Cab wars in Chico

American Taxi bites the dust—and the owner blames Liberty

NEW BEGINNINGS<br>Kris Flock and Vance Vanella show off a new Chico Cab. Banella is Flock’s boyfriend and a former American Taxi driver who now drives for Chico Cab.

Kris Flock and Vance Vanella show off a new Chico Cab. Banella is Flock’s boyfriend and a former American Taxi driver who now drives for Chico Cab.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

Too many cab companies?
Unlike, for example, Oroville, which allows only two cab companies to operate in the city, Chico allows as many as the market will bear. Today there are 13 taxi operations on the books in Chico, but only seven have active licenses, including Liberty Cab and Chico Cab.

Life was good for Kris Flock. She had a healthy relationship, a nice house, a car. And her newly bought business, American Taxi, was booming. That was eons ago—OK, it was only 2 1/2 years ago—but oh, how the tides have turned.

The weeks, months and years following Flock’s purchase of American Taxi from then-friend Hubert Beaver have unfolded into a soap-opera tale. And it all led up to Flock having just five days to fork over $300,000 or hand the business back to Beaver.

“It was really hard to shut down American Taxi,” Flock said. “Our house is going into foreclosure right now. And I’m getting ready to sell my car.”

Flock wasn’t able to come up with that much cash that quickly. So the business is Beaver’s again. Flock still owes him the 300 grand, and Beaver is in the process of regaining his assets—the cars, radios, etc.

What started out as a friendly business transaction—Flock, a previous American employee, bought the company from Beaver, a good friend—turned bitterly sour. Two days before Beaver transferred ownership, his son, John, filed a permit to start a different taxi operation—Liberty Cab.

Let the soap opera begin.

As part of the original contract, in which Flock agreed to pay $700,000 over 10 years, Beaver had vowed not to compete with her.

“I asked her to put it in there that I would not own a taxi company in Butte County for 50 years,” Beaver said. “I had no intentions of having anything to do with a taxi company again. I was ready to retire.”

But he was willing to drive, he said. He even offered to help Flock out by working for her.

Here’s where the stories splinter, likely because this is the point at which the bad blood began to flow. Beaver claimed he wanted to drive an American Taxi and Flock refused him; Flock said Beaver offered to drive for her, but within weeks of the transaction he was seen behind the wheel of a Liberty Cab instead.

“He was going to work with us, not against us,” Flock said. “I thought he was a good person; I thought I could trust him.”

Beaver’s counter: “She didn’t want me around. She wanted to be the big cheese. Any smart business owner would want the previous owner to stick around for a while. She didn’t, so I started driving for my son.”

Flock and her partner/boyfriend, Vance Vanella, ended up suing Beaver for breach of contract. They settled out of court last year for $216,000 off the price of the business. The monthly $5,000 payment Flock had been signing over to her “friend” was being funneled right into a competing business, she believed.

Another outcome of the lawsuit was a new contract, drawn up by Flock’s lawyer. In it were two provisions that would eventually lead to American Taxi’s demise. The first said that if Flock was more than a month late on any payment, Beaver would regain ownership of the company. The second required that Beaver be lien holder on all of the vehicles.

This past spring, Flock missed a payment. Her check didn’t clear the bank, and she ended up being 15 days late. In addition, she never filed the paperwork to make Beaver the lien holder on American Taxi’s cars.

“The cars aren’t worth anything. I didn’t buy the cars, I bought the name,” Flock explained. “We protested with our attorney because we didn’t want to sign [the contract] because of that. It was too much work.”

But sign it she did. So when the judge, this spring, ordered Flock to pay Beaver the remaining balance on the business, he also put a restraining order on Flock not to move or sell any of the American Taxi vehicles.

To make things more complicated, after she lost the business, Flock transferred four cars, bought at auction under American Taxi’s name, to Byron Shobar, her daughter’s boyfriend. Those four cars are now on the road with the name Chico Cab on the side. Shobar, a former American driver, started the new company, which Flock and Vanella are involved with.

Beaver believes those cars are rightfully his as American Taxi assets. Flock disagrees.

“They were bought with our own money, not business money,” she explained. And they were never made into American cabs.

Rumors have been flying around town about Chico Cab having stolen cars. Others claim Flock failed to pay her auto insurance or that the old American cars were impounded.

“It’s pretty devastating—on top of losing everything we’ve worked for, we’ve also been slandered. It’s just embarrassing,” said Flock, on the verge of tears. “We haven’t done anything wrong. We can’t pay bills, and that’s a really awful feeling.”

At midnight on July 26, drivers took their American Taxi cabs back to headquarters one last time. Calls were routed to various companies around town. Liberty Cab was not one of them.

In a twist of irony, calls to the American number are now forwarded to Liberty. The rest of American’s assets, however, are still in Flock’s possession, so she questions the legality of Liberty taking over the phone number without her permission. Beaver argues that it was legit. Besides, he said, the phone number isn’t as big an asset as it used to be.

“That number has been prostituted around town—what do you think it’s worth now?” he said.

Given that American was one of the biggest cab companies in town, and its closure has gone largely under the radar, it’s probably still got some life in it.

The same can’t exactly be said for Flock. “I’m 46, my boyfriend’s 43. We’re now having to file for bankruptcy for the first time. We’ve even cashed in our 401K’s.”

And the bad blood flows thick.

“I’m really tired of going through this—I don’t think it’s ever going to end. They have this obsessive hate,” Flock said. “My hopes for the future are that I don’t lose my house and I can make a living. I would love for once in my life to see what goes around comes around—or karma—happen to them.”

“She is blaming me for her failure in the cab business,” Beaver countered. “I started American Taxi in 1989. I had one car and $14. It’s pretty disheartening to see someone do to it what she did. She had the opportunity of a lifetime. She took a company that was worth $700,000 and ran it into the ground.”

As of now, Beaver awaits an order for Flock to return his assets. Flock, too, is awaiting the order, and trying to get back on her feet with Chico Cab.

“I’ve survived most my life. We finally hit a point a couple of years ago where we were more than getting by—we were living. And now we’re back to worse than surviving,” Flock said. “I’m going to make sure I don’t get in the gutter. I’m going to do everything right. No matter what is the outcome I know I can say I didn’t do anything wrong.”