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San Francisco board rebukes naming hospital for Facebook CEO

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, in San Francisco.
(Associated Press)

Supervisors in San Francisco overwhelmingly approved a resolution Tuesday condemning the naming of the city’s public hospital for Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, in 2015, after the couple gave $75 million toward a new acute care and trauma center.

The nonbinding resolution does not have the force of law and does not require the hospital to do anything. The current board does not have the authority to revoke the agreement, resolution co-sponsor Supervisor Gordon Mar said.

But he said the resolution would send the message that San Francisco is not for sale and that a public hospital that caters to the poor should not bear the name of someone whose social media platform endangers public health, spreads misinformation and violates privacy.

“There’s been growing public outrage that this important public health institution was named and the naming rights were sold to the highest bidder and to somebody as controversial as Mr. Zuckerberg and Facebook,” he said.

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The Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center was the first hospital in the city to administer vaccines protecting against COVID-19 on Tuesday.

The measure passed 10-1, with Board President Norman Yee the only no vote. He said nonprofits often use naming rights to spur donations, and while this involved city property, he could not support the condemnation without additional policy discussion.

The federal regulator has ordered internet companies to hand over information about how they collect and use information from consumers.

Yee said he would support a move to remove Zuckerberg’s name and retain Chan’s. He was among several supervisors behind the 2015 resolution that approved the gift and name change.

San Francisco, where Zuckerberg and Chan have a home, has increasingly soured on the social media behemoth, dismayed by the company’s sluggish response to protecting consumer privacy and halting the proliferation of false statements. The federal government is seeking to break up Facebook as lawmakers call for stronger oversight of a company they say has gotten too big.

Tuesday’s resolution is not a new sentiment, as local Facebook critics, including some nurses at San Francisco General, have argued for years to remove the Zuckerberg name. They say the name, in place for 50 years, is inappropriate when San Francisco taxpayers are paying for most of the hospital’s upgrade by approving more than $1 billion in bonds.

Julie French, a hospital employee, said in an email to the supervisors via her personal account that while it would be reasonable to name a building, cafeteria or rooftop for big donors, to rename the whole hospital is “a slap in the face.”

“We are not a ballpark or a stadium to be bought and sold for commercial purposes. We are a public hospital of and for the people of the city and county of San Francisco. We deserve to have that dignity preserved,” she said.

But chief executive Dr. Susan Ehrlich said in a statement that the donation has allowed the hospital to acquire state-of-the-art technology, and the naming reflects appreciation of that.

“Naming is an important convention in philanthropy that encourages additional donors, and our hospital relies on the support of the community, the City and County of San Francisco, and generous private philanthropy,” she said.

A lawsuit seeking the breakup of Facebook by the FTC, joined by attorneys general from 46 states, reflects an increasing bipartisan consensus that more regulation of Big Tech is in order. Antitrust experts say the case is solid.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the couple’s philanthropic arm, directed requests for comment to the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation. Its CEO, Kim Meredith, said in a statement that the gift helped pay for needed furniture, fixtures and equipment for the hospital. She added that Chan studied and practiced as a resident pediatrician at the hospital.

“We are proud that the hospital now bears their names and disappointed in attempts to condemn it — especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when the impact of their gift has never been greater,” she said.

The hospital is closely entwined with San Francisco. It survived the 1906 earthquake and fire and treated patients in ensuing health crises, including the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic and the AIDS epidemic. The hospital serves more than 100,000 people annually.

The supervisors’ resolution declares that the city and county of San Francisco should not reward tax dodges, which some say the donation is. It also lists a number of Facebook’s failings, including its failure to protect users from major security breaches, citing the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal in 2018.

The mayor at the time of the donation, Ed Lee, praised the agreement, as did the current mayor, London Breed, who was president of the Board of Supervisors when a board with different members approved the name change.

The resolution also urges city departments to establish clear standards and criteria so that naming rights reflect San Francisco values of social and racial justice.


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