Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the companies and individuals that would be hit by the tax oppose it. “Prop c is the dumbest, least thought out prop ever,” Mark Pincus, the chairman and co-founder of Zynga, tweeted Saturday, urging voters to “get the facts and vote no,” while himself tweeting some incorrect information, including that 60 percent of the homeless in the city are from outside California. Stripe, the payments company, has given $419,000 to the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce group opposing Prop C, according to the San Francisco Ethics Commission, which tracks election spending. Lyft gave $100,000; Visa gave $225,000; and Square gave $25,000. Jack Dorsey, the co-founder and CEO of Twitter, gave $125,000; Paul Graham, an entrepreneur who founded Y Combinator, gave $150,000; and Michael Moritz, a venture capitalist with the firm Sequoia Capital, gave $100,000.
Dorsey tweeted that he wanted to see long-term solutions rather than “quick acts to make us feel good.” Stripe said that it didn’t think spending more on antihomelessness problems was the solution, and that the $770 that San Francisco spends per person on homelessness is far greater than what other cities spend. Both companies have emphasized that some prominent San Francisco politicians, including newly elected Mayor London Breed and State Senator Scott Wiener, oppose Proposition C.
But others in the tech community have called this opposition to new taxes a cop-out, and chastised people like Dorsey for trying to defeat Prop C without coming up with any other meaningful plan. In an op-ed in The New York Times, Salesforce’s CEO, Marc Benioff, chided fellow entrepreneurs in San Francisco for embracing the “myopic” view that businesses exist only to make shareholders money, not to help the community where they’re located. “It’s absurd to believe that these businesses can’t afford one half of 1 percent of gross receipts to help address the most important problem facing our community,” he wrote. He sparred with Dorsey about Prop C on Twitter—Dorsey called him a “distraction.”
Benioff has a history of giving charitably in San Francisco, but he told me that it can be hard to get everyone in tech to do the same. In 2014, he tried to get local companies to donate to a campaign he called SF Gives that funded an antipoverty campaign in San Francisco. What he found asking for money then, and talking with local entrepreneurs about Prop C recently, is that “it turns out to be there are two kinds of people: those who give, those who don’t give.”
“Right now, we have a crisis of inaction, a crisis of indifference,” he said.
Most tech companies have actually seen their tax rate fall in San Francisco over the past few years. In 2012, voters approved an initiative to switch San Francisco from collecting a payroll tax on businesses to collecting a gross receipts tax, a change that favored tech companies over higher-grossing businesses like hotels and construction companies. But as tech companies paid less than they had before, the city collected less money, so much so that it hasn’t been able to fully phase out the payroll tax because it isn’t collecting enough money from the gross receipts tax. The city will likely have to change the way it collects business taxes in the next few years, said Molly Turner, an urban planner who lectures at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business, and who is also on the board of SPUR, the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association, which supports Prop C. Turner said that passing Prop C might make it harder to negotiate those new taxes, but that few tech leaders have come up with any new suggestions for solving San Francisco’s homelessness problem.