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

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
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

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
, Mint Plaza, some really cool projects out

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
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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.