The November measure to tax wealthy businesses and dramatically fund homelessness services has sizable support from the tech industry but not the recently-elected San Francisco mayor who ran on solving the issue.
A couple dozen tech workers from giants like Google, Microsoft, Salesforce, and others briefly appeared outside San Francisco Chamber of Commerce offices at 235 Montgomery St. on Tuesday to voice their support for Proposition C, which would bring in $300 million annually for homelessness services. The chamber is leading the opposition campaign, arguing that businesses will leave the city as a result of the roughly half a percent gross receipts tax on businesses making more than $50 million a year — about 300 businesses in total.
Up to 875 jobs could be lost over 20 years as a result, according to a city report released in September that did not quantify that risk. The report also concluded that Prop. C is likely to reduce homelessness, improve health outcomes that reduce the city’s cost of services and make the city more attractive to tourists and residents.
“We are here as tech workers and allies in the fight against homelessness to say that when you oppose this measure, you do not speak with our voice,” said tech worker Sam Heft-Luthy into a megaphone by the building’s entrance. “This is not about punishing success — it’s about coming together as a city to say that when you invest in the city of San Francisco…that includes its most vulnerable residents.”
A broad base of community organizations supports the measure, from Calle 24 to SF YIMBY. San Francisco representatives Nancy Pelosi and Jackie Speier, hardly progressive firebrands, join supervisors like Jane Kim and Hillary Ronen who have thrown their weight behind Prop. C.
In the past week, positions on the measure have shaken up the conversation around homelessness. Mayor London Breed, state Sen. Scott Wiener, and Assemblymember David Chui came out against the measure on Friday arguing it’s harmful to business, would make the homelessness problem worse, and wasn’t done with stakeholder input. (Homelessness advocates refute these points.)
“We cannot afford to lose even more jobs for middle class San Franciscans, the jobs in retail, manufacturing, and services that are most likely to flee the City under Proposition C,” Breed said in a statement. “San Francisco cannot solve homelessness simply by writing ever-larger checks itself.”
By Monday, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff — leader of San Francisco’s largest employer — announced his support while pledging $2 million worth of campaign and advertising support. He told the Chronicle it was a “binary” decision of being for or against homeless people and recognizes that Salesforce is part of the solution. Celebrities like Chris Rock, Jewel, and will.i.am seconded his statements on Twitter.
“It’s like they’ve chosen to side with the Chamber of Commerce on this issue over the community,” says Evan Owski, a LinkedIn employee and large Prop. C donor, of Breed and Wiener. “We’re fighting for a clear need in the city and we’re not asking for a lot. We’re asking for a modest tax increase that’s going to have ripple effects across the whole city.”
Tracey Mixon, who spoke at the rally on Tuesday, used to live in Hayes Valley — which Breed represented as District 5 supervisor — until a rent increase pushed her out despite working two jobs. She now lives in a shelter with her eight-year-old daughter and says Breed’s opposition to Prop. C is confusing.
“It doesn’t make sense to me that she comes from the background she comes from,” Mixon says about Breed’s position. “She’s supposed to support homeless people.”
Still, Mixon says the support of tech workers “means a lot” and that she’s encouraged by knowing exactly which aspects of homelessness the money is set to go, from mental health services to supportive housing. If the measure doesn’t pass or effect enough change, her and her daughter will have to survive with the resources available.
“This is my home,” Mixon says. “I don’t want to have to leave my city.”