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All Fired Up
Federal Court Special Master James Jefferson's quote ("The Fire Next Time," April 3) is off the wall and way foul. Rest assured that we as firefighters do not plant articles in newspapers. What we do with our spare time is coach kids; volunteer with AIDS groups; distribute toys for Local 798 at Christmastime to those who can't afford them; and pay our rent.

Firefighters -- black, white, brown, or yellow; man or woman -- do not hate anyone! What we hate is when we see children and babies hurt and die in fires, car wrecks, or domestic disputes.

John Hanley, Vice President
San Francisco Fire Fighters
Local 798

Occupational Hazard
Regarding "The Fire Next Time": Judge Patel's consent decree hammered the San Francisco Fire Department into the 20th century; but the decree may create an interesting legacy for the department.

Two years ago, I sat for the entrance exam with 5,700 aspiring cadets. After the test, I learned of the consent decree and immediately registered for the law boards. Three of the five American Bar Association law schools I applied to admitted me, but the Fire Department never called.

George Cothran's research and writing are commendable. I offer one point of clarification to the story. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is regarded as a liberal circuit in the federal judiciary -- perhaps the most liberal. I learned that in law school.

Doug Coggins

The Shaw Redemption
We read your recent article on Randy Shaw of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic ("Randy Shaw's Power Plays," March 27). All we can say is: We have gotten to know Shaw and his work on behalf of the city's poor, and we came to the conclusion that if we ever had a problem in this city that we'll be glad to know he's on our side.

Shaw is one of the hardest-working people in San Francisco to show, through his compassion, that greed is not going to save you. He is only fighting for the return of what the wealthy stole from us all in the 1980s by the greedy forces of this city of St. Francis.

We have never known Shaw to be kingly, as you put it; quite the contrary. We have seen Shaw stand up to the forces of greed and take them to task for all the lives they have either severely damaged or outright ruined through the guise of "downsizing," "hostile takeovers," and draconian policies of "profit before people."

We see Shaw spearheading efforts to use any income increase in the THC not to cash in and retire to some island with a drink in his hand, but rather to use those facilities as they were intended, namely to create shelter for those who aren't sheltered.

And if returning what was stolen from someone is a "Power Play," so be it; it is called a righteous power play. We have never heard Shaw say or plan anything that enriched or empowered himself personally in any way. In fact, if Shaw knew we were writing this letter, he'd probably not want us to; the dude is cool. Leave him be. With all the business cuts going on, we may just see you at the THC needing a room (without rats or roaches or fire or bodily danger involved).

Brian "Ironhorse" Stattman
Bonnie Falk

Bridge and Tunnel Activist
Allow me to express my gratitude on the excellent coverage of "Randy Shaw's Power Plays." It truly offers me hope to see a local paper conduct a thorough investigation of an obvious "insider."

As regards Shaw's political activities, if a decent audit were conducted, there is a chance that the accounting "fund" allocations would underline some problems for the Tenderloin Housing Clinic. The clinic is a non-taxpaying entity whose doors are open not just because of tax dollars, but because it is permitted to retain every bit of its profits. It is a felony under California law to use public monies for electioneering.

Since Shaw has been operating in San Francisco, our visible environmental problems with the homeless have increased. The livelihood provided to him through federal and local tax dollars allows Shaw to put forth his policies in the city, then go home to Berkeley and live in a different, and distinctly more protected, environment.

Shaw is just one of many commuter "activists" and city policy-makers who live in Berkeley. It is implausible that decisions made by these commuters could ever be excused as being in this community's best interests.

Roberta Caravelli, President
Citizen Review
San Francisco

The End vs. the Means
I was disappointed in "Randy Shaw's Power Plays." In her rambling and rather pointless cover story, Ellen McGarrahan implies that Shaw's multifaceted approach to housing rights is somehow illegal, unethical, or an abuse of power. She criticizes Shaw's successful part in creating more effective housing-code enforcement and legislation to protect dwindling low-cost hotel stock.

McGarrahan castigates Shaw for his role in modifying the Hotel Conversion Ordinance to provide attorney fee awards to tenant attorneys who successfully challenge hotel conversions. She faults the Tenderloin Housing Clinic for accepting contingency fees in actions against landlords, since other nonprofits, such as the ACLU and Legal Aid, do not. The THC can fund actions against slumlords and fund the other free legal services it offers tenants through these contingency fees and awards. It should be commended for imaginative funding in hard times, not censured.

Lawsuits over unlivable conditions and to preserve residential hotel stock are time-consuming, costly, and fraught with difficulty. McGarrahan quotes a hotel owners attorney, implying that they are at an economic disadvantage in defending such suits. This statement would come as surprise to anyone who has ever litigated one. For example, the landlords in the Frye case, described in the article, fought that action all the way through a lengthy trial without apparent strain. They are now challenging the verdict in the Court of Appeals. Apparently they are not completely strapped yet. This type of vigorous defense of an indefensible position is typical of such hotel owners. The landlord hopes to wear out the resources of the suing tenants.

These cases are an important weapon against slumlords in an era of decreasing public resources for housing law enforcement. They provide a remedy for tenants who otherwise would have none. Contingency fees and fee awards make these cases possible.

Randy Shaw is far from perfect. Probably every tenant advocate in the city could have provided McGarrahan with a list of perceived shortcomings and suggested areas of improvement had she bothered to consult that community. However, few involved with tenants rights would have disputed Calvin Welch's assessment that "this city is a better place for the vast majority of its residents because of Randy Shaw."

McGarrahan finds the THC's philosophy of approaching housing rights from a variety of directions suspect. She sees the success of this approach as an attempt to build some sort of undefined evil empire. She would apparently prefer that the clinic remain small, underfunded, ineffective, and pure. Too bad for the tenants.

Leah Hess


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