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Obama’s second SF fundraiser

President Barack Obama took the stage at Masonic Auditorium at 8:53 p.m. to a standing, screaming ovation from the 2,500 or so people who’d waited hours to see him. He acknowledged his many friends in the city, singling out from the crowd House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Rep. Barbara Lee, Rep. Mike Honda, Rep. John Garamendi, Rep. Jerry McNerney, state Controller John Chiang and state Treasurer Bill Lockyer.

“It’s always nice to be back out west in the great state of California,” he said, greeting a crowd that had paid anywhere from $25 to $10,000 each to be there.

Obama said there are extraordinary responsibilities to his job, but certain pleasures as well; coming in on Marine One past the Golden Gate Bridge was among the latter, “one of the greatest views in the world” as he arrived in San Francisco after his town hall meeting at Facebook. He noted he has 19 million Facebook friends, “which only puts me half a million behind SpongeBob Squarepants.”

“The conversation you hear in Washington is just different from the conversation you hear around kitchen tables or around water coolers, and that’s why we decided ours will be the first re-election campaign in modern history based outside of Washington,” he said – it’ll be based back in Chicago. “I want to be hearing from the people who got us here, putting the campaign back in your hands.”

He said he’s older and grayer than the last time around. “That’s alright, you’re still fine!” a woman shouted from the back, bringing cheers from the rest of the crowd.

The President continued that his memory remains strong, especially of his victory speech in Chicago’s Grant Park on election night. He remembers promising that if we work together, “we could bring about the chance that we had talked about, the change we had envisioned for our communities, for our kids, for our grandkids – the commitments we had made to each other, because that’s what the campaign was about. The campaign wasn’t about me, it was about what all of us thought our country could be.”

He took office amid the worst recession of our lifetimes, he said, in which millions were left without jobs and/or homes, with many families still grappling with the aftershocks to this day. But after the Recovery Act, he said, we have added jobs at a rate not seen in decades while making the largest investments in history in clean energy, research, education and infrastructure and also reforming healthcare.

The government also reformed student loans, and repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and appointed two women to the Supreme Court, and dealt with pirates and pandemics. “We’ve been very busy, and yet our work is not finished. It’s going to take more than a couple of years. Its going to take more than one term to accomplish what we need to do.”

“When I think about running for re-election, I don’t look backwards, I look forward,” he said. “That’s what this campaign has to be about – about your jobs, about your hopes, about your families, about your dreams. That’s what we’re fighting for… We’ve got to finish what we started.”

Having prevented another Great Depression, we have to look ahead to creating good jobs, investing in education and innovation, rebuilding infrastructure.

Although the Secret Service doesn’t let him pump gas now, “I remember what it was like filling up. You think about a family that has to drive 50 miles to work. They don’t have a choice, that’s where the job is,” he said. They can’t move closer, or afford a hybrid, “and that’s no joke. We gave everybody a tax cut but a lot of that money gets eaten up by high gas prices.”

So we have to invest in clean, alternative energy and stop giving oil companies tax breaks, he said. “Instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s energy,” he said, which also will be good for national security and economic stability.

“Because of you, we finally got health care passed” to make it affordable and accessible for all, he said. “But, you know, there are folks who want to roll it back before it even has a chance to be implemented effectively.”

Wall Street reform was crucial to economic stability as well, but some want to roll that back, too, he said. “We’ve got to protect the changes that have been made and make the changes that still need to come.”

The current debate is about what kind of future we want, he said; he wants a government that’s lean and effective and doesn’t waste taxpayers precious dollars. That means cuts in domestic and defense spending, and “spending in our tax code – we’ve got a whole bunch of loopholes in there that we don’t need.”

“There are going to be some things that would be nice to have, but that we’ll have to do without,” he said, but “I am not going to reduce our deficit by sacrificing the things that made America great” – investments in education, research, highways and airports, clean energy and so on. “I will not sacrifice America’s future. That I will not do.”

It will require shared sacrifice including ending tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans, he said, bringing about half the house to its feet in applause. “Because some of you bought my book, I fall in this category,” he quipped.

But better that then asking seniors to give up Medicare or Social Security benefits, or turning children away from Head Start, or so forth, he said. “We can do better than that. We are better than that.”

“I want to make sure a child born in a tough neighborhood has the same chances I had,” he said, not out of a sense of charity but because it makes us all bigger, richer, better.

Some now say today’s deficits and debt, competition from other nations and world crises mean we can’t afford to be what we used to be, he said.

“That’s not a vision of America I want to pass on to Malia and Sasha – I want a vision of America that’s as big and bold as it has ever been,” he said. “A vision where we all share sacrifice, nobody bears the burden alone and we all share the opportunity.”

Whether we came on the Mayflower, through Ellis Island, on slave ships or across the Rio Grande, “we are all connected,” he said.

“This campaign is still in its early stages, but now’s the time when you can shape it, now’s the time to come out of the gate strong,” he said.

“Change is not simple. Everybody likes change in the abstract, but change in the concrete is hard. Not everybody agrees with us. Not everybody agrees in this auditorium about some issues.” But that’s the strength and joy of democracy, he said.

“Sometimes I get frustrated. There are times when I am just so burdened by the fact that there are still so many folks out there who we haven’t gotten the help that they need. And so I understand how you guys feel. But we knew this wouldn’t be easy. We knew that on a journey like this there were going to be setbacks, there were going to be detours, there were going to be times we stumbled.”

He said what keeps him going is that in times of adversity, America pulls through together and makes the changes that it needs, even when it’s hard to do so, citing the end of slavery, the fights for women’s and civil rights. “Somehow we pulled through together. So whenever you hear people say our problems are too big to solve… I just want you to think about all the progress we’ve already made, and all the unfinished business we have ahead.”

The president finished at 9:32 p.m. local time. As the motorcade pulled away at about 9:44, a few protestors outside chanted, “Free Private Manning!”

The motorcade snaked its away around the top of Nob Hill and then down Hyde Street through the Tenderloin and Eighth Street through SOMA, people spilling out of bars and restaurants along the way to take photos and wave, an especially large crowd at Market Street. The motorcade arrived back at the hotel at about 9:55 p.m.

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Obama’s first SF fundraiser

The motorcade left the Intercontinental San Francisco hotel at 6:23, rolling along Howard Street with sparse but noticeable onlookers before turning north; many more crowds at Market Street and through City Center, then back to sparse crowds of enthusiastic wavers the rest of the route. The motorcade arrived about 11 minutes later at the home of salesforce.com CEO Mark Benioff near Walnut and Pacific in Presidio Heights.

About 60 people paid $35,800 each to attend the dinner: $30,800 to the DNC, and then $2500 each to Obama’s primary and general re-election campaigns.

The press corps was ushered into a large tent set up in the courtyard in the middle of Benioff’s block-wide residence, to find Stevie Wonder entertaining the crowd; his final song was a new one composed for the occasion, entitled “Ten Billion Hearts,” about joining together to heal the world.

The President was seated at Benioff’s table; Wonder returned to sit at the President’s side as Benioff introduced POTUS, saying that in a time of many crises, “we have the right person to lead us here.” Recording artist Will.I.am was seated at the same table.

POTUS took the mike at 7:30 p.m., quipping “I know all of you wish Stevie would keep on playing” and explaining that “Talking Book” was the first album he’d ever bought with his own money, at age 10. With headphones on, “I would sit in my room and pretend I was Stevie Wonder,” to the chagrin of his grandparents who had to listen to his singing.

“I’ve got a lot of friends in this room,” Obama said. “Some of you are involved in startups. Well, I was a startup not so very long ago … So many of you took a chance on me, and it was not at all likely I was going to win.”

2008’s campaign was about competing visions of America, ideas of who we are as a people, and despite the unexpectedly steep economic crisis that had set in by the time he was sworn into office, his Administration succeeded in making the largest ever investments in education, clean energy, infrastructure and research while reforming health care, repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and appointing two women to the Supreme Court.

“For all the good work we’ve done, we’re not finished, we have more work to do” and “fundamental choices” to make, he said. “The economy is still not as strong as it needs to be… There are still too many children out there who are in substandard schools” unable to envision prosperous futures working for the kinds of companies founded by tonight’s guests.

Gas is too expensive and Mideast instability underscores the need to move to clean energy despite the climate change deniers in Congress, he said. And the budget debate is “the most fundamental example of the choice we’ll be making” in coming years,” he said. The deficit and debt are real and must be addressed, but “I am a congenital optimist when it comes to this country and I do not accept a vision where America gets small,” he said, where it can’t have the best infrastructure, research, universities and care for the vulnerable and seniors.

“The easiest thing to do is for the rich and powerful to say, ‘we’ve got ours and we don’t care about the rest,’” but that’s not an option, he said – “we started something in 2008” and he wants another term in which to finish it.

He ended at 7:45 p.m. and the press corps was ushered out as he began taking questions from the guests.

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The lowdown on the President’s visit tomorrow

I’ll be following President Barack Obama through the fundraisers he has scheduled for tomorrow evening in San Francisco.

The President’s Bay Area visit is both in support of the budget and deficit plan he released last week as well as part of his 2012 re-election campaign kickoff. He arrives in the Bay Area early tomorrow afternoon to hold a “Shared Responsibility and Shared Prosperity” online town hall at the Palo Alto headquarters of Facebook; my colleague Mike Swift at the Mercury News will be all over that.

Then, tomorrow evening, I’ll cover his appearance first at an exclusive fundraising dinner at the Presidio Heights home of billionaire salesforce.com Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff and his wife, Lynne. At $35,800 per person for each of 60 attendees, this probably will be the most expensive dinner most of this very well-heeled crowd has ever consumed.

From each contributor, $30,800 will go to the Democratic National Committee while $5,000 will go to Obama’s re-election campaign: $2,500 for the primary, $2,500 for the general election.

Marc Benioff, 46, founded salesforce.com, a cloud computing company, in 1999; earlier, he worked at Oracle Corp. Former President George W. Bush appointed him co-chairman of the President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee, on which he served from 2003 to 2005, overseeing publication of critical reports on health care information technology, cybersecurity, and computational sciences.

Of about $183,000 in federal political contributions Marc Benioff has made since 1996, roughly 70 percent has been to Democratic candidates and committees, according to the Center for Responsive Politics’ database. His voter registration shows he has declined to state a party affiliation.

Forbes last month estimated his net worth at $2.1 billion. Barron’s in December named him and Lynne, 36, among the top 25 most effective philanthropists.

After the Benioff dinner, I’ll follow the President to his fundraiser at the Masonic Auditorium on Nob Hill. Tickets went for $25 for Gen44 activists; $250 for general admission; $1,000 for premium seating; $2,500 for VIP seating in the first three rows; and $10,000 for a photo reception.

On Thursday morning, he’s scheduled to attend a fundraising breakfast with about 100 guests – tickets reportedly cost $5,000 to $35,000 – at the St. Regis Hotel in San Francisco; I believe the Chronicle’s Carla Marinucci will be the local media’s eyes and ears for that one. After that he’s headed to Los Angeles; he’ll return to Washington, D.C., on Friday.

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Ex-Legis Analyst named to health nonprofit board

The California HealthCare Foundation has picked Elizabeth Hill, California’s former Legislative Analyst, to serve a three-year term on its board of directors.

The Oakland-based foundation is a nonprofit grant-making philanthropy. Founded in 1996, its staff of about 50 people issues around $40 million in grants each year from an endowment of about $700 million with the goals of improving clinical outcomes and quality of life for Californians with chronic disease; reducing barriers to efficient, affordable health care for the underserved; promoting greater transparency and accountability in California’s health care system; and supporting the implementation of health reform and advancing the effectiveness of California’s public coverage programs. The foundation does no lobbying or fundraising.

Elizabeth Hill in 2008 (AP Photo)Hill, 61, of Sacramento, for 22 years led the Legislative Analyst’s Office, which provides nonpartisan fiscal and policy analysis to the Legislature including reviews of the governor’s annual budget, advice to lawmakers on policy issues and preparing impartial analyses for all ballot measures. She retired in 2008

Foundation President and CEO Dr. Mark Smith issued a statement calling Hill “a perfect fit” for the board. “Her encyclopedic knowledge of state government, budgets, and programs, along with her understanding of health policy issues, will help guide CHCF to make the most effective use of its resources to help improve quality, boost efficiency, and lower the cost of health care in California.”

Hill holds a bachelor’s degree in human biology from Stanford University and a master’s of public policy from the University of California, Berkeley. After a Fulbright Scholarship to study transportation policy in Sweden, she began her career at the LAO in 1976 as one of the few female analysts at that time; a decade later, she was the boss. Her voter registration shows she has declined to state a party affiliation.

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$2.1 bil loan guarantee for Calif. solar project

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu this morning announced his department is offering a conditional commitment for a $2.1 billion loan guarantee to support the first two phases of a gigantic solar energy project in Southern California.

This first half of the Blythe Solar Power Project, sponsored by Solar Trust of America LLC, is a two-unit concentrating solar thermal power plant that will produce 484 megawatts of power; Solar Trust Chairman and CEO Uwe Schmidt told reporters today that site preparation in Riverside County started last fall, and full-scale construction is likely to start late this spring or in early summer. A second phase – two more units capable of producing just as much energy as the first two – will be built a few years from now. All told, this will be the world’s largest solar facility, producing enough electricity to power more than 300,000 single-family homes each year.

This project is part of the company’s mission to “revolutionize the way we generate energy here in the United States,” Schmidt said, noting this will be the first solar facility on a scale and output capacity equal to the largest coal-fired and nuclear plants operating today.

Chu said the Obama Administration recognizes “we’re in a global race to develop and deploy clean energy technology,” and this project not only will create about 1,000 local construction jobs but also will avoid dumping more than 700,000 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year.

Schmidt said the job creation actually will be much more considering the supply chain necessary for such a project, stretching from the job site to Midwestern steel mills.

Gov. Jerry Brown told reporters California appreciates the confidence and investment put into this project, and while the state has been at the forefront of alternative energy for more than 30 years, “you’ve got to have a long-term perspective and you’ve got to keep at it.”

Chu had joined Brown last week as he signed into law the state’s new renewable portfolio standard, increasing California’s current 20 percent target in 2010 to a 33 percent standard by December 31, 2020. Brown said today he’d like to see 20,000 megawatts of solar output by then.

This first half of the Blythe project include HelioTrough collectors, which the company says is a larger-yet-simpler design that’s less expensive to build and install but more efficient than earlier parabolic trough technology.

According to the project’s website, the technology uses hundreds of trough-shaped mirrors to focus the sun’s light and heat onto a pipe that runs along the collector’s focal line. This causes a heat-transfer fluid in the pipe to get hot, which generates steam in the power block through heat exchangers. Then, as with conventional power plants, that steam will be directed into a turbine to generate power.

This will be the first concentrating solar power parabolic trough plant to use an air-cooled condenser unit, which will decrease water use by nearly 90 percent compared with a water-cooled CSP facility. It will sell all of its electricity output to Southern California Edison and will deliver power into the California Independent System Operator power grid.

The Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office has issued loan guarantees or offered conditional commitments for loan guarantees totaling over $21 billion to support 22 clean energy projects across 14 states. The program’s 11 generation projects will produce nearly 25 million megawatt-hours annually, enough to power over two million homes.