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Downtown San Francisco businesses ‘just winging it’ ahead of expected APEC chaos

The Moscone Center is the center of a security perimeter being put in place for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

The rapidly approaching Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit has generated headlines fretting if the city is ready to host an unprecedented international event expected to bring 30,000 visitors and world leaders from 21 countries.  

The event, which will draw major heads of state, is a high-wire act requiring a heavy security presence in the city. Businesses and residents around the conference’s main hub, Moscone Center, are worried about how they will be impacted by the security zones and checkpoints meant to keep VIPs safe. 

At a meeting Tuesday hosted by the Yerba Buena Community Benefit District, the Southern Station’s commanding officer, Capt. Luke Martin, shared additional information about the security planning taking place for the event. One major message to locals? Stay away unless you have a reason to be there.

“It’ll be difficult to navigate around this side of the city; the west side of the city would probably be a lot easier," Martin said. "But if you’re heading towards Downtown, there’s going to be huge impacts on traffic."

While noting that specific dates are still in flux, Martin said security preparations will be active around Moscone Center from Nov. 10-19 with a more intense presence between Nov. 14-17, corresponding with the time the central APEC meeting and an associated APEC CEO summit will take place. 

The city and the Secret Service plan to hold a joint press conference on Oct. 18 to share finalized details on the security perimeter and associated disruptions. 

A rendering shows the approximate plans for a security zone around the Moscone Center. | Lu Chen

A tentative map of the security perimeter shared during the meeting splits the enclosed area into two zones. A vehicle exclusion zone, where roads will be closed to public vehicle traffic, is bordered by Market Street in the north, Harrison Street in the south, Fifth Street in the west and Second Street in the east. 

SFPD will be bolstered by roughly 1,000 California Highway Patrol officers, who will help staff posts on the outer perimeter.

Martin said that vehicles will be able to travel along those streets but prohibited from turning inward thanks to police barriers. This outer barrier will essentially function as a checkpoint where workers and residents will need to show proof of identity to go to their homes or places of work. Officials said a standard for proving residence or employment is still being determined. 

Arash Ghanadan, a partner at Novela, a bar that sits within the security perimeter, drew a distinction between Dreamforce, held earlier in the month, and the forthcoming international summit. For Dreamforce or other major conferences, he said that events are planned and communicated months in advance. 

“It’s just mind-boggling,” Ghanadan said of the lack of communication from the city. “We’re a month and a half away, and nobody knows what's going on. People are coming from 20-something countries, and it feels like we’re just winging it.”

Black Box 

Ghanadan said there’s potential for the summit to be a “tailwind event” for a neighborhood that has been hurting due to remote work and the slow return of business travel, but that relies on effective communication.

“We organize our staffing a month in advance,” Ghanadan said. “Everyone’s concerned and wondering what’s the plan. We’re not looking at this just as another potential disruption. We’re looking at this as a potential Dreamforce opportunity.”

The Moscone Center was filled with thousands of people who attended Dreamforce in San Francisco on Tuesday. | Source: Justin Katigbak/The Standard

Priya Clemens, a media liaison for APEC’s host committee, said the city is working with federal partners to minimize disruptions and reaching out to businesses to gather their concerns.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to strengthen the deep business ties and economic opportunities that APEC economies are bringing San Francisco,” Clemens said in a statement. There will be some inconvenience during the conference, but this will also open up long-term opportunities and gains to San Francisco’s business community.”

The public will be allowed to access the Metreon through what is being dubbed a “pedestrian chute” that will allow a single point of entry and exit. Officials at the meeting said it’s likely that a portion of the Fifth and Mission parking garage will remain open during the summit, but details are still being determined. 

An inner higher-security zone centered on the Moscone Center and Yerba Buena Gardens will be secured with 14-foot unscalable fencing erected by the Secret Service, which will run security for this inner ring, with access strictly limited to those with credentials.

Martin said the Secret Service is taking over security management of the summit on Nov. 15, and the fencing will be erected beginning the day prior. 

Security barriers and street closures are not static. For example, vehicle traffic will be completely shut down as world leaders are transported via motorcade to and from their hotels and the sites of their diplomatic meetings, which would impact the ability for residents and workers to access buildings. 

Subway Closure?

Martin said the Secret Service is still in discussions with local transit leaders over the temporary closure of the Central Subway that runs underneath the security zone, but an official determination has not been made. Bus routes will be forced to reroute toward the outer edge of the zone. The Powell Street BART Station is likely to remain open throughout the summit. 

Kenneth Zankel, the owner of the Grove and Empire Pizza, which is catty-corner from the Yerba Buena Gardens, said he’s received little in the way of communication about potential disruptions to his restaurants. A total or partial shutdown would be a costly expense, he said. 

He suggested having the city rent nearby spaces or do buyouts to hold events, as well as guarantee remediation in the event of losses.

Cars and a Muni bus drive through the intersection of Fourth and Mission streets in San Francisco on Aug. 22, 2023. | Source: Jeremy Chen/The Standard

“Our two businesses have not seen any actions demonstrating awareness of, concern for, let alone plans to address, the potentially enormous negative impacts on stakeholders within the perimeter,” Zankel wrote in an email. “Time is of the essence.”

The Secret Service will be reaching out to operators within that zone to provide a list of essential employees who will be allowed access for maintenance and key operations. Yerba Buena Gardens Child Development Center is likely to be shut down to clients from Nov. 15-17.

“[Secret Service] will be having communications over the next few weeks with those organizations to decide to what extent their organization will be impacted and what limited staff will be able to access the site during specific days,” said Ken Bukowski, director of San Francisco’s Convention Facilities Department.

In response to a question about how the event will manage unhoused people within the security zone, Martin said that the Secret Service has the authority to move people outside of the central exclusion zone because of national security concerns. 

“Secret Service is very aware of the impact they’re having, and they're very willing to work with the residents and the businesses in the area to see what they can accommodate,” Martin said. “But at a certain point, they have to kind of draw a line.”

Michelle Delaney, owner of the 111 Minna Gallery, said she’s been trying to allay fears about potential disruptions and get people excited about the opportunity that APEC presents. 

For her part, she’s making sure the gallery is open for morning coffee service and happy hour to serve the influx of visitors to the neighborhood.

“We know what happens when big events like this take place. It’s a give and take,” Delaney said. “We’ll figure it out. We want to feed people. We want to entertain people. We want people to enjoy the city and all the awesome spots we have around here.”