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Talbot / San Francisco's Moral Failure

Three cheers -- hell, FOUR cheers -- for Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff for throwing his huge corporate and personal weight behind Prop. C, San Francisco's homeless initiative. Benioff just announced that he will spend a whopping $2 million -- including $500,000 from his own pocket -- on campaign advertising for the November ballot measure. The bold Benioff stand pits him against Mayor London Breed, who just days ago announced her strong opposition to Prop. C, echoing her corporate sponsors at the Chamber of Commerce.

Mayor London Breed and Marc Benioff / SF Chronicle

Prop. C is a sensible, humane measure that will impose a modest business tax on local corporations making over $50 million a year in revenue, raising as much as $300 million a year to expand housing and mental health programs for the homeless. The measure will also help prevent seniors, the disabled, and others on fixed incomes from ending up on the streets, by subsidizing renters who are squeezed by the city's heartless real estate market. But the Chamber of Commerce reflexively opposes all business taxes on principle and they fear that Prop. C programs will attract more homeless to San Francisco -- even though studies show that the overwhelming majority of homeless people in the city are local residents who were forced onto the streets by evictions and soaring rents.

Breed -- who ran on a brash promise to fix the San Francisco's chronic homeless crisis, which has brought the city international shame -- took a big political risk by opposing Prop. C., which already had wide community support and the backing of establishment Democrats like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, even before Benioff jumped on the campaign train. Breed has toured the city's wasted streets, where the homeless huddle in doorways and lay sprawled in front of pricey restaurants. But so far she has presented no new ideas of her own to fundamentally address the homeless crisis. She's all talk, talk, talk -- like the Chamber of Commerce types who endlessly whine about the city's homeless epidemic and its negative impact on local tourism, but don't have a clue about how to solve it.

Prop. C would initiate the first, comprehensive public effort to address San Francisco's crying shame. Every day that City Hall allows the estimated 7,500 individuals and 1,200 families who live on city streets to go unsheltered is not just a public failure, it's a moral disgrace. I was reminded of this rampant human suffering when I found myself on the streets near City Hall on Saturday night. I was walking to the Civic Center BART station three or four blocks away. Every block was like a scene from Dante's Inferno, filled with ragged men and women crying out for help or wandering the streets in confused misery. The fact that my eyesight is poor following my stroke only made this city tableau seem more hellish and strange.

London Breed is not the only local politician who stuck her neck out to side with the Chamber of Commerce against the city's homeless. So did two other local corporate Democrats -- state legislators Scott Weiner and David Chiu. Their opposition to Prop. C -- revealing their blatant business bias in the face of San Francisco's most appalling humanitarian crisis -- is a rejection of so-called "San Francisco values." Their alliance wth the Chamber of Commerce should become a major campaign liability for them at election time -- and in fact it gives a big opening to whichever progressive candidate challenges Breed next year.

Breed blew it on her biggest civic test so far as mayor. The decision about Prop. C was a simple one. As Benioff told the SF Chronicle: "At the end of the day, it's going to be are you for the homeless or not for the homeless. For me, it's binary. I'm for the homeless."

By the way, Salesforce, Benioff's company, will have to pay as much as $10 million more each year in local taxes under Prop. C. But that's nothing, he says, to help revive the beloved city where he grew up. And it's a drop in the bucket, he points out, compared to the huge tax savings that corporations like his are reaping from the Trump tax cut.


David Talbot © 2018

David Talbot is an American progressive journalist, author and media executive. He is the founder, former CEO and editor-in-chief of Salon, one of the first on-line magazines. He has also written a number of books, including the best seller Season of the Witch.


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