Mission Local has learned that Kate Sofis, the head of the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development is slated to next week officially leave her post.
While the reason for her departure has not been announced, she leaves following allegations leveled against her in two lawsuits that she improperly used her city position to curry access and benefit her former place of business, SFMade.
Sofis was executive director of SFMade, a nonprofit that advocates for manufacturing in San Francisco, before she was appointed to lead the Office of Economic and Workforce Development by Mayor London Breed in March 2021.
The conflict-of-interest complaints against Sofis stem from a pair of lawsuits filed in April and May by Humanmade, a nonprofit based in San Francisco that trains workers for manufacturing roles, against Sofis’ former nonprofit SFMade.
The first was filed in California superior court, the second in federal court.
The suits claim that SFMade, the larger nonprofit and Humanmade’s landlord, profited from inflated rents and took credit for Humanmade’s training program, representing the program as its own to donors and potential partners.
Sofis, in her role as head of the city’s workforce development agency, also “abus[ed] her official position” to force Humanmade to give tours to groups affiliated with her former nonprofit, the suits say. She falsely informed Humanmade that they had to pay rent during the Covid eviction moratorium, the suits claim, leading to eviction threats and demands for rent.
Sofis, the founder of SFMade, was also on the board of directors for Humanmade. The lawsuits claim that Sofis “repeatedly abused [her] insider position to enrich SFMade and its affiliates.”
SFMade representatives declined to comment on the lawsuits, saying they had been advised not to speak on pending litigation. Calls to Sofis have not been returned.
“It’s very unfortunate that it’s come to this,” said Humanmade CEO Ryan Spurlock. “We’ve tried everything to do the right thing and work things out.”
Soliciting improper rent
SFMade, through an intermediary, is Humanmade’s landlord at its space in the Design District. The suits allege that Sofis “advised Humanmade that it was required to pay 50 percent rent during the covid-19 commercial eviction moratorium,” to SFMade’s intermediary, when rent had in reality been deferred to October 2023.
SFMade then threatened to evict Humanmade, the suits allege, for not paying rent during the moratorium. It also used lease negotiations to demand that Humanmade stop pressing its ownership of the manufacturing training program, the suits say.
Further, the suits claim, SFMade has been charging Humanmade with market-rate rents for their space — despite the fact that Humanmade’s rents are meant to be held at below-market-rate per a community benefits agreement.
Sofis is also accused of offering Humanmade’s skills training to public housing residents at Mercy Housing without actually informing Humanmade. Sofis also “revealed confidential discussions” about Humanmade’s dealings with Bridge Housing to SFMade director George Colon, “who then sought to assume that opportunity for the benefit of SFMade.” It is not clear what specific benefits the suits allege.
SFMade misrepresented itself, suits say
The lawsuits also claim that SFMade tried to “poach” Humanmade staff and copy its processes, helping SFMade win funding and secure contracts that could otherwise have gone to Humanmade.
SFMade and Humanmade are both nonprofits focused on jobs and workforce development that have collaborated on manufacturing training programs.
Humanmade provided “hard skills” manufacturing training while SFMade focused on “assistance with resumes, interviewing and job placement,” according to the lawsuit from Humanmade. At no time was SFMade involved in actually training workers, the suits allege.
Yet in public statements and grant proposals, SFMade advertised its ability to train workers for machining, 3D printing, and other skills, winning contracts and funding it would not have otherwise, the suits say.
“Since at least 2020, SFMade repeatedly made false representations to the public and Humanmade’s prospective funding sources that SFMade owns [the training program,” the suits read.
In another instance, the suits allege that SFMade asked Humanmade CEO Spurlock to give a tour of Humanmade’s “maker space” facilities to Napa city officials and offer them training in how to manage maker spaces, typically spaces dedicated to manufacturing or craft making.
SFMade later took a “maker space” related contract in Napa for itself and “pressed” Humanmade for details on its management processes, the suits allege, so that it could replicate them.
The lawsuits, filed in California superior court and federal court, are seeking damages for the allegedly illegal rent increases and an end to the “unfair competition” from SFMade’s allegedly false statements on the training program.
OEWD is just a publicity arm for the Mayor’s Office. Nothing more than that. It is a huge expense dedicated to supporting the mayor’s public image.
SF’s economy collapses on her watch but Sofis still finds time to use her public position to benefit her private position. That’s why Breed hired her.
Joe and Joe – can you find out what department she is headed to? I assume Sofis gets the City Family soft landing running some other agency while still currying access and benefiting her former place of business.
Or they could just bring in some other corporate hack to screw things up even more. Why don’t we just keep running this City into the ground? City Hall is one big revolving door, so why stop now?
This article includes weakly substantiated allegations with no context about the expectations of the commercial eviction moratorium or the role that Sofis and SFMade played in founding HumanMade and connecting them with potential business partners. Business partners and their lawyers grapple with intellectual property all the time so it’s perplexing that this is the sole context provided for a leader of a major city agency departing.
A better story would be one that addresses what really happened in Sofis’ time at OEWD, the vetting process by which leaders of agencies with no commission oversight are appointed, they ways they are supported (or not) in their new roles, and what could be learned from it for the benefit of San Franciscans who need and deserve an economy that works well for everyone.
OEWD needs a leader with integrity who understands what it’s like to live and work in San Francisco and who cares about the economic well-being of people in balance with constant and pressing business interests. Someone who can respond to urgent community needs and priorities through economic and workforce strategy, who has a track record of working well with the staff and with other agencies.
It’s a tall order.