The Twitter interaction between complete strangers Marc Benioff, a billionaire tech philanthropist, and Christin Evans, a bookstore owner, went someplace interesting.

On Friday, Oct. 5, Mayor London Breed, Sen. Scott Wiener, and Assemblyman David Chiu made a coordinated announcement that they were opposed to Proposition C, a November measure that would tax the wealthiest San Francisco businesses to potentially double funding to treat and house the homeless. On Monday, Oct. 7 Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff announced he was not only supporting Prop. C, but putting some $2.5 million toward its passage.

Hilarity ensued.

But Benioff’s decision, as momentous an impact as it may have on local politics and, ultimately, the lives of San Francisco’s unhoused population, came on the heels of a seemingly innocuous Twitter interaction.

At 10:27 p.m. on September 27, Christin Evans, the owner of the Booksmith on Haight Street and a volunteer on the Prop. C campaign, fired off a disgruntled tweet. Her indignation was directed at Benioff, who had been live-tweeted as referring to San Francisco as “the Four Seasons of homelessness … people come from all over to San Francisco because they know how wonderful our services are.”

For Evans, who has witnessed the misery of life on the streets of the Upper Haight up close for years, and will tell all who’ll listen about the dearth of services for those in need, comparisons to luxury hotel chains did not seem apropos. She was surprised, only one hour later, to receive a clarification from Benioff himself: He was quoting what an enthusiastic homeless person had said, not speaking for himself.

Things could have ended right there and it would have been an interesting story. But they didn’t end there — and it became a very interesting story.

That’s because Evans, a fervent Prop. C supporter and high-energy volunteer on the campaign, did what came naturally: She pitched Marc Benioff on supporting Prop. C. This bit of gumption was rendered all the more remarkable because, Evans now tells Mission Local, she didn’t exactly know who Marc Benioff was. She didn’t realize she was interacting with one of the city’s deepest-pocketed philanthropists and a donor who has given scads of money toward battling the homeless crisis. In short: Evans did not realize she was hitting up perhaps the most important person in all San Francisco for her to hit up.

That she found out later. Rather, she pitched him the way she would a neighbor or a friend, hoping only to get their vote.

She did this during a Twitter direct message (DM) session that stretched to around 2 a.m. on Sept. 28. Benioff, who Evans describes as “uncommitted” on Prop. C at that time, then agreed to reconnect with her in the next week, after the annual Dreamforce convention wrapped.

And this happened. By early October, Evans says, Benioff had shared with her the materials he was researching to make up his mind on what to do about Prop. C. By Oct. 5, Benioff assured Evans they’d soon be getting a call from people on his team. That happened too: Later that day, Evans, Yes on C campaign chair Sam Lew, Coalition on Homelessness executive director Jennifer Friedenbach, and others had a conference call with Benioff’s lieutenants at Salesforce. By Sunday they’d learned of the forthcoming endorsement and hefty donation.

Messages for Benioff were not returned as of press time, but sources close to him confirmed he’d spoken to a number of people to formulate his decision, including Evans. Benioff also apparently put a great deal of faith into an economic impact report from the city economist predicting a negligible impact on city business from Prop. C.

For the proponents of Prop. C, the events of the past few days still seem somewhat dreamlike. “For a lot of us who work in nonprofits and advocacy, we are, often times, the scrappy campaign without a lot of money,” says Lew. “This Salesforce endorsement is something we could never have imagined.”

Evans’ head is not spinning, however. She now knows who Marc Benioff is: Someone who, apparently, sees the world the way she does — albeit from a tower, not a bookstore.

“Through our conversations,” she says, “We found we were in agreement: The scale of the homeless crisis demanded a bold measure which offers real solutions.”

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9 Comments

  1. It’s a heart warming twist on the usual good vs evil narrative. But, in reality, Benioff had exactly two options. He could be the grand villain, the Prop C poster image of corporate greed and indifference, or the benevolent king / epic hero of progressive San Francisco. With its new billion dollar glass tower dwarfing our skyline, its corporate logo obnoxiously stamped on the new public transit terminal, and its annual conference flooding the city with displacement hungry techies – Salesforce and Benioff himself were squarely in the political cross hairs. From a personal and corporate PR perspective, this was a no brainer for him. But, I’m sure he does have the doubts that were evidenced in his original tweet, as should anyone who’s watched San Francisco siphon exponentially more money to non-profits, year after year after year, to ‘solve’ the homeless problem, which has only gotten worse and worse.

  2. Thanks for this good news and thanks for the dedication of the supporters who take the time to work with people who are on the fence, regardless of who they are. You are the champions of the campaign regardless of which side you are on.

  3. Your already lying these businesses aren’t the wealthiest ???? Gross receipts don’t show wealth? Did you miss math finance class ???

    “November measure that would tax the wealthiest San Francisco businesses “…. is a completely false statement ….. try telling the truth for once

    1. Sir or madam —

      I am confused by your semi-coherent comment.

      The measure would tax only businesses grossing in excess of $50 million. Starting then, the rate will be variable, and top out at 0.5 percent.

      Per the Controller’s EIR, this tax would apply to 300 to 400 businesses in San Francisco out of more than 13,000 that currently pay the gross receipts tax. So, that would be the top-grossing 2 to 3 percent.

      https://sfcontroller.org/sites/default/files/Documents/Economic%20Analysis/hgrt_economic_impact_final.pdf

      If you’re trying to parse the difference between the concept of “wealth” and the companies that gross the most money — and considering the above — may I suggest a more productive use of your time.

      Best,

      JE

      P.S. “You’re.”

      1. I think what he is saying (incoherently perhaps) is that gross receipts do not = profits, which generally lead to wealth creation.

        This distinction is a common concern with taxes on gross receipts rather than profits (or some other metric, eg payroll).

        If a company has profit margin of 10%, for every $1000 in gross receipts, they will have $100 profit, which profit Prop C would reduce by $5.

        In that case, a 0.5% tax on gross receipts ends up being 5% tax on profits. Not the end of the world, but certainly not insignificant.

        1. JP —

          This is a helpful breakdown. I appreciate this. But the city already has a gross recepts tax; this would add to that. And 0.5 percent of 100 is 50 cents, not five bucks.

          Best,

          JE

          1. It’s tricky because SF has massive companies that don’t make a profit (Uber).

            These companies valuations are based in projected profits. They can be losing money, cash poor, and still have massive, and seeming ever increasing, valuations. So, they could be (and often are in news articles) labeled “broke,” while simultaneously being worth tens of billions of dollars.

            Obviously, commenter Ali Song would have trouble naming a SF company that would be affected Prop C an not be one of it’s wealthiest companies in town, as valuation is directly correspondent with wealth.

            Ron Conway was key to ushering back in the gross receipt tax in SF. That tells us something right there.

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