Sen. Feinstein Calls Out S.F. Tech CEOs for Lack of Civic Engagement

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein speaking on KQED Newsroom on Oct. 23, 2018. (Anne Wernikoff/KQED)

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein thinks too many high-tech company leaders in San Francisco are disengaged from local charitable causes, compared with corporate titans of the past.

In a wide-ranging interview with KQED, the former San Francisco mayor said the lack of involvement in local affairs is an unfortunate part of a tech boom that does have many upsides.

"What I see as the downside, to be very candid, is I don't see tech as very civically involved, and I think they have to be," Feinstein said. "Like when I was mayor, the CEOs of the big banks — I could go in and ask them to help with any civic cause. Cross my heart. I never got a 'no.' Bank of America, Wells (Fargo) — all of them said 'yes.' "

Feinstein's comments came in response to a question about how the city has changed since she was mayor from 1978 to 1988. She made it clear the tech revolution was great for adding jobs and that the innovation economy was "fascinating to watch," but added that "history is going to show us whether it's worthwhile or not. So far so good, but it all hasn't been wine and roses, that's for sure."

Feinstein, who's running for re-election against a fellow Democrat, state Sen. Kevin de León of Los Angeles, said she's at a loss to explain why some tech CEOs are so aloof.

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"I don't understand it, to be honest with you," Feinstein said. "It's a much more reserved world, sort of a world apart. I have had occasion to meet with some of the tech leaders, and I guess they're like any other group of people. There are some that want to be helpful, and there are some that don't."

Feinstein proclaimed her strong support for San Francisco's Proposition C, which would tax the city's wealthiest companies to raise an estimated $300 million a year to combat homelessness.

"I'm for it, because we have to help," she said. "We don't have a choice. When you see someone lying — and I just did — on a hot sidewalk sleeping with nothing. That's not the United States of America."

Proposition C, one of the most controversial issues on the local ballot this November, is supported by homeless advocates, San Francisco U.S Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff. But it's opposed by Mayor London Breed and other local officials who say the measure doesn't include a solid plan on how to spend the money.

That argument didn't persuade Feinstein, who has historically been close to the private sector.

"I'm going to vote for virtually almost any homeless plan — I just am," she said. "Because this is my city."

You can hear more of our interview with Sen. Dianne Feinstein on KQED's Political Breakdown Thursday at 6:30 p.m. on KQED 88.5 FM and Friday evening at 7 p.m. on KQED Newsroom at KQED Channel 9.

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