Randy Shaw's Power Plays

Sixteen years ago, Randy Shaw started a housing clinic with $50 and a good idea: educating tenants. Now he's got more than $900,000 a year to spend -- and clout to match.

Boschetti won't comment about his connection with the Tenderloin Housing Clinic. "I am the owner of the building that they are in. I think there is kind of a conflict of interest here," he says. "I, you know, I have someone here in my office right now. Can I call you back?"

And though Shaw has battled tourist hotel conversion since the beginning of his career, he won't comment on Boschetti, although he takes time out to praise the hotel owner as a good landlord.

The rewriting of the Hotel Conversion Ordinance to suit the Tenderloin Housing Clinic's agenda isn't the only example of Shaw's political clout. Over the years, he has come to rank with S.F.'s pre-eminent unelected powerhouses -- pushing through ballot initiatives, lobbying with THC funds, organizing hotel residents around political causes, and even substantially reorganizing part of city government in the way that he thought best.

It was within the first year of founding the Tenderloin Housing Clinic as a student volunteer, back in 1980, that Shaw first launched himself into political activism, helping the North of Market Planning Coalition to organize against a proposal to build luxury hotels in the Tenderloin.

Since then, Shaw has used the combined weight of the clinic's courtroom activities and his organizing capabilities to shape city law. The THC bankrolled and pushed successful local ballot measures: The first, which tightened rent control laws, was on the ballot as Proposition H in 1992; the second, Proposition G, created a brand-new city department, the Department of Building Inspection, and passed in 1994.

"I am a big believer in nonprofit advocacy organizations' spending money on ballot measures," Shaw writes in The Activist's Handbook. "With funding so precious," he continues, later on the same page, "nonprofit social change advocacy organizations should participate in and be counted upon to help fund initiative campaigns seeking to benefit their constituencies. Staff of nonprofit advocacy groups often tell me that spending money directly on ballot measures is too 'controversial' or 'political.' Unfortunately, an organization that fears controversy or politics is not likely to achieve social change."

Prop. G was bitterly contested on both sides.
In 1994, it was Prop. G that removed the old Bureau of Building Inspection from under the Department of Public Works and created it as its own separate entity. Prop. G gave the new Department of Building Inspection the power to set policy and to act as a board of appeals for building permits. Written into the initiative was the provision that two of the new commission members be a residential builder and a representative of a nonprofit housing developer.

The two dominant forces backing the proposition were an unlikely pair -- Shaw and a man named Joe O'Donoghue, the head of the Residential Builders Association. "They're on the side of God and the angels," Shaw says.

The Prop. G campaign, built on an unlikely alliance, spawned unlikely opposition -- the San Francisco League of Neighborhoods lined up with the Chamber of Commerce against it. And it was the most controversial item on the ballot that year. The fight over Prop. G spilled past the election season, when a member of the newly created Building Inspection Commission, longtime THC employee Jamie Sanbonmatsu, used his new office to request a city investigation of one of the most vocal Prop. G opponents, Timothy Gillespie.

"My objection to Prop. G was that it appeared to be a proposition that was manufactured by a coalition of special interests," says Gillespie, who heads the Public Access Project.

Gillespie raised questions about the financing of Prop. G, which was bankrolled by the Residential Builders Association and the Tenderloin Housing Clinic. After he wrote on Public Access Project letterhead requesting city documents, Sanbonmatsu, on Building Inspection Commission letterhead, asked the city attorney to investigate Gillespie for a "failure to comply with lobbyist registration laws."

"In recent days, he has been going through the Tenderloin Housing Clinic contracts at the Department of Social Services," Sanbonmatsu complained in his letter.

The city attorney looked into the matter and said Gillespie wasn't a lobbyist.

In a letter to the Building Inspection Commission president, Gillespie called Sanbonmatsu's letter "an odious attempt to silence my criticisms of the commission."

In addition to supporting ballot initiatives, Shaw has also thrown his weight behind Mayor Willie Brown. In his office at the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, campaign posters for Brown litter the floor. During the election in 1995, Shaw's picture appeared in a campaign flier endorsing Brown. The flier, titled "Willie Brown's Bill of Tenant Rights," gave Brown rave reviews, and Shaw was identified as "executive director, Tenderloin Housing Clinic." Since the articles of incorporation of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic expressly prohibit the organization from involvement in any political campaign on behalf of any candidate, and since federal nonprofits are barred by law from participating in campaigns, some people took note after the election.

IRS spokeswoman Analisa Collins-Sears says indeed, the endorsement could be improper.

"If they use their title they're implying indirectly that the organization is supporting a candidate," she says. "You could possibly put your organization in jeopardy because the organization is definitely not supposed to do this."

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4 comments
ScottLucas86
ScottLucas86

@SFCitizen Three stories in five months, one of which was a double quote. Plus one linkbait. Not seeing why you needed to pull us in.

SFCitizen
SFCitizen

@ScottLucas86 He runs the largest corrupt non-profit in the 415- that's not a story in itself? Your quote factory functions as part of SFGov

ScottLucas86
ScottLucas86

@SFCitizen I like your work. I'd tell if I thought you were right. But I think you and I disagree on whether quoting = supporting.

 

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