Sobrato family makes mark on South Bay

In Silicon Valley, developer John Sobrato and his family have given away millions of dollars for the improvement of the community.
April 15, 2014 12:00:00 AM PDT
A new generation of tech philanthropists is making its mark on health, education and social justice. The names include Benioff and Zuckerberg. In Silicon Valley, you can add the name of developer John Sobrato. ABC7 News takes a look at how that family is making a difference.

You'll see the name Sobrato all over the valley. The family business constructed many of the buildings for high tech firms that created Silicon Valley. But as wealth was created, John Sobrato recognized that some were left behind.

They were homeless and needed emergency housing. They were sick and needed cancer care, even if they couldn't afford it. He even set up three centers to house non-profit agencies addressing community needs, charging them only $1 a year for rent.

"He really is the kind of guy that you can sit down and get to the root of the problem and he's really curious and interested in in and wants to understand it. So I really appreciate not just the emotional commitment I believe they have to the causes, but the intellectual desire to truly understand them," said Jenny Niklaus, the CEO of HomeFirst.

John turns 75 in two weeks. He and his son have joined Warren Buffet's pledge to give away their wealth. Not just half of it, as the pledge specifies, but all of it.

His alma mater, Santa Clara University, is a beneficiary. As we walked the campus, he mentioned Valley Medical Center where a new facility under construction will be called the Sobrato pavilion.

He has given $5 million to help buy furniture and other equipment. The board of supervisors recognized that gift with a proclamation.

"Valley Medical Center takes anyone, regardless of their ability to pay, whether they're undocumented, documented, it doesn't matter. They get absolutely excellent care and so we want to support that effort," said John.

Sobrato Philanthropies has given away nearly $263 million over the past 17 years to non-profits, including $92 million from family members, $63 million in grants, $63 million in land and building donations, and $39 million in leases and support for three non-profit centers.

Sobrato doesn't just donate money. He shares their passion.

"He wants to be in the classrooms, he wants be out in the community. I know he's toured some of the homeless destinations. That is the kind of family that they are, and that is the kind of person he is. So he's not just giving of his money, he's giving of his passion," said Rick Williams, the Sobrato Family Foundation CEO.

And the valley that made him and his family rich is all the richer because of their philanthropy.