Mon, Mar 30, 2015 - Page 12 News List

Latter-day Carnegies bestowing names on San Francisco hospitals

By Alison Vekshin  /  Bloomberg

In this file photo, a man walks past a mural outside San Francisco General Hospital. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, are donating US$75 million towards a new public hospital, which is expected to open later in the year.

Photo: REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

The hoodie-wearing billionaires who connected the world through Internet likes and vacation photos are getting the same rewards as the oil and steel moguls of yore: large buildings with their names on them.

Witness the newly rechristened Priscilla and Mark Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, or the Benioff Children’s Hospital at the University of California at San Francisco, which opened last month. That’s in the same building as the Betty Irene Moore Women’s Hospital, named for the wife of Gordon Moore, the semiconductor industry pioneer who predicted the ever-increasing computer speeds that fostered the rise of tech-era titans.

The largesse comes amid a widening wage gap and soaring housing costs propelled by an influx of generously paid tech workers. San Francisco has seen protests of private luxury buses that whisk them to Silicon Valley company compounds each day. Unions have demonstrated against the city’s payroll-tax break for Twitter and other tech companies.

In the face of the opprobrium, the executives are taking a page from their Gilded Age forebears.

“The tech industry has created tremendous value through our products, but we need to do a better job of giving back and supporting our communities,” Marc Benioff, 50, chief executive officer of Salesforce.com, said in a statement.

WEALTH GAP

The gap between San Francisco’s wealthiest and poorest workers was exceeded only by that of Atlanta among the 50 largest US metro areas, according to a Brookings Institution report.

“The people at the top are doing very, very well,” said Alan Berube, the report’s co-author. “Top income is placing big cost-of-living pressures on other households in the city.”

While the tech wunderkinds ushered in an economy based on virtual goods, their donations to hospitals, universities and public schools are reminiscent of gifts by industrial tycoons John Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, who made fortunes from sweat and steel.

“I’m proud to be part of the long history of tech leaders giving back to their communities, which is really nothing new,” said Ron Conway, an early investor in Twitter and Google, who in January gave US$40 million to an outpatient building at UCSF.

GIVING BACK

Zuckerberg, the 30-year-old CEO of Facebook, gave SF General US$75 million last month. Benioff donated US$100 million in 2010 to build the children’s hospital that bears his name and an additional US$100 million last year.

Zuckerberg’s wife, Priscilla Chan, a pediatric resident at SF General, helped spur the couple’s donation, likely the largest private-individual gift to a US public hospital, said Sue Currin, its CEO.

“Everyone deserves access to high-quality health care,” Zuckerberg said last month in a post. “We are so fortunate that our work in connecting the world through Facebook has given us the ability to give back to our local community.”

Alysabeth Alexander, vice president of politics for Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents teachers and nurses in San Francisco, said the tax break the city approved after Twitter threatened to move reduced funding for services.

“Corporations and CEOs who use strong-arm tactics to avoid paying taxes that fund our schools and roads should not be rewarded for occasional philanthropy,” she said.

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