A letter to the San Francisco Shambhala Community


Dear San Francisco Shambhala Community,

This is a difficult letter to write. It is with a heavy heart that we share this news with you.

In a meeting between Northern California Shambhala, Inc. (NCSI) leadership and a core group of SF volunteers, the decision was made to approach our landlord and negotiate an early exit from our lease. The two primary contributing factors to this decision are our ongoing difficult financial situation and lack of key volunteers to guide us through the next seven months on Stevenson Street. (Our lease ends at the end of November 2020).

In our meetings there was a strong determination to continue as a sangha. Nonetheless we must deal with matters of our physical location immediately.

This news feels like a gut-punch to the community on top of the stress created by the global pandemic. We are deeply concerned about how our community is doing and feel the need for us to come together and check-in. Yes, our only option right now is one more Zoom meeting.

A time to gather
We have posted a community circle where we can gather, practice, and speak with each other in this difficult time. So please mark your calendars for

Thursday, April 30th from 7 to 8:30 PM 

Here is the link to the program description. We hope you are able to join us.

Now we will spell out the details of our space, finances, and volunteer situation.

Our director stepped down approximately ten months ago, and slowly a core team has formed to operate the center. There is currently neither hierarchy nor titles and the group is friendly and cooperative. However, it is a small core group and the lion’s share of the work of operating the center has fallen on a few shoulders. We are unable to carry forward in this way. Our center is experiencing a volunteer chasm. Not having the volunteer force we need to run the center is as big an obstacle as our financial situation.

We have attached an image of our first quarter financial statement for you to review. A quick glance will tell you that we are falling far behind in income v.s. expenses. Since last year, despite an effort to raise membership donations, we had a sharp decline in monthly donations at the same time that  our rent went up an additional $500 per month.

For the first quarter, our total income (including membership and other donations) averaged around $3,000 monthly. We received an average of $1,100 in donations from a group called the NorCal Stewards to help with rent, and our net income after expenses averaged a deficit of $2,495 per month. With the current economic downturn we don’t expect an improvement any time soon.

When we fall this far from the mark of meeting our monthly financial obligations, Northern California Shambhala takes the hit. NCSI is responsible for our lease. (We are incorporated as part of NCSI).

It is also important to note that Berkeley Shambhala Center, which had been doing well until recently, has lost all of their rental income (about 25% of total income) as well as program income due to COVID-19. So, they are also far from breaking even and our community stands the threat of losing the Berkeley Meditation Hall—our only large gathering space in the region.

Clearly, this is an untenable situation. SF Shambhala has no desire to drain the regional coffers and every intention to be self-sustaining.

Our Lease
Our landlord, in accordance with what is mandated by the City of San Francisco, has temporarily reduced our rent to $2,500 for the duration of the shelter-in-place order. We are obligated to pay it back within 6 months of lifting the ban. This is helpful in the next few months, but we don’t see a way that we will be able to fulfill the obligation to pay back the balance.

The Decision-Making Process
As we mentioned, our lease is signed by Northern California Shambhala, Inc. as an entity. And, therefore the decision of how to proceed forward is being made by the entity of NCSI with San Francisco Shambhala an important part of that process.

We held two meetings in under two weeks, and at both meetings the consensus was the best solution is to exit the lease with alacrity. A team formed to work with the landlord consisting of Kevin Walsh from our SF sangha, Rebekka Martorano, our NorCal Regional Director who happens to be an attorney, and Dave Rapson, our Regional Director of Finance.

We will keep you posted as to how these negotiations proceed.

Going Forward
It is important to note that we have moved our Sunday Open Houses and Sadhana Practice to an online format and it is beginning to gain some momentum. (Currently we are not holding Wednesday Lunchtime Meditation or Young Meditators Night.) And, prior to this shelter-in-place order we were experiencing strong community turn-out, especially for Sunday Mornings. We all would like to continue this energy forward.

The current plan is to:

  • Continue offering virtual programming—both Open Houses and paid programs—while we regroup and find a new space. We are looking for volunteers to assist with this.
  • Continue to collect monthly membership donations to help pay off any obligations for the Stevenson Street address and any expenses in the upcoming months.
  • Begin to fundraise toward our next physical space.
  • We are considering finding a rental space where we can hold pop-up meditation sessions so our community can come together in-person once the ban has lifted. This will take volunteer effort, so we will see how that unfolds.
  • We have begun the process of creating an inventory of our belongings—especially those that are sacred or of historical value.
  • We are also looking into storage facilities in the event that we are able to exit our lease.
  • We will get a PO Box to receive mail.

We are hoping to be out of the space by the end of May. Needless to say, we will need volunteer support to organize and move our belongings into storage. Please contact me if you can be of assistance.

Update regarding our physical space and the break-in
We were broken into on the weekend of March 28th. Not much of value was stolen. We did lose a Kurukulla rupa (statue) that was stored in the shrine room cupboard with the red fabric and an unspecified amount of cash donations. The perpetrator broke into the building via the Stevenson Street entrance and through our space. They then entered 44 Gough St. through our shrine room door and burgled offices in the building.

Our landlord has secured our main entrance by boarding up the door on Stevenson Street during the shelter-in-place. This means that there is currently no access to our space.

With love and gratitude for being our community,
The SF Leadership Team

SF Shambhala Profit and Loss First Quarter 2020