Neighbors for a Better San Francisco, a new PAC, is flooding San Francisco with millions of dollars in political spending in hopes of defeating progressive candidates for the city’s Board of Supervisors along with select ballot measures. Besides targeting left-leaning candidates, the organization also opposes Proposition I, a real estate transfer tax strongly resisted by the city’s real estate interests, and California Proposition 15, a tax to fund public schools.
Dean Preston is a key target of all this money. Having won last year’s election to fill London Breed’s District 5 seat after Breed vacated it to serve as San Francisco mayor, he’s the district’s incumbent on the eleven-person Board of Supervisors and a longtime tenant organizer and advocate for the homeless. Preston, who wrote Proposition I, spearheaded an effort to make the city’s ban on COVID-19 evictions permanent, and used private funds to house the homeless when he felt the city was moving too slowly to find such housing during the pandemic, was recently the target of an ad that accuses him of protecting “Jim Crow–era housing policies.” At a fundraiser for Preston earlier this week, Rep. Pramila Jayapal defended him against what she called “these big money attacks on his campaign,” describing Preston as “a fighter for things that matter to working-class people.”
It’s no surprise that big money is attacking Preston. The PAC’s list of donors reads like a who’s who of the area’s ruling class.
That list includes William Oberndorf, a wealthy investor and charter-school advocate who gave the PAC $300,000. Oberndorf is a reliable donor to conservative causes: according to Open Secrets, he recently gave $1 million to the GOP Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC run by Senator Mitch McConnell’s allies. In a prior election cycle, Oberndorf threw $50,000 into Proposition Q, an anti-homeless measure.
Oberndorf isn’t the only one donating $300,000; John A. Pritzker, Chris Larsen, Louise Muhlfeld Patterson, Steven Merrill, and Michael Moritz did, too. Who are these people that can spend $300,000 on local races and ballot measures? Pritzker’s name should be familiar: his cousin, J. B. Pritzker, is the current governor of Illinois. The Pritzkers, who founded Hyatt hotels, are one of the country’s richest families; John briefly entered the family business before founding a private equity firm. Larsen is a billionaire business executive and angel investor who has cofounded Silicon Valley start-ups. Muhlfeld Patterson is a human resources executive for Aspire Public Schools, a charter-school company, and Merrill, a venture capitalist, is involved with Aspire, too. As for Moritz, he’s a partner at Sequoia Capital and a billionaire (net worth, according to Forbes: $4.8 billion).
These are just Neighbors for a Better SF’s top donors. Others, spending at the more moderate $10,000 to $200,000 level, include: David deWilde (investor in residential real estate), David Lichtman (executive vice president at First Republic Bank), John Atwater (founder, cochairman, and CEO of the Prime Group, which owns and manages $10 billion in real estate assets nationwide), William S. Fisher (hedge fund manager and heir to the Gap fortune), Miriam Haas (billionaire businesswoman and heir to the Levi Strauss & Co fortune), Dixon Doll (venture capitalist), Alexander Mehran (chairman and CEO of Sunset Development Company), Christopher James (of hedge fund Partner Fund Management), Sonja Hoel Perkins (venture capitalist, managing director of the Perkins Fund), Steven Strandberg (managing director and cofounder of WestBridge Ventures), and Nick Podell (founder and president of Nick Podell Company, a real estate and construction company).
San Francisco’s superwealthy have come together around a common cause, a reminder of just how much money they have to throw around. But the working class still has the numbers. If the pro–Proposition I campaign manages to defeat the likes of Neighbors for a Better SF, it will send a message to the rich that buying their favored policies by cutting checks is going to be harder than they think.