Business Briefing: Googler Prozan chairs tech industry's SF 'voice'

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday February 14, 2024
Share this Post:
Rebecca Prozan, a top official at Google, also chairs advocacy organization Photo: Matthew S. Bajko<br>
Rebecca Prozan, a top official at Google, also chairs advocacy organization Photo: Matthew S. Bajko

For the third year in a row Rebecca Prozan is chairing the advocacy organization, which bills itself as "the voice" for the various technology businesses that have a footprint in San Francisco. Prozan, who lives with her wife in the city's LGBTQ Castro district, is Google's West Coast government affairs and public policy director.

She has been involved with the tech group since 2014, when she left the San Francisco District Attorney's office where she had been a prosecutor and director of community relations to work for Google. In 2019, Prozan joined the board and took over the chairmanship of it in 2022 from venture capitalist Ron Conway.

"The purpose of the organization is to be the voice of the tech industry in the city," said Prozan, 51, who met up with the Bay Area Reporter recently to talk about her role with the group.

Conway in 2012 launched — an acronym for the San Francisco Citizens Initiative for Technology and Innovation — in partnership with then-mayor Ed Lee, who died in late 2017. Among its member companies are Google, Microsoft, Salesforce, X, Uber, and Facebook.

"We are more of a City Hall voice as opposed to a public voice. Our job is to ensure San Francisco remains friendly to tech," explained Prozan.

Over the years has played a key role in various policy debates at City Hall, from the regulation of short-term rentals via sites like Airbnb and ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft to the current "techlash" against driverless cars operated by Waymo and Cruise. (Cruise's permits to operate in the city were suspended by the Department of Motor Vehicles last fall and the company subsequently halted operations nationwide. A mob set a Waymo car in Chinatown on fire last weekend.) Its overriding argument is that the tech industry should be embraced and can help other businesses to flourish.

"Plenty of businesses say tech has helped them to develop and grow their customer base," said Prozan. "No one likes change, but change is here. The question is how do we deal with it?"

Since its founding has taken positions on local ballot measures and quizzed candidates for elected office in the city on where they stand on an array of issues important to the tech sector. As for the March 5 primary ballot, among the measures is supporting is Proposition C, which would provide a tax break to developers who convert downtown office space to residential. (Progressive groups are opposing it, with the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club slamming it as a "transfer tax cut for real estate moguls.")

"Our intent is to help the industry thrive. We listen to our member companies and are directed by how they wish us to handle it," said Prozan in terms of the matters the group elects to focus on. "We want to be strategic when we use our voice."

Familiar with SF politics

Prozan has long been a player in the city's politics. She is a former co-chair of the more moderate Alice B. Toklas LGBTQ Democratic Club and managed Kamala Harris' winning campaign to be San Francisco district attorney in 2003.

Years prior she had worked as an aide to then-mayor Willie Brown and later worked for gay former District 8 supervisor Bevan Dufty. Prozan lost her bid in 2010 to succeed Dufty on the Board of Supervisors. In 2012, she served as the community grand marshal for the city's annual Pride parade.

Like many office workers following the COVID pandemic, Prozan works a hybrid schedule when in town, spending three days at Google's offices located along the Embarcadero. At least once a month she heads to the company's main campus on the Peninsula and often travels to statehouses across the western U.S. to lobby state lawmakers on various legislative matters.

"It is a lot like working for the government. No two days are the same," said Prozan.

Unlike other companies that have left San Francisco, Google has no plans to close its office it has had in the city since 2006, said Prozan. Thousands of the company's employees either live in the city or call it their "work home," she noted.

In terms of the glut of vacant office space in the city, Prozan said she sees the growing artificial intelligence field and the biotech industry both "well positioned" to lease the empty offices. But with the tech sector seeing more layoffs, uncertainty surrounding the real estate market and employees concerned about their public safety downtown, any recovery will take time, predicted Prozan.

"We are all trying to readjust to the new state of the world and how we are going to live in it together," she said. "It is going to take a long time for people to feel more comfortable coming to work."

Nonetheless, Prozan said she has faith in San Francisco's resiliency, as the city has survived past economic downturns.

"We will overcome it, but it is going to take longer to figure it out," said Prozan. "I don't think any company has figured out the magic sauce for how to get people back downtown. If they did, we would all be back in the office."

The state of downtown is already a key focus of this year's mayoral race. Mayor London Breed is fending off attacks from her opponents that she hasn't done enough to address what the press has dubbed the "doom loop" San Francisco finds itself in. Tuesday, as former mayor Mark Farrell jumped into the contest and excoriated Breed for allowing the city to "crumble," Breed touted the success her "Roadmap to San Francisco's Future" has had since launching it 12 months ago.

"In the last year we've put forward policies and programs that have helped begin our work to revitalize Downtown as we adjust to a new future," stated Breed. "San Francisco is an economic leader for our region and a global leader in new technology, and our continued success will lift up not only the Bay Area and our residents, but the entire state."

Having been appointed to a downtown revitalization committee convened by Breed, Prozan said she welcomes any steps taken by the mayor, other elected officials, and civic leaders to make downtown more attractive to workers, residents, and tourists. She told the B.A.R. she would like to see more events be held in the area that give people a reason to be downtown.

"I'd rather focus on what is working as opposed to what is not," said Prozan. "We have a very strong relationship with the mayor. But I think every business feels like there are things that could be improved."

It is why invites local leaders like Breed and members of the Board of Supervisors to meet directly with employees of tech firms in the city. Despite what people may hear in the media, the tech sector has not abandoned San Francisco, said Prozan.

"For a long time people thought the tech industry had left the city. I am proud of keeping's voice strong through a turbulent time," she said.

Asked about seeing her seek elected office again, Prozan ruled it out.

"I have found a much better way for me to contribute to the city," she said. "I am able to help shape city policy, fundraise for certain issues and nonprofits I care about, and I have my weekends."

Got a tip on LGBTQ business news? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or email [email protected]

Never miss a story! Keep up to date on the latest news, arts, politics, entertainment, and nightlife. Sign up for the Bay Area Reporter's free weekday email newsletter. You'll receive our newsletters and special offers from our community partners.

Support California's largest LGBTQ newsroom. Your one-time, monthly, or annual contribution advocates for LGBTQ communities. Amplify a trusted voice providing news, information, and cultural coverage to all members of our community, regardless of their ability to pay -- Donate today!