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Politics & Policy

San Francisco mayor hypes APEC summit after $4.6M casino donation

San Francisco Mayor London Breed, middle, speaks about the upcoming APEC Summit during a news conference at City Hall on Tuesday. The mayor was joined by Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, right, and Greg Sarris, chairman of the chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria. | Source: Michaela Vatcheva for The Standard

In a news conference Tuesday at San Francisco City Hall, Mayor London Breed laid out the huge stakes of next month’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit while surrounded by department heads, California’s second-highest-ranking state official and a creative writing professor who’s made untold millions running a tribal casino.

President Joe Biden and leaders of up to 20 foreign economies will attend APEC along with tens of thousands of delegates. Add in a three-day CEO summit expected to welcome 1,200 business executives and 1,800 members of the media, and APEC will be the largest international event in San Francisco since the United Nations was born in the city in 1945.

“There has not been another international event of this magnitude in San Francisco since then, in terms of the number of leaders from around the world, so this is very significant,” Breed said. “And we are looking forward to the relationships that occur, the financial connections that are made.”

Tuesday’s media event was designed to let the mayor discuss the city’s progress in getting to this point, hit back against critics and reassure San Franciscans that inconveniences will be minimized as best as possible. Of course, that will be easier said than done, considering a fair chunk of the city’s core will be closed off to the public and under the watchful eye of the Secret Service and thousands of police officers.

Is San Francisco Making Money Off APEC?

San Francisco expects APEC to infuse $53 million into the local economy through a mix of hotel taxes, restaurant receipts and visitors frequenting small businesses. That’s an indirect victory for more than $20 million in private donations and roughly $10 million in city funds going toward the event. 

One of the biggest foreign spenders could be the delegation from China, and local officials are hoping to foster a tighter relationship with the second-largest economy in the world. Just this week, Gov. Gavin Newsom arrived in China to foster a closer relationship between California and leaders and businesses there.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, center, is greeted by guests as he arrives to attend the fireside chat at Hong Kong University on Monday. | Source: Anthony Kwan/Associated Press

“We know our governor right now is in China,” Breed said, “and it’s important for us to maintain and really build upon those relationships in order to ensure that our economic ties are strong.”

It’s still unclear if China President Xi Jinping will attend APEC to meet with Biden, but Newsom met with Xi on Wednesday in a sign of warming U.S.-China relations.

The mayor added that she expects typical tourist attractions—Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge—to see an influx of visitors during APEC, but city officials are coordinating events in neighborhoods across the city to make sure attendees get a taste for the “whole San Francisco.”

“We also want them to visit and see our neighborhoods and our neighborhood treasures, places that locals love and enjoy,” Breed said.

How Much of a Hassle Will APEC Be for Locals?

The mayor acknowledged that her office is already hearing concerns from residents and businesses inside the APEC perimeter, and city officials are doing their best to address issues around mobility, homelessness and businesses potentially losing out on customers. 

“We are hearing from the community about what it is that they need in order to ensure that the disruption is not significant, especially to the people who live and work in the areas that are going to be impacted,” Breed said.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed, dressed in a purple speaks to the media during a press conference in City Hall. She stands behind a podium that reads "APEC 2023 UNITED STATES" in a wood paneled room.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed smiles during remarks at City Hall on Tuesday about the upcoming APEC summit. | Source: Michaela Vatcheva for The Standard

Three supervisors—Connie Chan, Dean Preston and Hillary Ronen—authored a nonbinding resolution calling on the city to mitigate potential harm to San Franciscans, as well as to protect free speech and the right to protest the actions of APEC members.

“We’re going to address their concerns, but we’re not going to jump to a conclusion that just because the perimeter is going to be impacted, that their business is going to be impacted,” Breed said. “I think we have to see what happens with APEC and the number of people that are there before we draw any conclusions.”

Breed added, “My grandmother would always say, ‘You can control what you do. You can’t control what other people do.’ So, San Francisco is not going to abandon our values in order to appeal to or to meet the needs of a particular country.”

Now, a Word From Our Sponsors

Graton Resort & Casino came to the rescue this month with a mammoth $4.6 million sponsorship for APEC, helping San Francisco meet its ambitious $20 million fundraising goal. That donation apparently helped unlock APEC’s “The City of Firsts” ad campaign.

But that top-tier sponsorship deal also gave Greg Sarris, a longtime writing professor and chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, a chance to tout his casino’s business model while standing alongside Breed and Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, the finance chair of APEC, during Tuesday’s news conference. Sarris repeatedly steered questions away from people gambling away their money to focus on the casino’s commitment to social justice and the environment. 

Sarris was defensive about marketing his casino to APEC’s foreign economies, particularly when an influx of wealthy Asian entrepreneurs is coming to town.  Earlier this month, Kent Woo, executive director of the NICOS Chinese Health Coalition in San Francisco, called the city’s decision to accept $4.6 million from Graton “disturbing” in light of the problems gambling has caused for Asian families in the Bay Area.

Greg Sarris, chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, speaks during a news conference at City Hall on Tuesday. The tribe donated $4.6 million to sponsor APEC and help San Francisco meet its fundraising goals. | Source: Michaela Vatcheva for The Standard

“It’s very interesting, because when I first thought about gaming, I thought, ‘I don’t want to get into that. It’s kind of, you know, not my thing,’” Sarris said on Tuesday. “But again, people who criticize or get concerned about people who game, it’s, you know, it’s a very elitist kind of thing to decide who gets to [decide] how people want to have fun. There’s problems of all kinds of fun, be it horse racing, drinking or whatever. And so you’re going to have problems.”

When asked how much money Graton Resort & Casino roughly makes in annual revenue, Sarris replied, “That’s our business, thank you.”

Sarris also attempted to distance Graton from the traditional, hypersexualized casinos of Las Vegas, saying his casino better reflects the Bay Area.

“Traditionally, where you have those kind of situations where you have, you know, the women with the big breasts and the guys smoking cigars—you know, all that kind of stuff—we undid, totally, all of that,” he said. “And we’re very proud to say that we have transgender beverage servers—you don’t say cocktail waitresses anymore—beverage servers.” 

What Will Happen to Homeless People During APEC?

Asked what the city is doing about homelessness ahead of the summit, Breed was quick to note that there aren’t many encampments around Moscone Center. However, city officials have been ramping up efforts to move people off of the street after the city retracted guidance to officers in relation to a court injunction.

“I think the difference here is, you know, we’re not just going to walk away,” Breed said. “You know, we are going to offer support.”

If a person refuses services, the mayor added, they will be given time to “pack up their belongings.” If they also refuse to pack up, city crews will collect a person’s items and tag them with identifying information so their owners can reclaim them later. 

“We’ll do what's necessary in order to clean up and to clear the streets,” Breed said, “especially if we have a place for you to go.”

What exactly is APEC, and why is San Francisco hosting part of it this year? KQED journalist and APEC Host Committee Press Ambassador Priya David Clemens explains. | Video by Jesse Rogala

Josh Koehn can be reached at josh@sfstandard.com