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Tech workers rally in support of business tax for homeless services

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Sam Heft-Luthy, a tech worker, speaks at a rally urging tech workers to support Proposition C outside the headquarters of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

A day after Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff announced he was backing Proposition C, a tax on the largest businesses to fund homeless services, the campaign rallied with tech workers outside of San Francisco Chamber of Commerce’s downtown offices to denounce the business advocacy group’s opposition to the measure.

The rally also comes as voting in San Francisco begins for the Nov. 6 election.

A handful of tech workers, who are often blamed as the cause for gentrification experienced since the boom began in 2011, said at the rally they want the industry to do more to address challenges like homelessness.

One tech worker, Evan Owski, 31, a six-year resident of the Richmond District, called out Stripe and its CEO Patrick Collison for donating $19,999 to the No on C campaign.

“To the tech companies like Stripe and the CEOs like Patrick Collison who are siding with the Chamber of Commerce and opposing bold action on homelessness, we say shame,” Owski said. “As tech workers, we don’t want to work for companies who oppose housing, who oppose mental healthcare and who are only looking out for their profits.”

Owski later told the San Francisco Examiner that “I appreciate that leadership” of Benioff.

He said opposing businesses “just don’t want to be taxed more. They are worried about their bottom line. So they are going to say the sky is falling and we are going to lose jobs.”

Prop. C, which would impose an average 0.5 percent gross receipts tax on corporate revenue beyond $50 million, would largely impact tech and financial services. It is expected to raise around $300 million a year for homeless and housing services. Salesforce is among the estimated 400 businesses that would be impacted by the tax.

Jess Montejano, spokesperson for the No on C, campaign, said that the Chamber would have preferred to work on a proposal like they had on other “big issues,” such as pension reform, through the legislative process to reach unity. He said that they had offered to support an overall gross receipts tax structure change to generate $100 million more. “Unfortunately the proponents chose to go another way,” Montejano said.

As for the rally, Montejano said, “Everyone in San Francisco is entitled to their own opinion.” He added, “More money is not the only answer.”

The Chamber is leading the campaign against Prop. C. Last week, Mayor London Breed announced she opposed the measure, along with Assemblymember David Chiu and state Sen. Scott Wiener. Breed warned of impacts to the economy, although a City Controller’s analysis said any impact would be “small.”

Reps. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco and Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, support the measure as well as members of the Board of Supervisors like Hillary Ronen and Sandra Fewer.

Darby Thomas, 29, a product designer, tech worker and seven-year resident, said she had watched the homeless population increase on the streets of SoMa and backed Prop. C to build a more robust safety net of services.

“It was really cool to see Marc Benioff continue to align with his values, recognize that spending public money on public services is the only way we ever made strides in ending homelessness,” Thomas told the Examiner. “I’d like to see more people step up and recognize that we all have a duty to one another, especially when you have more.”

Thomas added, “Capitalists … they know what’s best for them and a lot of times it’s in the opposition of what’s good for the public.”

Sam Heft-Luthy, 24, a tech worker and resident of the Mission, kicked off the rally with a message to the Chamber.

“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,” he said.

Tracey Mixon, a staff member at the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness who is also homeless, urged tech workers to support Proposition C during a rally outside the headquarters of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

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