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How the APEC summit may affect your daily life in San Francisco

A person walks through a tall black metal fence with an open gate are on a city street corner with a building that reads "Moscone West" in the background.
People pass through an 8-foot-tall metal gate at the corner of Howard and Fourth streets across from Moscone West in San Francisco on Friday. | Source: RJ Mickelson/The Standard

San Francisco’s largest international gathering in almost 80 years begins in earnest Monday, and the top question many residents and commuters have about the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit is quite obvious: How will this affect me?

The short answer: Lol. Folks, you’re in for a week!

APEC is going to make life difficult, if not exasperating, for many residents and commuters. The weeklong summit is expected to attract more than 20,000 people—foreign leaders and their delegations, business executives and reporters—helping to infuse $53 million into the local economy and giving San Francisco a chance to positively rebrand its infamous reputation. But city leaders are advising locals to prepare for the influx.

“We are excited about this, and we are asking for the public to be understanding and patient,” Mayor London Breed said at a press conference last week. “It is going to be a very challenging time.”

A banner carried by individuals that say "Shut down APEC! Junk IPEF".
Thousands of demonstrators march on the Embarcadero in San Francisco on Sunday. | Source: Amaya Edwards for The Standard

None of this is to say APEC can’t be fun, or at the very least, interesting. Here is a quick rundown of the top issues around the geopolitical summit, from traffic and security concerns to expected protests and parties.

Why Is This Happening to Me?

Geez, so dramatic! APEC is a regional economic forum that dates back to 1989. Its goal is to encourage dialogue and stronger partnerships among 21 member economies, which account for about 38% of the global population and nearly two-thirds of global GDP. APEC members include Australia, Canada, Chile, China, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, the Philippines, Russia, the U.S. and Vietnam, among others.

The host country for APEC rotates among member economies. This is the first time the U.S. has hosted since 2011, when the summit was held in Honolulu during the Obama presidency.

Big news broke last month that President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping intend to meet privately during APEC somewhere in the Bay Area, which could have major implications for trade and other tense issues between the two superpowers. The two leaders previously met in person on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia, last November.

US President Joe Biden, right, and China's President Xi Jinping, left, wearing suits and ties, stand next to one another while in front two American flags and two Chinese flags while looking into the distance.
U.S. President Joe Biden, right, and China's President Xi Jinping meet on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Nusa Dua, Bali, on Nov. 14, 2022. | Source: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Bilateral meetings on the sidelines of APEC are often more significant than what transpires in the APEC meeting itself. News reports out of Asia say Xi may also meet with the Japanese prime minister. Some Russian delegates—though not leader Vladimir Putin—are reportedly attending the APEC sessions, which could make for some awkward interactions given the war in Ukraine.

Within the week of APEC is the three-day CEO Summit running Tuesday through Thursday at Moscone Center. This "event within the event" will be the site of presidential speeches, CEO fireside chats and Gov. Gavin Newsom swaggering around like a cartoon wolf who has absolutely no interest in running for president.

A red and white sign on a lamppost warns of no parking during APEC in San Francisco.
A tow-away warning is posted in San Francisco's Nob Hill neighborhood on Saturday ahead of the APEC conference. | Source: Julie Makinen/The Standard

Traffic Is Gonna Be Wild

Security in Downtown and Nob Hill will be especially tight due to visits by Biden, Xi and leaders of APEC’s 19 other member economies—but notably not Putin, who was barred by U.S. sanctions. 

Moscone Center will be the most affected area, with a Secret Service security perimeter enclosing a fair chunk of the South of Market area. The Standard created a comprehensive breakdown of security and transit impacts replete with maps. Biden’s reception for APEC leaders at the Exploratorium on Wednesday evening and an event at the Legion of Honor on Thursday will have a massive security presence.

Getting in and out of the city may be especially difficult for anyone using the Bay Bridge, which will have two lanes closed. Jeffrey Tumlin, the city’s transportation director, advised people to use Muni and BART as much as possible, as traffic and parking in the core of the city will be a nightmare. Updates will be posted on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s website, and people can sign up for text alerts by sending the message “APEC2023” to the number 888777.

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

Security Will Be Tight

On top of the Secret Service perimeter, nine Bay Area law enforcement agencies are sending officers to help patrol the streets. The California Highway Patrol is sending 1,000 officers just on its own. San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott noted in a press conference that “every able-bodied” cop on the city’s own force will be working.

“We are fully mobilized, and we haven't done this in quite some time,” he said. “So, that is how significant that this event is.”

Many have wondered whether San Francisco will protect the First Amendment rights of protesters or kowtow to sensitive foreign leaders. A march Sunday attracted thousands of people, who marched from the Embarcadero to Moscone Center protesting APEC, Israeli attacks on Gaza, and other issues.

People holding a red banner and waving black, red, green and white palestinian flags stand under palm trees in a plaza.
Protesters with the Palestinian Youth Movement gather at Harry Bridges Plaza in front of San Francisco's Ferry Building on Sunday. | Source: George Kelly/The Standard

Other demonstrations are expected—the local Filipino community has been signaling its plans, and the gathering of so many foreign leaders and journalists at APEC may be an irresistible backdrop for protesters concerned about the war in Gaza. Climate change activists and anti-trade groups have been working to organize demonstrations as well. A major protest is set for Wednesday morning at the Powell Street BART station.

San Francisco police have been training since February to make sure protestors are given the space to have their voices heard, Scott said. 

“This city knows how to facilitate First Amendment activity,” Scott said. “We do it time and time again. … But we will not tolerate violence, and we will not tolerate property destruction.”

A forecast for rainy weather, however, may dampen attendance at protests.

What’s In It for San Francisco?

APEC may offer San Francisco a chance to reset the narrative around the city, especially when it comes to street conditions and the crises of drugs and homelessness. Part of that will be encouraging foreign media members to visit areas of the city beyond the Downtown core and obvious tourist attractions.

“My hope is that people will have the opportunity to experience San Francisco for themselves and tell the whole story,” Breed said.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed, dressed in a purple suit raises her right hand while gesticulating as she speaks to the media during a press conference in City Hall. She sands behind a podium that reads "APEC 2023 UNITED STATES" in a wood paneled room with two other people standing behind her listening attentively.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed speaks about the APEC summit during a press conference at City Hall on Oct. 24. | Source: Michaela Vatcheva for The Standard

The summit, city officials have said, is expected to generate more than $50 million in local economic activity—think hotel rooms sold, meals eaten, museum tickets purchased.

Local officials recently announced they plan to open hundreds of shelter beds for homeless people in the coming months, while a crackdown on street-level drug markets over the last year will likely persist this week. Whether all of this leads to sustained improvements or a momentary spit-shine designed to secure positive press will be up to the mayor and her departments.

In the meantime, APEC will include no shortage of parties. Many of them are for VIPs only, but the city’s APEC website has a full list of community events, some of which include discount codes while others are free. Weather permitting, Supervisor Joel Engardio’s Friday afternoon “Summit to the Sea” bike ride in the Sunset might be a nice capper to an exhausting week. 

Josh Koehn can be reached at josh@sfstandard.com