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Essential California: Why Travis Kalanick won't ring the bell at the Uber IPO

Essential California: Why Travis Kalanick won't ring the bell at the Uber IPO
Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick in February 2018. (Elijah Nouvelage / Getty Images)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, May 10, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

Come mid-morning, Travis Kalanick will officially have more money than you or I could spend in a lifetime.


The dethroned Uber CEO was already a billionaire, but when the company he co-founded goes public on the New York Stock Exchange this morning, he is expected to walk away with roughly $5 billion. For context, that’s more than the GDPs of a few dozen countries, and enough money to provide Medicaid for approximately 1.4 million Americans.

But the famously short-fused co-founder won't have one thing he wants: a spot on the balcony of the New York Stock Exchange as the opening bell is rung.

Kalanick’s being barred from that iconic, bell-ringing balcony has been the topic of frenzied speculation in the media, but we should have seen it coming. When Kalanick's successor, current Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, was interviewing for the job, Khosrowshahi showed Uber’s board a PowerPoint presentation that reportedly included a slide with the words “There can be only one CEO at a time.”

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi in September 2018.
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi in September 2018. (Richard Drew / AP)

It definitely seems there can only be one Uber CEO at a time on the balcony of the New York Stock Exchange. Per a New York Times report, Kalanick will likely be in the building, but relegated to the comparatively plebeian trading floor. Quite a fall from grace for a man whose hard-charging vision rewrote the future of transportation as we know it.

For a long time, Kalanick’s narrative arc at Uber appeared to only soar upward, even as scandals piled in his wake. He fundamentally altered mobility in American cities and, for or better or worse, helped pioneer a gig economy where anyone with a smartphone could monetize the station wagon in their garage and be an entrepreneur in their downtime, albeit with no guarantee of ever earning a living wage.

Kalanick was the kind of alpha bro empire-builder who'd been coding since before he had chest hair and who might unironically quote “Braveheart” to a reporter in reference to his own ascent. As a San Fernando Valley teen, he hawked Cutco knife sets door to door in his suburban neighborhood and later, while hustling at a failed pre-Uber venture, famously slept in a rented Toyota Sienna and bathed in casino bathrooms to attend the big-deal annual Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas.

He feared neither municipal governments nor taxi boards, and could seemingly bend the world to his will. Forget the “asking for forgiveness, not permission” model: Pillaging and flooding the market defined his playbook. He slashed-and-burned his way through local regulations, court injunctions, cease-and-desist orders and all manner of PR disasters.

But eventually all those scandals caught up to him, and Kalanick was forced to resign in June 2017.

Since Khosrowshahi (the guy who will probably be ringing that all-important bell) was hired in September 2017, Uber has been working overtime to distance itself from Kalanick. Take the IPO prospectus, which was released last month ahead of the filing and includes the line “It’s a new day at Uber.” For Uber, effectively illustrating that new day “means indirectly indicting the era of Travis Kalanick,” according to Business Insider.

The 300-page document mentions Kalanick’s name 13 times, but he’s primarily there to serve “as a punching bag,” according to that Business Insider analysis.

No one, it seems, is made entirely of Teflon. Not even the empire builders.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:



Gov. Gavin Newsom sent California lawmakers a revised budget Thursday that shows he wants to double spending on homelessness, to $1 billion. Los Angeles Times

South L.A. was promised a Target. Millions of dollars later, it has a vacant lot. This investigation looks at developer promises, political donations and how a shopping center aimed at revitalizing Crenshaw Boulevard became the project from hell. Los Angeles Times


Mystery still surrounds the more than a thousand guns seized from a sprawling Bel-Air mansion, but a new twist has emerged: the home, which authorities describe as “a hoarder’s paradise,” belongs to Cynthia Beck, a woman who has three daughters with J. Paul Getty’s son Gordon Getty. Los Angeles Times


(See also: “Gordon Getty's second family was an open secret,” a 1999 story from the L.A. Times)

A tray of hot chicken tenders at Hotties Nashville Hot Chicken in Chino Hills.
A tray of hot chicken tenders at Hotties Nashville Hot Chicken in Chino Hills. (Silvia Razgova / Los Angeles Times)

Nashville hot chicken is taking over Los Angeles. Jenn Harris explores the history of L.A.’s hot chicken craze. Los Angeles Times

Laker fans are planning to hold a protest outside Staples Center on Friday to voice their frustration with the team's front office. Bleacher Report

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Homeland Security officials are making it tougher for people seeking asylum to get over the first hurdle in the lengthy process of gaining U.S. protection, according to a recently obtained memo. Los Angeles Times


In the race for 2020, former Vice President Joe Biden and Mayor Pete Buttigieg spent the last few days in Los Angeles, squabbling over Hollywood’s top donors. Deadline


An annual fundraiser festival for a tiny charter school in a Northern California town was cancelled after online conspiracy theorists latched onto an unrelated tweet from James Comey. The conspiracy theorists became convinced that Comey’s tweet (which, in actuality, was just the former FBI director’s version of the popular “Five Jobs I’ve Had” meme) was a coded reference to a terror attack planned for the annual day of kids’ games, music and food in the Sierra foothills. Sacramento Bee

Michael Jackson’s final days will be probed in a courtroom next week, when a lawsuit brought seven years ago by the late singer’s mysterious ex-manager finally goes to trial. The Hollywood Reporter


California is moving to ban chlorpyrifos, a widely-used agricultural pesticide that’s said to be harmful to the farmers who spray it and children who eat foods that contain it. San Francisco Chronicle


When the “Twitter tax break” took effect eight years ago, it was intended to draw tech companies to San Francisco’s Mid-Market neighborhood and lead to revitalization. This series looks at the evolution of the street, the effect on real estate, and the benefits that flowed — or didn’t — to the city and its people. San Francisco Chronicle

A haunting narrative look at two families’ experiences with the Chabad of Poway shooting. Desert Sun

Plus: Rabbi Raziel Cohen, aka the “Tactical Rabbi,” is part of a growing cottage industry of religious security experts in Southern California. Los Angeles Times

Today's Old Oakland was originally built up as the town’s downtown after the coming of the transcontinental railroad in the 1870s. Here’s a story about the long and winding history of Old Oakland, and a young architect who embarked on a more than decade-long effort to prevent the buildings from being destroyed. KQED

A weekend guide to the murals and mules of Bishop. Los Angeles Times

Richard Nixon’s former Western White House in San Clemente could be yours for $57.5 million. Los Angeles Times


Los Angeles: partly sunny, 69. San Diego: partly sunny, 67. San Francisco: partly sunny, 66. San Jose: partly sunny, 75. Sacramento: sunny, 86. More weather is here.



San Francisco has only one drawback. ’Tis hard to leave.

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