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Politics & Policy

New progressive group targets tech CEO Garry Tan, San Francisco moderates

A screenshot of Twitter showing an account called the Phoenix Project which purports to uncover dark-money political groups.
The Phoenix Project, a new group pushing back against San Francisco’s moderate political activism, is taking aim at wealthy donors. | Source: The Standard

A political organization that surfaced last month called the Phoenix Project is going after the city’s tech executives and moderates, painting them as an elite group of billionaires who want to topple the progressives’ grasp on power in San Francisco—with promises to expose their financial machinations.

But the project appears to be getting off on awkward footing: Its president, journalist Julie Pitta, was found to have ripped off a campaign sign from a coffee shop in the Richmond District earlier this month, an incident the group’s critics were quick to point out.

It’s apparently not stopping her newfound political group from putting out strong words about its nemeses.

“In the last 3 years, a network of ‘SF’ pressure groups has emerged from the shadows, secretly funded by a handful of conservative tech and real estate oligarchs worth over $21 billion,” the project’s website states. “The Phoenix project is uncovering their dark money trail.”

On Wednesday, the group published a video targeting tech entrepreneur Garry Tan and the moderate political group GrowSF, comparing the 1978 assassinations of Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone to a now-deleted tweet sent by the Y Combinator CEO. In late January, Tan sent out a tweet based on rap lyrics that targeted progressive-leaning supervisors with the words “die slow,” prompting some to file police reports.

“It's clear there’s a lot of dark money in San Francisco that’s trying to change the character of the city," said Pitta in an interview. "And not for the best.”

The video appears to be the only piece of content produced by the group so far. According to the organization’s website, the Phoenix Project is a 501(c)4, a nonprofit status that allows for political advocacy and lobbying. 

"Julie Pitta’s advertisement is disgusting. What type of person would use the murders of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk for political gain?" said Steven Buss, GrowSF's co-founder. "Voters want real change—not the fearmongering being spread by extremists like Julie Pitta and the Phoenix Project."

The group’s emergence comes as the city’s primary contest is less than a month away—with moderates and progressives battling intensely over who will control endorsements for this November’s general election through Democratic County Central Committee seats.

The project’s other participants include United Educators of San Francisco Executive Board Member Anabel Ibáñez, political strategist Keane Chukwuneta, Co-Director of Radical Real Estate Law School Hope Williams and Jeremy Mack, a former community outreach coordinator with Supervisor Dean Preston’s office, according to his LinkedIn page.

The organization’s name is a reference to the phoenix bird on the San Francisco city flag, the group’s website states.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated with a comment from Julie Pitta, president of the Phoenix Project.

Gabe Greschler can be reached at ggreschler@sfstandard.com