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Monterey Herald: Crusading gas station owner dies

Monterey Herald photograph

Mehdi Shahbazi owned the Shell gas station on Reservation Road in Marina. (VERN FISHER/Herald file)

Shahbazi had gone on liquid diet

Herald Staff Writer
Article Launched: 11/17/2007 01:27:50 AM PST

Mehdi Shahbazi, a longtime Monterey Bay area service station operator who waged a quixotic and dogged battle against high gasoline prices, died this week at Stanford University Hospital, his wife said Friday. Shahbazi was 65.

In a protest that centered around the Marina Shell station he leased from 1982 to last month, Shahbazi had gone on a liquids-only fast this summer to highlight his populist crusade against high fuel prices and Shell’s legal campaign to terminate his lease.

He was hospitalized in early October on doctor’s orders when his health began failing after more than 90 days on the stringent diet.

His wife, Valerie, said Shahbazi died of liver failure. She said doctors believed he may have contracted hepatitis B as an infant in his native Iran, which was aggravated recently and contributed to his death.

“He’d been (at Stanford) for about a month, back and forth, in and out of coma,” said Karim Zarr, a longtime friend.

Starting in October 2005, Shahbazi’s battles with the oil industry and with Shell grew out of his decision to post signs outside the Marina station decrying high gasoline prices and inviting customers to join his protest over fuel pricing.

Shell started legal action to evict him, contending that Shahbazi had violated several lease terms. The company regained legal control of the station in early October, the same week that Shahbazi went into the hospital.

For almost two years, the fuel pumps at the south Marina station on Del Monte Avenue were idle and ringed by wire fences. Shahbazi kept the station’s mini-mart and car wash open. He worked long hours on an old computer on the counter to write pages and pages of legal motions for the federal case against Shell.

His campaign generated a spate of media coverage, and faithful customers regularly dropped by to say hello or buy a car wash. He passed out business cards with the slogan “Pumping Mad” in red above his phone number and Web site.

Calling the number Friday, one could hear Shahbazi’s placid voice saying, “Hello. Are you fed up when your fill up?”

His wife, who met Shahbazi 23 years ago when she brought her car to be worked on at a Salinas station he was running, said her husband’s crusade had its accomplishments.

“There were a lot of people who learned a lot from him, who understood what he was doing,” she said. “Part of what he was doing was to let consumers know, to educate them.”

Zarr said Shahbazi embraced his Iranian traditions, possessed a wonderful sense of humor and was always loyal and helpful to friends. “Mehdi was one of a kind,” he said.

Shahbazi was born in Kermanshah, Iran, in the northern Kurdish part of the country, and moved to the United States in his early 20s to work at a service station owned by his brother in Los Angeles, his wife said.

He went into the business himself and eventually operated stations in Marina, Salinas, San Jose, Santa Cruz and Monterey, Zarr said.

An avid student of history, economics and political science, Shahbazi had a high-school equivalency degree and was a state-certified mechanic. “He was an honest mechanic,” his wife said. “He was a genuine person.”

His wife and two sons, Saam, 22, and Kayvon, 14, live in Los Angeles. He is also survived by his brother, Max Shahbazi of Thousand Oaks, and sister, Bobbie Ajir of Carmel Valley.

A private memorial service will be held Sunday at a friend’s Fremont home, the family said.

Larry Parsons can be reached at 646-4379 or [email protected]. and its sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

1 Comment on “Monterey Herald: Crusading gas station owner dies”

  1. #1 BobS
    on Dec 19th, 2008 at 04:47

    Medhi was a complete idiot. Now over one year later, gas prices are at 8 year lows. Medhi didn’t shut up and tough it out, but instead he acted like a crybaby and went out on his own crusade with no support behind him. The hunger strike was stupid and his death was all for nothing.

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