When any seemingly long shot campaign winds up striking it big, observers wonder: What was the secret? The key? That splash of fairy dust that turned the likely loser into a winner?
For Proposition C, the ballot measure to raise taxes on big businesses to fund homeless services that earned a sizable majority Tuesday, the answer lies, at least in part, with a woman with hair streaked pink, a big laugh and a bookshop.
Her name is Christin Evans. For years, the 46-year-old has been entrenched in the Haight, living there and running three neighborhood businesses: the Booksmith, an events space called the Bindery, and a bar and restaurant called the Alembic.
Last spring, homeless advocates had completed a plan to raise $300 million a year for homeless services by increasing the gross receipts tax an average of 0.5 percent on San Francisco businesses that bring in more than $50 million a year. But they needed a “proponent” — the official title of the person who gets a measure on the ballot and becomes its face. And they wisely wanted a business person to fill the role.
Evans, a liberal stalwart, had hosted panels on homelessness in her bookshop and fought against measures like a ban on sitting or lying on sidewalks.
“I hit her up,” said Kelly Cutler of the Coalition on Homelessness. “She’s always on point!”
Evans readily agreed. She’d been searching for a way to channel her political frustrations into action the way she saw other women doing. Over the spring and summer, she helped collect signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot and chatted up anyone who would listen about it.
But it still remained off the radar of most voters and was brushed off by politicians and journalists, some of whom, let’s be frank, didn’t think this crew could be successful. But things changed after a fateful online encounter on Sept. 27.
Evans was sitting at home perusing Twitter when she encountered a quote from Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff calling San Francisco the “Four Seasons of homelessness.” Evans tweeted, “Did @benioff just compare SF’s homeless services to a luxury hotel chain? How out of touch can a billionaire be?!?!”
That got Benioff’s attention, and the two exchanged private messages for hours. He explained he had been quoting somebody else; she explained the merits of Prop. C.
“I kept pressing him — where do you stand on Prop. C?” Evans recalled.
By the end of their chat, Benioff was convinced to support the measure, even though it would cost his company millions. He and Salesforce have given a combined $8 million to the campaign in mere weeks, the most ever spent on a local ballot measure so close to election day.
“We call her the CEO whisperer,” said Jennifer Friedenbach, director of the Coalition on Homelessness.
Benioff became the measure’s biggest champion, scolding his fellow CEOs on Twitter for not caring about homeless people and not giving enough of their billions to charity. That, in turn, got the attention of international media more excited about interviewing a famous tech billionaire than homeless advocates.
Some of Benioff’s celebrity pals, comedian Chris Rock and singer Jewel, also endorsed Prop. C. On Monday, Evans was texting with both of them, arranging for them to shoot endorsement videos in their homes that she then posted on Twitter.
Did she think a few months ago she’d be pals with Benioff and texting with Rock?
“I absolutely did not!” she said with a big laugh, adding Rock came into Booksmith years ago with rapper Mos Def. “I remember being a bit of a fangirl when he came into the bookstore. It was a trip to have this opportunity to work with him to get out the vote.”
Evans stepped away from her businesses entirely for the past few weeks, spending just about every day holed up in the Coalition on Homelessness offices in the Tenderloin working on the campaign.
“At the beginning, it was one day a week. Then it became two days a week. Now, it’s really seven days a week,” she said one morning last week.
She’s spent recent weeks helping to organize 1,000 campaign volunteers and having conference calls with Salesforce representatives early every morning and late every night to talk about the campaign’s progress.
“It is very difficult to spend a lot of money very quickly and still try to do it in a responsible way,” she said. “It turns out you can spend a lot of money on TV.”
Friedenbach said that as the campaign got millions to spend in a matter of weeks, and endured intense scrutiny locally and from national and international media outlets, Evans stayed calm.
“She was able to stay on top of stuff while the rest of our minds were exploding,” Friedenbach said with a laugh.
Evans demonstrated that same relaxed demeanor at the campaign party at Roccapulco in the Mission late Tuesday night as returns showed the measure winning handily, but not hitting the two-thirds approval rate it would take to avoid a likely lawsuit.
As TV crews and a throng of Prop. C supporters including former State Sen. Mark Leno, Assemblyman Phil Ting and Supervisor Vallie Brown milled around her, Evans sat in a red vinyl booth eating Mexican food and petting her constant companion: a 13-year-old dog she adopted from the senior dog rescue agency Muttville.
Called Joey Pistachio, he has a heart murmur, arthritis, no teeth and is deaf. “But he’s awesome,” she said adoringly.
She definitely likes underdogs.