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Beyond Chron
March 21, 2005

Copyright © 2005 by Marc Norton

San Francisco now has 20 resident billionaires, up from 11 last year, according to a new report by Forbes Magazine.

The combined net worth of the city's billionaires is now $42.6 billion, nearly double the $21.5 billion they had squirreled away last year. This one-year, $20 billion increase in billionaire wealth -- privately held by a group of people so small that they wouldn't even fill a cable car -- could pay for the expected revenue from MUNI's proposed fare increase for the next 1,500 years.

Here are the entitled twenty:

$7.2 billion -- Sergey Brin · Google
$7.2 billion -- Larry Page · Google
$2.4 billion -- Riley Bechtel · Bechtel Corp
$2.4 billion -- Stephen Bechtel Jr· Bechtel Corp
$2.1 billion -- Gordon Getty · Getty Oil
$1.9 billion -- William Hearst III · Hearst Corp
$1.8 billion -- Phoebe Hearst Cooke · Hearst Corp
$1.8 billion -- Ming Hsieh · Cogent Systems
$1.7 billion -- John J. Fisher · Gap
$1.7 billion -- Robert Fisher · Gap
$1.5 billion -- Ray Dolby · Dolby Laboratories
$1.5 billion -- John Pritzker · Hyatt hotels
$1.3 billion -- Donald Fisher · Gap
$1.3 billion -- Doris Fisher · Gap
$1.3 billion -- Robert Naify · United Artists
$1.2 billion -- William Fisher · Gap
$1.1 billion -- Bernard Osher · Golden West Financial
$1.1 billion -- Herbert Sandler · Golden West Financial
$1.1 billion -- Marion Sandler · Golden West Financial
$1.0 billion -- Arthur Rock · venture capital

First among the first, we have the two Google billionaires, together worth over $14 billion. Forbes claims that Google is a "technology" company. The truth is that Google is to technology what the Hearst Corporation is to news -- an excuse to sell ads. Google is a "new age" advertising venue, while the Chronicle is for aging baby boomers. Perhaps that is why the two San Francisco Hearsts have less than $4 billion between them.

Then we have Donald Fisher, Republican man-about-town, and his family. Last year he and his wife handed over a bunch of stock to their sons -- Robert, John and William. Collectively, they have a $7.2 billion fortune. The Gap between the rich and the rest of us just keeps growing.

There is also, of course, the Bechtel clan. Stephen and son Rily are together worth nearly $5 billion. War profits in Iraq helped boost their bottom line last year, but don't forget that big petrochemical complex in China. The company that built the Hoover Dam may roam the world looking for projects, but they lay their heads down here in Baghdad by the Bay.

Ming Hsieh is a new addition to the San Francisco billionaire list. Like the Bechtels, he knows how to make money off the "war on terror." Cogent Systems is one of the country's chief manufacturers of automated fingerprint identification systems, and is a major supplier to the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI. And you thought this was Left Coast City?

Another new addition to our hometown billionaire club is Bernard Osher, his sister Marion, and her husband Herbert Sandler. They founded Golden West Financial in the sixties, and parlayed that into a family fortune worth over $3 billion. They fancy themselves as philanthropists. Maybe they could donate some money to MUNI.

John Pritzker, of the Hyatt clan, got onto the list when Uncle Jay Pritzker's plan to pass control of the Hyatts to his family favorites collapsed in a very public family fight, resulting in the family fortune being divided up 11 ways. Just a small chunk of John's $1.5 billion could easily settle the on-going hotel contract battle here in San Francisco. Perhaps the Golden West billionaires could ring him up and tell him about the joys of philanthropy.

Let's not leave out Gordon Getty, Ray Dolby, Robert Naify and Arthur Rock, even if they don't have any billionaire relatives here in town. Let's hope they aren't too lonely.

Now, let's get serious for a moment. As everybody knows, city government is short a few bucks. Yet there are twenty people in our midst who are, well -- let's put it politely -- oversupplied with money. Do San Francisco politicos have the guts to demand that some small part of the fantastic wealth that the entitled twenty command be used for the public benefit? Or are we going to continue to diddle and daddle and squabble over whatever crumbs we manage to scrape from the table?

How about making San Francisco a Billionaire Assessment District? Or did Proposition 218 make that illegal? Maybe we could set up a Billionaire Congestion Zone, and charge them a toll every time they go in or out of the City. I know, let's require them to buy a Billionaire Fast Pass, and make them pay for the privilege of NOT having to ride MUNI... Can somebody please check this out with the city attorney? Oh, yeah, these are the guys who write the laws...

Now, let's get REAL serious for a moment. It is obscene -- the word is OBSCENE -- that twenty people should have so much, while thousands and thousands and thousands have so little, even though we work ourselves to the bone day-in and day-out to make this city run. If there really is a progressive movement in this burg -- and sometimes I doubt it -- then let's get on with it. Tax the Rich, dammit.

Photos by www.billionairesforbush.com.