Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, left, and Mayor London Breed spoke about homelessness and Proposition C at the 2018 Silver SPUR Awards Luncheon at Moscone Center West on Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018. (Photo illustration by Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Benioff urges city, business leaders to back homeless tax measure in face-off with Breed

Acknowledging the “tension” among business and political leaders over November’s homeless tax measure, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff delivered an impassioned speech Tuesday calling for its support and urging San Francisco’s wealthiest to give more back to The City.

Speaking at an award luncheon at Moscone West hosted by public-policy think-tank SPUR, Benioff addressed a room packed with lobbyists, developers, business leaders, city officials and politicians.

His speech highlighted San Francisco’s great inequality in wealth and the need to practice more charity to address “this crisis of homelessness.”

Companies finding success in San Francisco are not giving back “at the scale of the wealth that they have created on the back of this city,” Benioff said.

“Many corporations are generating hundreds of billions of dollars in market capitalization right here, a few blocks from this very building, and yet so much of this wealth is kept at the top and inside the walls of their buildings,” Benioff said. “It doesn’t trickle down. It doesn’t come to the organizations that need it most. It creates a stunning contrast: glittering wealth alongside shocking poverty.”

The luncheon turned into a quasi-debate between Benioff and Mayor London Breed, who also spoke briefly at the event and who has come out against Prop C. She argued an audit of San Francisco’s homeless services should take place before more funding is approved.

“It takes more than just money to address the issues of homelessness,” Breed said during her speech. “I’ve seen lives saved through programs that work and I’ve seen the failures of false promises.”

She said that “if it was just about money the answer would be easy, but we have nearly doubled our spending on homeless in the last 10 years” and the homeless population has increased.

But Benioff said past successes of city-funded homeless programs shows what’s needed is more resources.

“We know how to do this. But we need to do more,” Benioff said. “We need a lot more money.”

In recent weeks, Benioff’s support of the measure has attracted national media attention and led to public debates with other tech leaders like Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, who opposes the measure, as does the Chamber of Commerce.

Prop. C would generate about $300 million annually by increasing the gross receipts tax by an average of .5 percent for businesses earning more than $50 million a year — an amount that Benioff said “doesn’t seem very much.” The measure would house 5,000 homeless people, expand shelter beds by 1,000, provide outreach and mental health services to 10,000 people and prevent evictions for about 30,000 people.

Benioff told his audience Prop. C is the right “charitable effort” to make at this moment and without it, The City is likely to face “an even bigger crisis.”

“I would challenge every business leader out there to ask themselves what is my company doing? What am I doing personally? Where on my agenda, corporate or personal, are the homeless?” Benioff said.

Breed spoke of the need to take a more regional approach and to try other strategies, pointing to her proposal introduced Tuesday to expand conservatorships to force the chronically homeless suffering from mental illness and substance abuse into treatment, a proposal backed by Supervisor Rafael Mandelman.

But Mandelman, unlike Breed, supports Prop. C.

“It appeared to me he walked into a room filled with folks who might have been skeptical about C and he made a real strong case for it,” Mandelman said. “He was trying to appeal to the better angels of people’s nature. I think there need to be more voices like Benioff’s.”

SPUR recommends approval of Proposition C in its voter guide.

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