AC Transit – Director at Large

Chris Peeples / Louis Goodman – Podcast Transcript
[00:00:00] Louis Goodman: Hello, and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer. Where we talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law, how they got to be lawyers and what their experience has been. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer. Nobody’s perfect.
In 1997, the AC that’s a board appointed him to serve as an at-large director.
He has been reelected to that position every four years, and since he has served on the Oakland Ethics Commission and numerous other governmental and community boards. He’s a strong supporter of the AC transit zero emission bus fuel cell program. He is also an attorney and I had the privilege of attending law school with him.
Chris Peeples, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
[00:01:00] Chris Peeples: Thank you very much, Louis.
Louis Goodman: Well, it’s great to have you. And in this election season, I’ve had the privilege of talking to several people who are running for political office who are also attorneys in Alameda County. So before we get into the politics, tell me a little bit about what sort of law practice you have outside of your politics.
Chris Peeples: Well, I retired from the practice of law about 10 years ago.
Louis Goodman: Where did you grow up originally?
Chris Peeples: I was born in Atlanta and moved to San Francisco when I was nine months old. My parents said it’s too hot and muggy in here. I don’t like it. And so I grew up in San Francisco, went to the Sunset district.
Right by the, the sunset reservoir went to Riordan High School, went to our grammar school downtown, which was at that time, the only place that had a dual French [00:02:00] English instruction. And my mother was French. Wanted me to be fluent in French.
Louis Goodman: After you graduated from Riordan, where did you go to college?
Chris Peeples: Well, I tried to get into UC Santa Cruz. I’d been convinced it was, it had just opened. Didn’t make it ended up spending a year at Santa Barbara, but two years, two weeks at Santa Barbara. I applied for a transfer and ended up going to Crown College at UC Santa Cruz, UC Santa Cruz music, sort of the Oxbridge system.
So I had originally intended to do a special major in Urban Studies, but ended up getting seduced by Political Theory. So I ended up politics major and basically with the major in Political Theory.
Louis Goodman: So after you graduated from Santa Cruz and Crown College, did you go to law school immediately thereafter?
Did you take some time off?
Chris Peeples: I didn’t take time off. I worked for about five [00:03:00] years. I had worked my way through college as a union brewer, brewers, brew masters, and yeast workers, local eight 93. Wow. Yeah, I did that along with a summer when the breweries were on strike, I worked as a sewage treatment plant operator.
My job technically was as a Stationary Engineer. But it meant that I got paid about twice as much as the sewage treatment plant operator would get paid at East Bay Mud, or some other place like that. It just has to do with union politics in San Francisco. And then I spent about a year that I really did take a year off wandering around Europe, the sort of typical Eurail pass.
I’m going around, and of course my mother was French, so I had lots of relatives in France. And so spent a whole lot of time in various places in France. I’m [00:04:00] actually a dual citizen. I’m a French citizen and an American citizen.
Louis Goodman: I learn something about people every time I do this. So what is it that prompted you to start thinking about becoming a lawyer, going to law school?
Chris Peeples: Well, you know, I had always been very verbal and always been sort of interested in justice and how things work. And it just was a logical place for me to go. I mean, I started thinking about that when I was about in sixth or seventh grade and I did sort of formal speaking, starting when I was in seventh or eighth grade in high school.
I did speech and debate, and I did drama and all that stuff, and it just seemed a place for me to be. Also on my father’s side, I [00:05:00] come from many, many generations of lawyers and judges. My dad was not he after World War II. Went to USF for a, but didn’t make it. My father, my grandfather, my father’s father was advised not to be a lawyer because he was too nice.
And the guy, his father, who was both a lawyer and the judge, and when he passed away in the end, this would be my great grandfather. In his obituary one of the interesting comments was there in there with every volume of Georgia reports from when they were first published, had a Peeples as either a lawyer or a judge in one of the appellate cases.
That’s what he said.
Louis Goodman: Oh, that’s really a great honor. It really is. [00:06:00] So where’d you go to law school and how did that come about?
Chris Peeples: I went to Hastings and we’re both the same class. So I think when we were there, it was like 250 bucks a semester or something like that was the tuition.
So I knew that I probably was not going to make a whole lot of money and I have always had a fear of debt. And so I chose a place that was pretty inexpensive and it provided a really good education and a really good legal education.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I mean, I think that, you know, now I think that the young attorneys coming out of law school are so burdened by debt that they really can’t go into public service very easily. I mean, even jobs like being a Public Defender or [00:07:00] a Deputy District Attorney, which really pay pretty well, are sacrifices. And I just find that whole notion really frightening because it’s so hard to get lawyers to go into the kind of public service work that so many of us and our colleagues really wanted to do.
Chris Peeples: No, I agree. I remember I took a tour of Hastings. Oh, a few years ago, five, six years ago. And we were being toured around by one of the students. And I was appalled when she said that this year Hastings is $48,000 tuition and next year they’re raising it to 50.
Louis Goodman: Yeah. I just really couldn’t agree more.
Louis Goodman: What was your first legal job?
Chris Peeples: First legal job was when I took a bunch of Labor Law with Joe Grodin who went to the [00:08:00] California Supreme Court. Brilliant, brilliant guy. One of the most accomplished lawyers I’ve ever met. And he got me a job with what was then called the Educational employment Relations. It’s now graduated and become the Public Employee Relations Board.
But basically what we were doing was overseeing elections. One or more unions would try to organize the teachers in a school district and that the classified employees, and we would go and run the elections. And it was interesting. We’d wear aprons so that you didn’t have access to your pockets.
You had to wear a shirt without pockets and you were manipulate, not manipulate, but counting and sorting ballots under the watchful eye of whatever unions were seeking to [00:09:00] compete. And you play man. And Management had somebody there staring at you as well. And so you had to be very strictly neutral and you had to be very proper in the way you did everything, it was fun.
Louis Goodman: And then after you got out of law school, took the bar, passed, what did you do?
Chris Peeples: I went to work for a small firm. I tried to get jobs in Labor Law, but the only ones I could get were management side. And I wasn’t really interested in doing that. And I went to work for a small firm that basically did Antitrust work, but mostly with franchises.
They did a lot of the franchisee litigation cases, a friend of mine had gotten the job there and he got me a job there and Tim was a bright guy, but a bit weird and we represented McDonald’s franchisees, Midas Muffler, and franchisees. In a really big case. Was [00:10:00] he represented newspaper distributors?
So, I mean, he had a very long running case with the LA times. We finally got settled when Otis Chandler died and his son who was somewhat more liberal took over and rather than spending unlimited money on big LA firms, he decided to settle the case, but it basically got some protections for the people who are independent, but who distribute and deliver newspapers.
Louis Goodman: Did you stay there for a while or did you move on to some other firm?
Chris Peeples: Stayed a couple of years and moved on to, Faretta, Braun and Martel. They do basically everything. They’re a medium size firm. That’s probably best known for Litigation. Martel was a very [00:11:00] aggressive and creative litigator. Jerry Braun was the president of the California Academy of Appellate Attorneys and did mostly appellate work and was the business with the business person, transactional person. But I got hired in there as sort of a special counsel because they needed a bunch of extra work on a bunch of their big Class Action Antitrust cases. So, I wasn’t a regular associate. I was sort of a, I don’t know, nowadays, I don’t know what they would call it counsel, but that sounds too formal. I was basically doing research work and helping supervise some paralegals who were doing all the paperwork. We had the Plywood Antitrust Litigation, which is what I [00:12:00] originally got hired for. We had 27 warehouses around the country full of documents and there was an entire team of Plaintiff’s Class action attorneys.
Louis Goodman: Wow. Sounds like an enormous undertaking.
Chris Peeples: It was an enormous undertaking and I was a very, very small part of it.
Louis Goodman: What prompted you to get into public service and elected office?
Chris Peeples: Well, I’ve always been very interested in politics. I started out literally in grammar school, doing work in the Civil Rights Movement in the fifties and sixties.
And got into the Antiwar Movement. Starting my work in about 63 got started in that partly because a whole lot about Vietnam because it was formerly [00:13:00] a French colony. And so I knew about it from the French angle and had, was supportive of all the premium movements, which were then going on all around the world.
And Colonialism Movements in the sixties was when all the colonies were being broken up and knew that the treatment of the Vietnamese by the French had been pretty God awful. And why the Americans took the side of the French rather than taking the side of the Vietnamese. Didn’t make sense to me at the time I’d later sort of figured that out, but I’d gotten involved on that side.
I’d also even when I was high school. So I’ve been interested in all of that from a very young age. And when I was in college, [00:14:00] I got, I did an externship with a sociology professor at Santa Cruz and he placed me with SNIFLAF Neighborhood Legal Assistance. And I got to know Sid Lewinsky, who later went on to found Public Advocates.
Louis Goodman: Sure. Yeah. I remember Sid quite well.
Chris Peeples: Yeah. Yeah. And you know, as you may remember, he had taught a class at Hastings. Yeah. I don’t know whether if we were in the same class? I took it as well, but I forget whether I took it my second or third year,
Louis Goodman: I remember the office being that, you know, that really neat brick building with brick walls inside
Chris Peeples: that was their first office right around the corner from Hastings.
And I helped them move into that one and I helped them move into the next one that they went in. I still do a lot of work with Public Advocates, although he hasn’t been there in many years. He’s now retired. But he went from Public Advocates to Disability Rights Advocates and [00:15:00] actually sued AC transit a couple of times.
Louis Goodman: Well, speaking of AC transit. Let me just put it this way. How did you get that initial appointment to the AC Transit Board?
Chris Peeples: I’d been interested in AC Transit for a long time. I believe that humans should live in cities. And if you live in cities, having everybody has a car doesn’t work, so you need to have a robust public transit system.
And I used AC transit starting I had some friends who lived over here after we graduated from college and I would take AC Transit. This was pre board. I would take AC Transit from San Francisco over and then, you know, wander around. So I knew about the system and I’d grown up riding Muni.
So I knew Muni pretty well. [00:16:00] And in the eighties, AC Transit was really a mess. And Tom Bates, who at the time was my Assemblyman, decided to try to fix it. And he got several people onto the board and ——- Bruce Goddard, who was District Director. Went over to AC Transit and was their community and legislative guy.
And so I would go and visit him every once in a while at AC and talk to him about what was going on in the community and all that stuff.
Louis Goodman: So you like ran a campaign to get the appointment.
Chris Peeples: Okay.
Louis Goodman: Absolutely.
Chris Peeples: First person I called was Bill Lockyer, Bill and I were on opposite sides of many in the East Bay, but there was no question that he ran the Democratic [00:17:00] party in Alameda County.
And nobody was confused about that. So, you know, I talked to Bill and went on from there to talk to basically every elected official in Alameda County and, other political activists and all that stuff. And I was viewed as, too left wing. And originally the board was going to be split.
When the business person dropped out, I became the logical person and I ended up getting appointed.
Louis Goodman: And then you’ve had a run for that office over the years. Right?
Chris Peeples: Yes. I was appointed to fill out of John Woodberry’s term. So the way the law works is if you get appointed midterm, and if you’re appointed more than I think 120 [00:18:00] days before the next general election, you have to run at the next general election.
So I was appointed in 97. I had to run in 98. For the remainder of that term, which ended in, so I had to run in 98. I had to run again in 2000 and then since 2000, it’s been every four years, there are two at Large Directors Transit I’m on the Presidential cycle. My colleague Joel Young, who’s also a lawyer runs on the Gubernatorial cycle.
So we run two years apart.
Louis Goodman: Okay. I want to get into the running for office thing in a couple of minutes, but before we get there, obviously you made some effort to get appointed, you’ve run and you’ve continued to run for this job. So it seems to me that you like the job, and I want to know why.
Chris Peeples: I like it [00:19:00] for a couple of reasons.
One, I think Public Transit is very important. It’s important in terms of land use, it’s important in terms of equity, it’s important in terms of all its environmental benefits. But I really like AC Transit because it’s small enough that I know virtually everybody. Who’s really significant. I ride the buses.
I know the drivers, I know the shop stewards. I know all the union leadership of all three of our unions. I know all the senior staff. And all the various different departments. So it’s small enough that I can sort of know things it’s big enough. We’ve got about, Oh, about a $500 million a year budget.
It’s big enough that we can do things and do [00:20:00] interesting things. Everything from buying the buses to fixing them, to dealing with all the labor relations problems. And what is ———- and figuring out how to raise money to pay for all that. So there’s a broad enough scope of things that it’s interesting, but it’s narrow enough that you don’t get scattered.
Louis Goodman: A young person coming out of college, wanted to go into law and public policy and political work. Is that something that you would recommend that they do or not do?
Chris Peeples: Well? I would recommend they do it because it’s God’s work. And it’s fun, then you get a chance to really exercise. It’s what makes it really difficult nowadays.
And what we were talking about earlier is you, you come out of college and law school was such a burden of debt. It becomes very difficult to do things that are not [00:21:00] hugely remunerative. And that’s sad. I mean if you can. Manage to work the finances. I would certainly advise people to do it.
For me, it’s been enormously rewarding, but it is really tricky nowadays because of the debt problem.
Louis Goodman: Has being in public service and serving on the AC Transit Board, has that in any way differed or met your expectations of it?
Chris Peeples: I think it has. I mean, it definitely, It’s a little bit, I don’t know what I thought back 23 years ago, I knew a certain amount about it. I’d been talking to my friends who were on the board. There’s a very steep learning curve. You get on one of these boards on you. It was a whole bunch of stuff to learn and it takes two or three years to really figure out what you’re doing. [00:22:00] But once you figure it out, then to me, it’s very satisfying,
Louis Goodman: Chris, you’re involved in a campaign and it involves everything that running for office does raising money, meeting with people, going to meetings, all of which is I’m sure complicated by the whole COVID-19 thing that we’re going through. And I would just say that, you know, some years ago I ran for Judge and you were always so helpful to me in explaining some of the nuts and bolts of politics, things that I really did not understand. And I’m wondering if you could just share with us a little bit about what running for office is like?
Chris Peeples: It’s very interesting. I am a very bizarre politician. I do not raise money and I do not spend money.
That’s really impossible [00:23:00] nowadays in a position that people with money and influence care about. One of the things about running a bus company is there are not a whole lot of people with money who care about you. So I people who run against me can’t raise 250,000 or so that it would take to run a traditional campaign in the district.
My district is bigger than 11 States and the District of Columbia. I have 1.4 million constituents. It’s everything from San Pablo, all the way down to Fremont Hills to the Bay. It is interesting when I’m back in Washington. And I point out that I should, I represent 1.4 million people.
And that’s about three Congressional Districts. And as I say, I have [00:24:00] more constituents then 22 Senators, and that’s pretty bizarre. But anyway, I run, I went from all of my life I’ve been very involved in Democratic politics, so I get a whole lot of endorsements. And I know enough about what issues there are four plus districts that I’m pretty good at getting endorsements.
And I write pretty well. One of the things that is somewhat frustrating by the way that this system works. Is you ended up getting all the endorsement questionnaires, and they’re usually on a fairly short timeline. Writing well and accurately under intense time pressure is what you and I do.
That’s the job of being a Lawyer. Having done that for 33 years, [00:25:00] I’m pretty good at it. So I managed to do that, but also just a wide variety of both activists and elected. All of whom know me and all of them, all of whom respect me and that I had never lied to them. One of the interesting things about politics is it’s a very small community, your reputation proceeds you.
That’s a very important thing to keep up. It’s sort of like, if you practice a lot in a particular Court in a particular County, or are in a particular area of law after you’ve done it for a few years, people know who you are. They know whether they can trust your word or not know whether you are going to deliver when you say you’re going to deliver. And that’s a very important thing, both in the practice of law and the practice.
Louis Goodman: Let me just get back to the campaign for just a [00:26:00] minute. Do you have a 30 second elevator speech?
Chris Peeples: Sure. Hi, my name is Chris Peeples. I’ve been on the AC Transit Board a whole long time.
I’ve helped AC Transit through three recessions. So that’s very useful thing to know in these days. I’ve been the Lead Director on our zero-emission bus program and our Lead Director on the Environmental Justice Transportation Program. And I think I do a pretty good job. I’ve been elected President of the board five times and I would like to continue to do it.
Louis Goodman: Tell me a little bit about this zero emission bus.
Chris Peeples: Yeah, this is something we’ve been working on for a little over 20 years. When I first got on the board. There’s obviously a great deal of concern about air pollution, both in terms of smog, oxides of nitrogen, which ends up [00:27:00] creating smog and particulate matter, which is pretty nasty and is one of the reasons why, for example, children in the zip code that’s around the port are eight times more likely to go to the hospital for asthma and a child that lives in my zip code, which is 94611, which includes Piedmont. Montclair. California has probably the best regulatory Air Quality Agency in the world, California Air Resources Board.
And when I first got on the Board, they were pushing for natural gas. CNG or LNG liquified natural, as an alternative for diesel, 20 years ago was pretty dirty stuff. We were using two cycle engines. If you were a member, there would be these great clouds of black smoke that would come up occasionally.
And that’s [00:28:00] when they were slightly out of tune there was lots of black smoke in the nineties. Was all let’s go to natural gas burns much cleaner, much less particulate matter. The General Manager of AC Transit at the time I had come from New Jersey Transit and they had tried natural gas in the seventies during the first oil crisis. And it was a disaster. It was Rick used to say he replaced engines more often than he replaced tires. It’s got very different characteristics than diesel. It’s nowhere. The engines are nowhere near, as durable, nowhere near as reliable. We really did not want to go to natural gas. Great technological advances on both sides since buses last 12 years, that meant by 2028, all the new purchases are going to have to be zero emissions. So people really began [00:29:00] to scramble. There is now pretty serious competition with battery electric buses because of the vast improvements in batteries. And AC Transit are actually running the comparison study. We have 20 fuel cell buses. We’re going to get 10 more.
We’ve got five battery lipid classes. We’re needing to 25 more and we’re going to take three. Fuel cell electric buses, 30 battery electric buses, 30 diesel electric buses, hybrids, and 30 shredded diesel buses run them on the same routes with the same drivers and drivers every few days. The buses are instrumented to hell and back.
And the work is going to be done by the National Renewable Energy Lab and the Center for Transportation and Technology and a professor down at Stanford and his graduate students are going to do an analysis of how these three of these four different kinds of buses work, [00:30:00] how well they run the routes, how long they last, all that kind of good stuff.
And we’ll publish that for the industry around the world. And there’s a huge amount of interest all around the world in this test that we’re putting on.
Louis Goodman: Just change the subject a little bit here. What, if anything, would you change about the way the AC Transit System works? And as part of that, do you think that it meets the needs of the community?
Chris Peeples: I would try to have us integrate better with the underlying jurisdictions. We don’t own the streets. We don’t own the sidewalks. We don’t control the streets or the sidewalks. And there are 13 cities, 9 unincorporated areas, 2 counties, and a bunch of the streets that we run on are actually Caltrans Highway.
San Pablo is a Caltrans Highway for part of its length. [00:31:00] International Boulevard is a Caltrans Highway for part of its length. We could do a much better job of integrating with the Cities and that’s beginning to happen. Now that there’s a Department of Transportation in Oakland, they’re talking about red lanes, exclusive bus lanes in many more parts from Oakland, the Alameda County Transportation Commission is in there.
My Lodestar for transportation is where my mother used to live, which is Paris and Paris. Does not allow buildings that are taller than Notre Dame, but almost all the buildings are that tall. So the buildings tend to be five to eight stories tall with retail on the ground floor and housing, above that.
As a result, my mother lived sort of on the edge of Paris, but the bus came every four minutes. [00:32:00] That’s the kind of transit you need for people to feel perfectly comfortable about not having a car and in Paris, the Metro runs every 90 seconds and the buses run every four minutes. It’s the sort of thing that in America, people dream about.
That’s part of it. I think AC Transit is actually pretty well run it is a fairly expensive system because we treat our employees well.
Louis Goodman: if you came into some real money, couple of billion dollars. And I recognize that you’re someone who probably money means less too than a lot of people. But if you came into some real money, a few billion dollars, what, if anything, would you do differently in your life?
Chris Peeples: I’d probably travel more. I would be giving lots of money to various progressive political causes. You [00:33:00] know, Tom Steyer came into billions and I think he’s using it quite well. Same thing with Mayor Bloomberg. I would like to go to some of the really classic musical festivals.
Louis Goodman: If you had a magic wand, you could change one thing in the world and the political world and the transportation world and the legal world, or any aspect of society. What would that be?
Chris Peeples: I’d change the current Supreme Court.
Louis Goodman: Chris Peeples, it’s been a pleasure talking to you this morning. Thank you very much for joining me here on Love Thy Lawyer. It’s been a very interesting and informative conversation.
Chris Peeples: Thank you, Louis. Thank you very much. I think this has been an interesting conversation and I think these podcasts are a real service to the community and also to the legal community, the lawyers in the community and it’s people out there get sort of an understanding of what we do and how we [00:34:00] do it.
Louis Goodman: That’s it for today’s episode and Love Thy Lawyer. Many thanks to my guests who have contributed their time and wisdom and make the show possible. Thanks as always to Joel Katz for music, Bryan Matheson for technical support and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.
Chris Peeples: And I think that’s something young lawyers really need to understand that unless you flit around the country, people are going to know who you are and your reputation is definitely going to precede [you].

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