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Mehdi Shahbazi, 65; gas station operator fought with Shell Oil over fees

November 19, 2007|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Mehdi Shahbazi, 65, a gasoline station operator who waged a hunger strike and public relations battle against high gasoline prices and the fees that oil firms charge franchisees, died Wednesday at Stanford Hospital of liver failure.

Shahbazi leased a Shell station in Central California in 1982. In 2005, he posted signs at the Marina station highlighting "big oil's unearned profit" -- a protest that Shell said violated the terms of his lease. Shell sued, then Shahbazi accused the company of breach of contract and of violating the Petroleum Marketing Practices Act.

In July, he went on a liquids-only diet to underscore what he called onerous franchise fees and other problems faced by individual gas station operators.

He refused to sell gas, instead inviting customers to spend money at the store's mini-mart and carwash.

In August, a federal judge ruled that Shell properly terminated the lease. Shell took legal control of Shahbazi's station in October.

In reporting his death Sunday, the San Jose Mercury News said Shahbazi was born in Kermanshah, in the Kurdish region of Iran. He was the youngest of five children and moved to Los Angeles in his 20s to work at a gas station owned by a brother.

A state-certified mechanic, Shahbazi went into the business himself and eventually operated stations in the California cities of Marina, Salinas, Monterey, San Jose and Santa Cruz.

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