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April 20, 2008

Gavin Lets His Hair Down

Thursday, April 17th, Yelp Co-Founder Jeremy Stoppelman and I had the chance to visit City Hall and sit down with Mayor Gavin Newsom. Here's the full conversation that went down behind closed doors…


Jeremy Stoppelman: Happy almost Earth Day! We heard a rumor that you were called the greenest politician in the world.

Mayor Gavin Newsom: Yeah, there's something to that! We’ve made a real commitment to get San Francisco to the next leveGavinl in terms of environmental sustainability and stewardship, to make this the world’s first "true 21st century city.” It’s about shared values, the idea is that we take it to the next level on green buildings, for solar and geothermal, in terms of recycling, and alternative vehicles and fuel. Urban wind generation. And this is just the beginning. You just wait. We were the first city to green our taxi fleet. We’ll have by the end of next year 100% of our entire taxi fleet on alternative fuel vehicles. We… I can honestly bore you with details [laughter] and I really would because it’s, it’s literally hundreds of small things that in the aggregate make up the whole story. And we’re not even close to what we’re capable of doing. So, our critics are still out there saying you can do more and I agree with them. And we will. 

Nish Nadaraja: These are all fantastic.

Gavin: Sorry about… however you edit them…


Nish: No, these are all fantastic. I’ll say, my wife, for one, will be very excited. She’s very active in and aware of the larger scale of social programs co-mingled with individual civic duty. But Yelp, as you know is about local business and services. So can you talk about what has impressed you from the private sector? Any green and eco-friendly businesses that you’ve been particularly impressed with?

Gavin: A couple of years ago, we created a green business counsel. You’ve got Waldeck’s, the whole store! You’ve got Cole Hardware. Just a really impressive list. We actually got Urban Solutions to help us because we have so many businesses that are applying. We’re really organized around the fact that we’re not gonna solve the problem of global climate change through municipal action alone. It’s gonna have to be the private sector.

Nish: Yeah. The great thing about letting the private sector get involved is it makes it easy for people to not really have to try to do the right thing.

Gavin: Yeah.

Nish: That’s the nice thing about it.

Gavin: Even getting restaurants to do the right thing. I mean just to give you another example of how we’ve connected with the business community. We have a grease recycle program where we pick-up the grease from restauraMunints and we convert it to bio-diesel for our MUNI buses and municipal fleet. Doesn’t cost the restaurants anything. And water bottles. We’re working with business communities. We just did a big press conference at the Ferry Building with restaurants and we’re trying now to create tax incentives for restaurants to get rid of water bottles. So they don’t even sell them. The fact is a billion water bottles a year are thrown into the waste stream in California alone. Water bottles take energy to produce, take energy to ship, take energy to dispose of. The reality is, that the vast majority of water consumption in water bottles is tap water. Dasani, Aquafina, tap water. It’s tap water sold by Coca-Cola and Pepsi. I’ll say it, they’ll hate me, but God bless, [laughing in background] they’re wrong! And they’re charging ten thousand, literally, ten thousand times more in some cases than if you turned on your tap. Why anyone would be so foolish to get tap water from Coca-Cola from New York State and call themselves an environmentalist that is wise about their investment and use of money is beyond me.

Jeremy: This is interesting when it comes to our city. So there’s the new California Academy of Sciences, Mint Plaza, some really cool projects out there…

Gavin: The Academy of Sciences is just beyond extraordinary. Someone best described it as, and it’s absolutely the best way to describe it, as “lifting Golden Gate Park up, and placing a building underneath and putting the park down back on top of the building.” But as exciting as that is, Treasure Island will be huge. This is exciting! 6,000 housing units: the greenest residential and commercial land reuse development of its kind, ever, in America. Three hundred acres of open space and parks, high-density smart development and hopefully, it was gonna start next year, I just got word that it will probably be early 2010, that we’ll actually start construction.

Nish: Sounds immense. Now it’s time for some brass tacks!

Gavin: Bring it on!

Nish: Yelpers are gonna really wanna know this stuff. That…

Gavin: Boxers!  Oh sorry.


Nish: The signature Gavin look. And by the signature Gavin look, we’re talking ties, suits, and that...

Gavin: Oh, man. That’s pathetic…

Nish: Hair…

Gavin: Hey, look I’m not wearing a blue tie today which is a very…

Nish: Shock.

Jeremy: You knew we were coming with the big questions.

Gavin: I knew you were coming. I wanted to show that I’m more hip than the 3½ stars makes me appear.


Gavin: Okay, well… um, it’s hair gel not mousse. Boxers not briefs. Um, just for the record. I’m not proud of the hair. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that it’s wrong.


Gavin: It’s an addiction. It gets worse with time not less. The days where I had a little dollop of gel arGavin_hair_1_2e gone. I'm using quarter of a bottle at a time and I’m not proud of it. And I know that I need help! And I know I need to… this is a multi-step, multi-strategy… now let me just tell you what happened. 2 years ago, I went cold turkey. It was a big mistake and it was just floppy. I couldn’t do it. I tried, I was ridiculed, I was criticized, I was condemned, and some people thought I was going through some mid-life crisis thing. I didn’t look serious, people thought I lost it, so… I’m back. Right now I’m getting this $62 dollar haircut which is not cheap.

Jeremy: Who’s your hair therapist these days?

Gavin: It’s a guy named Edgardo. He wears Versace, he’s fantastic! He really is. I’ve been going to him for years. He’s watched my hair recede and he reminds me that all the time. He’s a very mean spirited person.

Jeremy: He’s at Kamalaspa, right?

Gavin: Yeah, yeah. He’s a great guy.

Nish: How about the suit and tie? Come on…

Gavin: Oh, man. First of all, avoid it. Run from it. I’ll tell ya, I’ve been wearing, I swear to God, people don’t believe this, Banana Republic does some great ties. They’re inexpensive and they’re fantastic. I wore one yesterday. This one’s not. This one’s, uh, Luciano Barbera. But, you ever want to get me a gift it’s a Bulgari tie. Beautiful. They’re amazing. They’re outrageously expensive. But that’s when I’m really feeling good.

Nish: So are you a Wilkes Bashord man or no?

Gavin: For the shoes, I’ll get them at Wilkes. Ones I’m wearing are Wilkes. But I… Willie Brown is above my pay grade [laughter]. I don’t know what other income he had comin’ in but I’m not there [laughter]. 

Jeremy: He has a whole chapter in his book about it…

Gavin: I know, I know. I can afford the shoes there but that’s about it. Now don’t get me wrong I’ve got one suit that I had and it’s lasted forever. I got it for a special occasion eight years ago and it’s still perfect. And that has still held up and that is an argument for Wilkes. But not everyone can afford a $4600, I think, I swear to God $4000 bucks.

Nish: Yeah, yeah.

Gavin: $4600 [pause] for a suit!

Nish: That’s actually how the wife and I accounted for our stroller for our new son, so, yeah.

Gavin: And that’s what I do to justify the shoes I get there.

Nish: How about something that everyone can afford? A cup of coffee?

Gavin: The best is Philz in the Mission. Just the best! I mean he’s one of the great people I know. Phil himself does the coffee. Peet’s is great. But you get to a whole ‘nother level at Philz. He’s got a couple of them now.

Nish: How do you take your coffee?

Gavin: Black. No sugar. No cream. No half n’ half. Just black. That’s right.

Nish: You got my vote.


Gavin: I have too many of them. Trust me. I… this is my second already [it’s 10am]. The secret? Half decaf, half regular.

Nish: Works for me.

Gavin: And it’s imperceptible. And allows you to drink twice as much.

Nish: But you maintain a certain image.

Gavin: Yeah, that’s it. You know, you wanna be a hard-working, coffee-drinking, gelled hair kind of guy.

Nish: So… how about if you wanna get away from it all. From the city distractions. A quiet place, your fortress of solitude?

Gavin: I haven’t been lately but there’s no greater place than Crissy Field. I’m telling ya, I… I try to jog down there as often as I can. I go up actually around the Presidio down to the Bridge and back. You go up parGavin_coffeets of the Presidio and no one’s there. You’re running up these trails in the middle of the forest and you're living in an urban environment and all of sudden you’re lost. And there’s never a day where I’m not mesmerized when I get to the bridge and you hear those horns; you see the boats going out and the tourists that are there and the dogs that are running. There’s this energy and a vibrancy. At the same time there’s a sense of solitude. It is about as beautiful an area as anywhere in the world. Where you can mix an urban construct with this, this… attribute of serenity that only Mother Nature can provide. And it all collides right there. And it’s a symbol of, it’s the gateway… I’ll tell ya another place I just love is the Ferry Building on a Saturday during the Farmers Market. It’s San Francisco. You just know what’s up! You feel good, you get a sense of pride for being a San Franciscan.

Nish: You already answered boxers or briefs. How about BART or MUNI?

Gavin: MUNI. No question. If I said BART, I’m finished!


Gavin: That, that’s a whole town that I would have to answer to. I know people say, “I know that Mayor he drives around in that town car.” I actually take MUNI. I very consistently take it, and I’m very committed to trying to get it back on track. We’re seeing some improvement. It’s not even close to where it needs to be. So those people out there that are wondering, you know, does this guy take it? Does he understand how frustrating it is to take it? Yes, and yes.

Jeremy: I know you’ve started a bunch of successful businesses. Congratulations on that. Do you have any advice for the would-be, local entrepreneur?

Gavin: Yes! Fail, forward, fast. The secret of success is increasing the number of tries and learning from your mistakes, but nGavin_bikeever fearing to make them. Unless you love it, you’re just not going to be that be successful at it. But if you love it, and you’re willing to try new things, you fail and learn from those mistakes and you do it with integrity, purposefulness and you’re always seeking first to understand as opposed to being understood, meaning you’re always learning and constantly improving, anything is possible.

Jeremy: So on Wikipedia it talks about some program you had, I think when you were running one of your businesses where you were paying people $50 bucks…

Gavin: Oh! Is that on Wikipedia?

Jeremy: Yeah. Is that true?

Gavin: Yeah, I’m really proud of my good friend Chip Conley for putting that in one of his books as sort of a best practice. We have a Failure Award for business and we actually award failures and successes equally. So we actually, we had this employee of the month and we had the failure award and it was equal status. So the person who screws up the most received as much money as the person who had succeeded the most.

Nish: How are we doing on time?

Gavin: We probably have 10 more minutes. 5, 10 more minutes.

Nish: Great. Any favorite places for taking someone special, or maybe a group?

Gavin: A group? That’s easy. I was at Bimbo’s last night, and Robin Williams was testing out some new material. Couldn’t have been better. It’s a great joint! It’s evocative of a period that’s gone but it’s still here with us. It’s like going to Tosca. There’s character. Those are the kinda places where you wanna connect people to the city’s past.

Nish: Now, you don’t always get associated -- at least from a Yelp standpoint -- with the Mission District.

Gavin: No! But, I’m down there a lot!

Nish: What’s up with that?


Gavin: I know it! No love! But I love Philz.

Nish: Any burrito that you might…

Gavin: You know, everyone’s got their own opinions on their burrito places. And you know what…

Nish: It’s a dangerous one.

Gavin: It is! I’m not willing to put myself on the line [laughter]. Good people would disagree and let them, but I'm not gonna go out on the line with the burrito. I’m easy. I’m not one of those fancy slow food people. I just, you know, it’s got melted cheese and fills me up, I’m ready to devour it.

Nish: Here’s a sort of Doomsday scenario, but your last meal in San Francisco.Gavin_garden

Gavin: Oooh! [pause] Well, it’s sort of a pretentious one, but hell it’s the last meal, I mean, who cares I won’t be around to answer to it. I would get Alice Waters to prepare it. And, and I’d have her get me all the organic ingredients from around region, all our local farms, and I’d have her prepare a six-course meal. That’s what I would do for my last meal.

Nish: Sold.

Gavin: And, I’ll tell ya, a bottle of ’47 Cheval Blanc. I stopped drinking, but forget that, it’s my last meal. I want ’47, don’t mess with me, ’46 or ’48… ’47 Cheval Blanc. Now you’re talking man. That’s a good way to go. That’s about the best way to go out.

Jeremy: Nice. On another topic, we have the Presidential election. How do you feel about that Nader-Gonzalez ticket?

Gavin: Oh, right! Yeah, my pick [laughter]. Well, I feel like I should’ve lost for mayor, then I could be Vice President of the United States. I mean I’m stuck here dealing with the Board of Supervisors. Doesn’t seem right.

Jeremy: Seriously though. Hilary or Obama and we’ve got McCain. Where do you come out on this?

Gavin: I’m a Democrat. Proud Democrat! Dark blue Democrat. And, I think they’re both extremely exceptional… today I’m wearing a purple tie which goes to my bi-partisanship.

Jeremy: December 5th, 2007 was Yelp Day according to Mayor Gavin Newsom. You remember your proclamation…

Gavin: I want to thank the good people of San…


Gavin: …for giving me the opportunity…

Jeremy: How are we feeling for December 5th, 2008?

Gavin: December 5th, 2008…

Jeremy: Could that be an annual Yelp Day? The people want to know.

Gavin: Yelp Day two… [background chatter and laughing] after this torch thing, we’re done with any acts of anything. Unless people all agree to hold hands and we all say, “I love that I disagree with you!” and “I love that you have a strong difference of opinion!” Let’s sing. That’s what I want. Let’s all sing. We the people. So I think that December 5th, 2008 should be appropriately known. Let it be known!


Nish: So, I think we’re done to our last question, but it’s a two-parter. And… I’ll let you decide which one, in the spirit of democracy, you want to answer.

Gavin: We are a democratic city.

Nish: If you were doing the interview, what would be the question we should’ve asked you? And the other question: Any last parting words for your San Francisco yelpers, citizens in general?

Gavin: For me, the greatness of the city is creating conditions where people can live their lives out loud to become fully expressive, to be their truest self. True authenticity. That’s the greatness of our city.

Nish: Super. Thank you for your time!

Gavin: You gotta love Yelp.




Hey Nish your link to Philz Coffee is to the one in the Castro not the original in the Mission! Where is the love for my hood?


Philz Coffee is like crack. Good lord, one cup wires me up for a whole day... Mmmm... Tessaro.

But, sadly, I've never seen Gavs there... o.O

Anne Bonny

you know, when your hair was 'messy' as you put it, it was nice. This is San Francisco, you do not have to wear a tie, but the white shirt slacks and a sports coat. YOUR OVER DRESSING! no more GEL, you quit alcohol, quit the gel, you look better with longer hair.

Pat Monk.RN.

"True authenticity"!!! From the vacuous boy blunder !!!
Boy did he ever get over on you, but then if you toss soft balls to snake oil salesman whadya expect.


Gavin N. doesnt like burritos because duh! he is a local. none of us like burritos -dood... I guess you cant find those in LA or the midwest. I like'em every 10 years


-oops- I push enter too soon-
Anyhow, good interview. I actually met mr. GN at the wallgreens on polk (off broadway) and he was a cool cat. Also, I have seen the photo mr. philz has over at the King st. location. its kinda cool. Im glad he supports both local coffee shops. He likes his caffeine!


OH MY- and I just noticed G.N. is holding a Martha Bros. cup (4th picture down) just awesome. I love that place, 2nd to Philz. BBottle is maybe 3rd then.

Thomas George-Williams

Shame on you Gavin that you signed the Taxi legislation. This so call "green" legislation made the drivers pay for the hole change to hybrid vehicles. Not the companies or the medallion holder. A driver has now to make $180 per shift before he/she makes a dime. This taxi legislation also legalised retroactive gate overcharges. The gate is the rent that the driver payes to the companies for the use of the cab. This law intervines into a pending class action lawsuite agains 3 large Cab companies for overcharging their drivers. This green taxilaw is so badly written that it will never hold up in court. Gavin you are just green behind the ears, please stop signing everything into law that has the headline green and start reading the hole law before you sign it. And Yelp, please do a little more research if you want to play journalist.


Not so bad I think..

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