southern California, specifically in greater Los Angeles and San Diego County, and another 15 elsewhere in California. By 2020, Sonic expects to have a total of 300 drive-in locations in the state.

Second, and most interestingly, Sonic isn’t shying away from cold-weather locations. Last summer, Sonic opened in its 44th state, an unlikely one for a drive-in chain: North Dakota.

What makes Sonic’s expansion to North Dakota and other spots with short summers feasible is the introduction of a new restaurant design prototype that features drive-in stalls and outdoor seating that most Sonics, but that also includes a decent-sized area for indoor seating—making the idea of eating at Sonic in January in North Dakota or upstate New York seem not totally nuts. “With locations up north, we had to think creatively about how to develop a location that works with inclement weather while still matching the iconic SONIC Drive-In look,” Bob Franke, Sonic senior vice president of franchise sales and international development, said in a press release for the opening of the North Dakota location. “The result is a new SONIC Drive-In prototype that gives our guests many options during their visit that won’t be disrupted by a little snow.”

The result for diners is that even if they live in an area of the country where drive-in dining wouldn’t be comfortable for the majority of the year, they’ll be fairly likely to see a Sonic pop up in their neck of the woods in the near future. “The Northern states are ripe with expansion opportunities for Sonic, given the brand’s relatively small footprint in the area combined with high customer awareness and pent-up demand,” Franke said earlier this year. Over the next handful of years, 13 new Sonics are planned in the vicinity of Buffalo and Rochester, N.Y., and by 2018 another 14 should open in the greater Seattle area.

TIME Television

RECAP: Parenthood Season Finale: The Tomato in the Room

Parenthood - Season 5
Sam Jaeger as Joel Graham, Savannah Paige Rae as Sydney Graham, Erika Christensen as Julia Braverman-Graham Ben Cohen—NBCU Photo Bank/NBC

Hot tomato, that is. The season 5 finale — which may be it for the series — saw steamy twists, but not a lot of resolution

The NBC family drama wrapped its fifth season — and possibly its last, as the show is currently on the bubble — with plenty of romantic revelations, mostly predictable but with one big surprise (at least for those who didn’t have it spoiled during last week’s preview).

Prodigal daughter Haddie is back with a whole new look — and a big surprise. She comes home from college for summer break with her “best friend” in tow: blonde cutie “Lauren,” played by Tavi Gevinson of Rookie Magazine fame. She keeps the sexual nature of their relationship secret at first, then hints at their intimacy to her dad, but he doesn’t put two and two together until Lauren drops a heavier hint. Kristina finds out after Max, who has walked in on the two smooching, bluntly asks his mom, “If two girls are kissing, does that mean that they’re lesbians?” Though stunned, Kristina accepts and embraces the news in the family’s signature Berkeley way.

It’s an odd choice on the writers’ part to so heavily feature a character who’s been absent all season in the finale. And Haddie’s not the only long-forgotten character to crop back up: Ryan, who was hospitalized last week but had been gone for months, has a large role in the episode when his mother arrives to take him home to Wyoming. After his medical discharge from the army, it seems he has no other choice — though a romp in the hospital bed with Amber confuses the matter and leads her to pick up a pregnancy test later in the episode. Though she’s smiling, it’s hard to root for a positive result knowing that he’s laid up from drunk driving.

As for the plot lines we’ve been focused on for the last stretch of the season, not much comes into focus. Adam and Kristina’s school plan gets no air time at all, much less a decision on whether Bob Little will lease them the property. And Joel and Julia all but fall back into each other’s arms after Victor wins an essay contest at school — emphasis on the “all but.” Even a bedtime story with Sydney, who throws a tantrum until Joel agrees to stay for the night, delivers nothing but smiles and meaningful eye contact. All that will-they-or-won’t-they tension, and all the viewer gets to show for it is an awkward Breyer’s commercial between segments in which a husband asks his wife, “Who’s hotter? Me or Joel?” (Joel, dude. Always Joel.)

The other will-they-or-won’t-they plot line, between Sarah and Hank, resolves as expected: with hesitation on her part, then talk of how much work it will be with his Asperger’s (a diagnosis he still hasn’t formally received), then a kiss. It’s nice to see one “tomato in the room” plucked, though not exactly cathartic to revisit a relationship that has failed once before, and was never especially passionate in the first place. Also in the category of relationships it’s hard to care about: Drew and Natalie. They were thrown together in the penultimate episode and are now apparently so in love that Zeek is inspired to loan Drew the freshly-finished Pontiac (which gives the episode its name) to drive up to see his girlfriend.

The real strength in this finale lies in its more quotidian moments — as is always the case for Parenthood. Adam and Crosby’s vigorous victory lap around their childhood home is sweet, and Zeek and Millie’s last dance through the empty living room is even sweeter.

In what may be the show’s final sequence, the Braverman clan gets together for one last feast on the lawn. Their dialogue is muted in favor of the soundtrack, a thoughtful cover of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin,’” putting special emphasis on one piece of advice — “your sons and your daughters are beyond your command” — that’s never been a great problem for the Bravermans. If there’s one thing they’re good at, it’s supporting for their children, no matter what’s going on in their own lives. This last barbecue, reminiscent of so many others on the show, doesn’t expand on the plot, but it does stay in line with the vibe. As Sydney tells her parents while begging them to get back to normal, “It’s not special, it’s how it’s supposed to be.”

TIME Transportation

Feds Will Probe Passenger Safety After California Bus Crash

Students put up a sign for El Monte High School student Adrian Castro, outside the school in El Monte
Students put up a sign for El Monte High School student Adrian Castro, outside the school in El Monte, California April 11, 2014. Lucy Nicholson—Reuters

Federal transportation authorities have launched an investigation into passenger safety on buses, following last week's crash in northern California that killed 10 people, and will focus on the use of seat belts, emergency exists and fire safety rules

Federal transportation authorities have launched an investigation into how to increase safety on buses in response to Thursday’s horrific crash in Northern California.

The bus, transporting 44 high school students to Humboldt State University for a familiarization visit, collided with a FedEx truck, killing 10 people—five students, the three adults accompanying them, and both drivers—and injuring dozens.

The investigation will look into the use of seatbelts, emergency exits and fire safety rules on buses.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will provide an initial report within 30 days but the investigation could take up to 12 months. The NTSB has long advocated increased safety for bus passengers but other federal agencies have been slow to respond.

“The worst thing for the NTSB is to show up, know that we’ve issued recommendations from a previous accident where lives have been lost … and find out (that) if those recommendations had been closed and enacted, lives could have been saved,” NTSB member Mark Rosekind told AP on Friday.

[AP]

TIME Accident

10 Killed After Truck Hits Students’ Bus in California

Investigators are trying to understand why a semi-truck crossed the median of a northern California interstate and struck a bus full of students. About 36 or 37 people received injuries ranging from severe to minor burns, broken bones and lacerations

Updated 2:01 p.m. ET Friday

A fatal collision on a northern California highway Thursday afternoon left at least 10 people dead, including a number of high school students who were traveling on a bus to a local university.

Officials have confirmed that the bus, a FedEx truck and a Nissan Altima were involved in the deadly collision at about 5:30 p.m. local time near Orland, Calif., about 100 miles north of Sacramento. The FedEx semi-truck was heading southbound when it crossed the median for unknown reasons and crashed head-on into the charter bus full of students, according to local broadcaster KRCR. Officials said early Friday that the driver of the truck was among those killed.

According to a first responder who arrived at the scene, about 36 or 37 people received injuries ranging from severe to minor burns, broken bones and lacerations, the AP reports.

FedEx representatives confirmed that they were cooperating with officials in the ongoing investigation into the accident. Investigators are still unclear why the FedEx truck swerved before the crash, the Associated Press reports.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved in the tragic accident on I-5 in California,” FedEx spokeswoman Bonnie Kourvelas said in a statement Thursday night.

“We are cooperating fully with authorities as they investigate.”

The students on the bus were reportedly high schoolers from Los Angeles traveling to a spring-preview event at Humboldt State University, scheduled for Thursday evening. The bus was one of two vehicles charted by the university to transport students to the open-house event. As news broke of the deadly accident, the university’s president offered his condolences to the families of the prospective students.

“Humboldt State University is deeply saddened by a tragic accident that occurred earlier this evening involving a charter bus filled with prospective students. They were on their way to visit campus for the April 11 Spring Preview event,” Humboldt State University President Rollin Richmond said in a statement. “Our hearts go out to those who have been affected, and we are here to support them, and their families, in any way possible.”

TIME justice

Judge: California Is Mistreating Mentally Ill Inmates

A federal judge has ruled that California is treating its mentally unstable prisoners unlawfully after videotapes released to the public showed guards pumping pepper spray into cells and throwing chemical grenades toward inmates

A federal judge ruled on Thursday that California is violating the Constitution in its treatment of mentally ill patients in correctional facilities. He said that too much use of pepper spray and isolation constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, according to the Associated Press.

U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Karlton in Sacramento said the corrections department would have to update its policies on pepper spray and isolation within 60 days. The ruling came after videotapes were released to the public showing prison guards pumping copious amounts of pepper spray into cells and throwing chemical grenades. Some of the mentally ill patients in the video are screaming. “Most of the videos were horrific,” Karlton wrote in his order. He also concluded that too much isolation can cause ill inmates psychological harm and increase their risk of suicide.

Mentally ill inmates make up 28% of California’s 120,000 total prisoners. The ruling is only one of many changes in the California prison system prompted by a 24-year-old lawsuit.

[AP]

TIME Environment

The Sriracha Factory Is a Public Nuisance, Says California City

A machine boxes Sriracha for shipping.
A machine boxes Sriracha bottles that will end up in restaurants and on grocery store shelves. Peter Bohler for TIME

Council representatives in Irwindale have demanded a hot sauce factory do a better job within 90 days to contain its stinging fumes that residents say causes asthma, heartburn, headaches, teary eyes and nosebleeds—or they'll go in and make the changes themselves

A city in California has declared a Sriracha plant located close to town a public nuisance for emanating spicy fumes that have prompted a ton of complaints, the Associated Press reports.

The declaration was made by the Irwindale City Council on Wednesday night. Council representatives will now enter the hot sauce factory and make changes if the factory doesn’t find a way to contain the pollution within 90 days.

Last fall, residents complained that stinging fumes emanating from the factory caused asthma problems, heartburn, headaches, streaming eyes and nosebleeds. The complaints resulted in the factory being partly shut-down, but the problems persisted.

The Sriracha maker, Huy Fong Foods, is working with the air-quality experts South Coast Air Management District on improving its filtration system and is making progress, air-quality experts said.

The hot sauce Sriracha is Thai in origin but has become a popular condiment in many kinds of restaurants in the U.S.

[Associated Press]

TIME Environment

Banning GMO Labeling Is a Bad Idea—For GMOs

GMO labeling laws in California
A new bill in Congress would nullify state efforts to mandate labeling of GMO foods Robyn Beck—AFP/Getty Images

A bill introduced in Congress would nullify any state effort to require labeling of genetically modified organisms. But that will make GMO acceptance even less likely, as public support for GMO labels is on the rise

Americans in two states have voted on ballot initiatives that would have required the labeling of any foods made with genetically modified ingredients (GMOs, for short). And twice, voters rejected those initiative in close ballots—thanks in part to tens of millions of dollars spent by GMO crop developers like Monsanto and industry groups like the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA). You’d think then that GMO supporters in the food industry would be feeling pretty confident that they could win on genetically-modified food legislation.

Apparently you’d be wrong. Republican Representative Mike Pompeo of Kansas introduced on Wednesday new legislation that would nullify any attempt by states to require GMO labeling. More than two dozen states so far are considering bills that would mandate some form of labeling, with Maine and Connecticut having so far passed labeling measures into law. According to Pompeo, that’s enough to mandate a federal response:

We’ve got a number of states that are attempting to put together a patchwork quilt of food labeling requirements with respect to genetic modification of foods. That makes it enormously difficult to operate a food system. Some of the campaigns in some of these states aren’t really to inform consumers but rather aimed at scaring them. What this bill attempts to do is set a standard.

The bill—the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act”—would prohibit any mandatory labeling of foods made with bioengineering. The bill would also make it virtually impossible for states to block any efforts by food companies to put a “natural” label on any product that does contain GMO ingredients, requiring the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to create regulations that specify the maximum level of accidental GMO presence allowed in foods that come with a non-GMO label.

Translation: it’s almost as if the bill’s drafters were trying to hit on every fear that GMO-phobes have. It’s not surprising that the Environmental Working Group (EWG)—an environmental non-profit that has been deeply skeptical of GMOs—has called the bill the “Deny Americans the Right to Know Act.” As Marni Karlin, the director of legislative and legal affairs at the Organic Trade Association, said in a statement:

Consumers, particularly the eight out of ten American families who buy organic products, want to know what is in their food. Rep. Pompeo’s bill ignores this consumer demand for information. Instead, it ties the hands of state governments, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Food and Drug Administration concerning GMO labeling. It is fatally flawed.

It’s worth noting that even though ballot initiatives to require GMO labeling have twice failed, polls indicate strong support for labeling nationally. A New York Times survey last July found that 93% of Americans believe that foods containing GMO ingredients should be labeled. But we’re still a long way from that happening. While both Connecticut and Maine have passed laws mandating labeling, the measures don’t actually kick in until other nearby states approve similar laws. It seems a little early to pass a federal law to nullify state laws that aren’t actually in power yet.

In reality, though, arguments about GMO labeling tend to be arguments about GMOs—their usefulness and their safety. Confusion is rampant over GMOs, and if you want smart, straight reporting on the subject, check out Nathanael Johnson’s great series at Grist, which is summarized here. Like Johnson, I think the hazards posed by GMOs are “negligible to non-existent.” While they have yet to really fulfill their promise, GMOs can be a useful tool as the world tries to figure out how to feed billions more people without significantly increasing farmland, something that would be far worse for the environment than any genetically modified crop.

But the fact that I think properly regulated GMOs can be an important part of global farming is also why I think this bill is a mistake. Would a patchwork of laws mandating GMO labeling in some states and not others be an enormous and costly headache? Yes. But the same surveys that show support for GMO labeling also show deep distrust of bioengineering in food. And a lot of that distrust stems from the sense that GMOs are somehow being foisted on consumers without their knowledge or their consent. As Johnson notes, that increases the sense of risk around GMOs:

In a famous paper on risk perception, published in Science in 1987, Paul Slovic pointed out that people judge voluntary, controllable actions as much less risky than those that are involuntary and out of their control. Similarly, people see the unknown as much more risky than the known. Genetically engineered foods are, for most people, both unknown and uncontrollable.

By passing a law that would preemptively ban any attempt to require labeling, GMO defenders are playing into the hands of their opponents, making bioengineering feel far more risky than it really is. GMO advocates are losing this battle—see a company as mainstream as General Mills announce that a flagship product like Cheerios would now be made without genetically modified ingredients. If the food industry was smart, it would take a leading role in establishing a national standard for GMO labels. But given the bloody way this endless debate has played out, I wouldn’t expect a truce any time soon.

 

TIME celebrities

Celebrities Are Getting Paid to Go to Coachella. Why Is This So Surprising?

FIJI Water At Lacoste L!VE Coachella Desert Pool Party - Day 1
Musician Joe Jonas, model Alessandra Ambrosio, actress AnnaSophia Robb, and musician Nick Jonas attend the FIJI Water At Lacoste L!VE Coachella Desert Pool Party on April 13, 2013 in Palm Springs, Calif. Imeh Akpanudosen / Getty Images for FIJI

Who wouldn't rather get paid than pay?

Updated April 8, 12:50 pm

When it comes to attending the Coachella music festival, which begins this coming weekend in Indio, Calif., celebrities aren’t just in it for the tunes.

The New York Daily News breathlessly reported this morning that, according to an anonymous source, a variety of bold-faced names would be receiving pay-outs in exchange for showing up — for example, that Lea Michele would get $20,000 from Lacoste to wear the brand while at the festival, and that Aaron Paul would be willing to strike a deal for $15,000. (The Daily News says Michele’s getting paid to go to the festival, but it seems likelier that the deal has to do with Lacoste’s pool party.)

In responding to the report, Grantland‘s take was the one that many music fans might have had: this is one for the category of “Things That Were Inevitable, But No Less Grosser for It.” The idea of a celebrity getting paid for attending something that normal people are paying to attend — the general admission cost this year was $375 — is infuriating, especially when it’s something like a music festival, that’s meant to be down-to-earth.

But if you’re actually surprised by this revelation, you haven’t been paying attention. Celebrity appearance fees are old news. How do you think Jennifer Lopez ended up performing at a dubious birthday party in Turkmenistan?

In 2012, New York magazine included Lea Michele in their run-down of the appearance-fee world and Celebrity Talent International, an agency that helps its clients find celebs for their events, lists her in their library of potential paid guests or performers. A CTI spokesman said he couldn’t comment on anything specific about Coachella, but noted that paid celebrity appearances happen all the time at all sorts of places, and that such product placement is one of the most effective forms of advertising. And that’s just what it is: advertising.

Being paid to appear at a Coachella party if you wear the brand that sponsored the party — just like AnnaSophia Robb, pictured above, did at Coachella last year, though that could totally have been of her own volition — is really no different from an athlete wearing their sponsor’s gear at a big tournament, or Ellen DeGeneres tweeting a selfie from a Samsung phone at the Oscars.

That goes for the rest of us too. This is both the era of the personal brand, where Facebook status updates have become advertisements. If you’re cool, have lots of Twitter followers, or influence your friends, you’re worth a lot to brands. When you wear, consume, or discuss their product, you’re advertising that thing — which isn’t necessarily bad. Maybe you like it. (Probably more than Vanessa Hudgens likes McDonald’s — but who knows?)

For normal folks, though, you (probably) can’t command payment in exchange. Stars really are just like us — they just make more money doing it.

Update: A McDonald’s spokesperson tells TIME that, contrary to the information in the original Daily News item, the brand doesn’t have that relationship with Vanessa Hudgens. The point about advertising still stands, though.

TIME bob filner

Former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner Done With House Arrest

San Diego Mayor Bob Filner Entangled In Sexual Harassment Scandal Holds News Conference
San Diego mayor Bob Filner announces his mayoral resignation to the city council on July 26, 2013 in San Diego, Calif. Bill Wechter—Getty Images

Bob Filner's months-long house arrest stint is over, the result of pleading guilty in December to charges of felony false imprisonment and misdemeanor battery regarding claims of sexual harassment, but he now faces three years of probation

Former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner’s house arrest came to an end Sunday after 90 days of home confinement.

The 71-year old former mayor was sentenced in December to house arrest after pleading guilty to felony false imprisonment and two counts of misdemeanor battery involving victims of sexual harassment, the Associated Press reports.

Filner resigned just nine months after he was elected Mayor of San Diego amid a flurry of allegations that he groped and kissed women without their consent. He will serve three years of probation following his release, which will likely make it difficult for him to seek public office anytime soon.

[AP]

TIME Tech

The Class War Is Back On in San Francisco

San Francisco Google bus
Residents protests rising evictions and rents in San Francisco by blocking two private shuttles transporting tech workers from their homes in San Francisco to their jobs in Silicon Valley on Jan. 21 2014. Katy Steinmetz—TIME

A City Hall hearing on a transportation pilot program quickly devolved into heated arguments about buses that shuttle Google employees to work, and whether they symbolize efficiency or inequality

On Tuesday the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, an 11-member outfit that runs the city, sat through a marathon, eight-hour hearing in a high-ceilinged room at City Hall. The central issue of that hearing—an appeal for an environmental review of a transportation pilot program—was soporific on the surface. But the pilot program at issue was the city’s regulation of private shuttles, known colloquially as “Google buses,” and discussions of air quality quickly gave way to heated arguments about class warfare.

Citizens have long been complaining about private shuttles that use public bus stops without paying or being ticketed, particularly the imposing, double-decker coaches that pick up tech workers in San Francisco and ferry them to jobs at big tech firms in Silicon Valley. For angry citizens whose public buses might be blocked or delayed by these vehicles, the private shuttles have become symbols of a two-tiered system in San Francisco—one in which the wealthy are given breaks and the poor are displaced. “I have a problem with the arrogance of tech companies who have captured our bus stops,” said a union worker who spoke during the hours of public comments on Tuesday. “You’re going to make cuts to programs for the poorest families in this city, and these Google people stroll in and out like they’re royalty. And I’m sick of it.”

Among the dozens who took turns in front of the microphone—some leveling disrespectful epithets at the supervisors, others giving sarcastic speeches, and many trying to find a middle ground—were some “Google people” and other tech workers who are often lumped into a stereotyped “them” by residents angry about changes Silicon Valley wealth is spurring in the city. “I don’t know how this has become an engineering or tech issue,” said an engineer, noting that many of his colleagues have lived in the city for decades. “Let’s talk about affordability, transportation. I would love to talk about all those things, but how about [people critical of tech workers] first admit that we are part of the local community as well. Until then, they can take their Tea Party tactics and go bully another minority … We pay atrocious rents just like you do.”

In an attempt to appease the public, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority recently presented a plan to start regulating the private shuttles, charging them $1 per stop to recoup their costs. (A state law limits them from charging more than their outlays for this type of program.) The pilot program, set to start this summer, was exempted from being given an environmental review but labor unions and community groups appealed that decision, arguing that the environmental impact of the shuttles—from noise pollution to the displacement effect of increasing the value of apartments near the stops—must be calculated. The city’s transit authority and planning department countered that the project isn’t introducing a fleet of shuttles; it’s gathering data on how the city might regulate shuttles that are already operating, and that regulation has negligible environmental impact.

While some supervisors quizzed city attorneys and transportation officials even-handedly, trying to work out all the legal nuances of the state law and case law, others came to the meeting with a clear line of questioning in mind. Supervisor Scott Wiener engaged in a heated back and forth with the lawyer arguing in favor of the environmental review, Richard Drury, pointing out that of the private shuttles currently operating, an estimated 80% transport riders within the city, to schools and hospitals as well as tech firms, while only 20% take riders out of town—yet their case focuses only on those 20%.

“It’s your position that it’s only the fact that tech workers are living here that is causing gentrification and it’s only the tech shuttles that are causing the noise, bike, pedestrian and cancer problems. I don’t understand that,” Wiener said, suggesting that the appeal wasn’t really about environmental issues. Drury argued that physical differences in the shuttles, like their size, and the way they use streets partly account for their focus on that 20%. Wiener also emphasized how many cars the shuttles keep off the road, before more tech workers testified to their dependence on the shuttles during public comments.

Other supervisors threw Drury softballs so he could expand on the potential damages of the “pirate private shuttles.” But as the matter came to a vote, many supervisors emphasized that the decision before them was about the environmental impact study alone, not about whether they liked the pilot program and even less about how they felt about private shuttles in general. With one supervisor absent by the time the vote finally took place around 10:30 p.m., the appeal failed 8-2, meaning the pilot program can go forward as planned.

Right before the vote, Supervisor Jane Kim—who voted against the appeal—explained that she had many doubts about the pilot program and suggested another path of recourse might have a greater impact. “It may be,” she said, “that this is an issue that is more appropriate for the ballot.” And with the appeal lost, critics of the private shuttle program are likely giving that avenue a closer look.

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