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Thursday, June 01, 2006

Defiant gas dealer battling Big Oil Goliath in protest


Like many Californians these days, Mehdi Shahbazi rails against Big Oil cartels, price gouging and the pain consumers feel at the pump.
But Shahbazi is different: He's a gasoline dealer on a personal mission.
Shahbazi is also going broke because of a long-running battle with Shell Oil. He just lost his $1 million Carmel condo. The pumps at his beloved gas station in Marina have been fenced off. The beer cooler in his mini-mart is empty because he can't pay suppliers. He's living in his minivan.
To some, Shahbazi is on a quixotic campaign of self-destruction. To others, the Iranian immigrant is a David-like character taking on the Goliath of Big Oil in a battle he believes is crucial for middle-class Americans facing record gas prices.
Eight months ago, with customers still reeling from post-Hurricane Katrina gas prices, Shahbazi set up a 4-by-4-foot wooden sign at his Marina Shell station. The sign read: ``Consumers' pain is Big Oil's unearned profit! To oppose it see cashier.''
Inside the mini-mart, people were handed a flier accusing oil companies of trying to drive franchisee retailers like himself out of business by selling gas for less at company-owned stations. The companies' long-term goal is to control the market and raise prices even higher, according to Shahbazi, who came to the United States in 1966 and has sold gas for 37 years.
Shahbazi's solution: Find out which stations are company-owned and ``stop buying from those stations.''
The personal ramifications of his protest have been enormous, as Shahbazi digs in for the fight of his life.
``I'm homeless, and Shell knows I'm losing at least $600 a day, so they think I will give up,'' said Shahbazi, 63.


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