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.

Among the inconsistencies the Department of Justice computer spotted in the THC's financial returns: discrepancies in the amount of public funding reported on the 990s and CT-2s, a higher-than-normal rate of compensation for the THC as a whole, and an "unreliable" summary of securities activity, according to the documents.

In 1994, for example, the THC reported owning $82,000 in securities at the beginning of the year and $0 at the end of the year, but did not report if the securities were sold. A net return of $862 on the securities was reported, however. And it simply did not answer some of the questions -- which have boxes for "yes" and "no" -- on the form. According to Campbell, all lines on all forms are supposed to be filled out in order to provide an accurate picture of an organization's financial transactions and status. Kind of in the same way that the Hotel Conversion Ordinance requires hotels to keep logs of all rooms, with no omissions or late additions -- it's so you can tell who's renting to residents and who to tourists.

Reviewing the reports, Campbell says, "This looks like it's strangely prepared."

And are all those blanks ordinary? "That's kind of an unusual case," Campbell says.

As for salaries, the THC spends more than $500,000 a year on salaries. And even its own board has a question about one of the numbers on the financial forms -- about $50,000 in 1993 and 1994 for "fund raising."

At its meeting on Dec. 5, 1995, according to meeting minutes contained in the THC's file at the Mayor's Office of Community Development, the board was wanting "clarification" as to what, exactly, that expenditure was. The minutes state, "We will seek clarification of the meaning the terms [sic] 'fund raising' and 'memo' as used in the financial report."

Shaw, when asked, says the Tenderloin Housing Clinic doesn't do any fund-raising, but that putting money into a "fund raising" category on a financial return is a standard accounting practice. The IRS, however, disagrees -- "We would expect it to be used for what they're saying they're using it for," says Public Information Officer Collins-Sears. "You should be spending it on fund-raising if you list it."

In a way, what you think of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic -- and in San Francisco, many people have many opinions -- depends on what you think of the work the THC does.

There are those in San Francisco who applaud Randy Shaw.
"He is opinionated, he makes mistakes, but net-net, after it's all said and done, this city is a better place for the vast majority of its residents because of Randy Shaw," says Calvin Welch. "And I respect the hell out of him for it."

Indeed, around San Francisco, Shaw is something of a sacrament. Ask enough questions about him, and word filters back to the small, wood-floored office that is command central for the rolling tactical operations of the THC. Call someone to ask about the THC, and they instantly want to know "the angle" on the story: Is it good? Is it bad?

Randy Shaw has a phrase for what he does. He calls it "proactive agenda-setting." It's what The Activist's Handbook is all about -- taking the initiative, forcing the world around to one's own point of view. And over the last 15 years, that is exactly what the Tenderloin Housing Clinic has done: It has written laws, enforced them, created city agencies and social services programs, and provided revenue for itself while maintaining an activist stance.

But if Shaw has spent the better part of the last two decades peeling up society's floorboards and looking underneath, he rejects the same kind of scrutiny directed at himself or his housing clinic. When SF Weekly first called him for this story, he said he would not agree to be interviewed because "we've decided we can't trust the Weekly." Later he agreed to several interviews.

Trust, of course, is part of what activism is based on: You trust yourself against your enemies. Trust is sometimes predicated on fear. The premise behind the idea of a nonprofit is slightly different than trust; it's charity -- the notion that it is possible to work for a larger good. If scrutinizing the workings of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic seems unnecessary, given the work that the clinic has set itself toward doing, it isn't: Tax-exempt, funded in part with public money, the clinic is a public beneficiary, and scrutiny is part of the territory.

And as more and more social services are delivered through nonprofits rather than by the government, organizations like Shaw's are being pushed to the front lines of society. It's a system that allows someone who's smart about it to create his or her own kingdom. Even though sometimes, in kingdoms, what's important is simply what the king wants.

Research assistance provided by Liza Goodwin.

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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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