Green Goes, Books Die
Two looks at one subject: closure.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
I ’ve had Green Vehicles Inc. on my deadpool list almost since the very first day I heard the words “Green Vehicles” put together with “incorporated.” Deadpool, for those unfamiliar, is a list of things—companies or (for the very morbid) people—you bet are going to die sooner rather than later.
In 2009, when Green Vehicles first appeared on my radar, I was covering technology, specializing in startup and venture-backed companies, for a newspaper in San Jose. Green was emerging as a huge sector, and the venture capitalists of Silicon Valley were throwing crazy amounts of money at it. In some cases, they were making eight-figure investments just to see what would stick. One lithium-ion battery company, Imara Corp., took in nearly $20 million in venture funding. One month after it appeared on Fast Company’s list of green businesses to watch in 2010, Imara went under in spectacular fashion. Investors replaced the CEO with a guy who specialized in selling off assets and patent portfolios.
What doomed Imara? The company won no government grants.
Green Vehicles had no venture money, little or no intellectual property and no patent portfolio I could ever find. And so I was mystified that November when a guy described as Green Vehicles’ co-founder and CEO, Salinas native and IP lawyer Ehab Youssef, announced his fledgling company was moving from San Jose to Salinas. The city of Salinas had stepped forward to offer up block grants and incentives worth more than a half-million dollars, and the California Energy Commission was considering giving the company $2 million in grant funding.
The deal with Salinas signed, I lost a bet on the CEC grant coming through, and Youssef (or, as I like to think of him, the bait) disappeared without explanation from any involvement with the company. Less than a year after Green Vehicles took up residence at the Firestone Business Park, I started hearing rumblings about the company not paying its rent. That fact was borne out when the Weekly, via a Public Records Act request, obtained city emails and broke the news the company was months in arrears and trying to barter a car for what it owed.
Lots of fingers are now being pointed: at Green Vehicles, the city, Mayor Dennis Donohue and Economic Development Director Jeff Weir. Meanwhile, the city is pointing its finger at the CEC, saying the commission made it hard for Green Vehicles to collect its grant money.
To that I say, nope. According to the CEC, it spent months explaining to Green Vehicles simply how to properly fill out the reimbursement paperwork.
It’s a mystery why this completely undercapitalized company got grant money at all. Every startup has red flags, and Green Vehicles had more red flags than almost every startup I covered, combined. But it’s worth noting Salinas was not alone: San Jose’s Office of Economic Development had scrambled to put together an incentive package too.
Also on the closure front, and more painful for most Monterey County residents, Borders announced this week it had failed to find an angel to rescue it from the depths of financial despair. The chain is seeking permission from U.S. Bankruptcy Court to liquidate its assets. If approved, the everything-must-go sale starts Friday.
Borders pioneered the big box bookstore and many of us—me included—bought into it. We helped them drive indy bookstores under. Now there are few used bookstores left in Monterey County, and soon there will be no corporate bookstores either.
A friend pondered on Facebook if Borders’ death means a possible renaissance for the indy bookstore. Only if, I responded, that indy bookstore features the Kindle app. I weep for humanity, he retorted.
There are a lot of reasons to weep for humanity, and the death of Borders, while depressing for shoppers and tragic for its really wonderful Sand City employees, should serve as a walk-up call rather than reason to weep.
Care about content, and about how you get it. And care about authors, because the three are intertwined. There’s a great opportunity coming up to meet the people who write the books: This weekend, a local authors event features (here we go, bragging) Weekly contributor Dan Linehan, author of several books on space exploration, including the recent Burt Rutan’s Race to Space and former contributor Tony Seton, who’s turned book writing into a cottage industry. Nearly 60 local authors in all will gather at The Barnyard in Carmel (see calendar, p. 30). Given that readers may access content in the future by direct contact with the writers (cutting out the middle-man altogether), The Barnyard on a Saturday doesn’t sound like a bad way to start.
Mary Duan is the Weekly’s editor. Reach her at email@example.com.