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Watch: San Francisco mayor defends APEC cleanup efforts

Mayor London Breed smiles during an interview at the APEC summit in San Francisco.
Mayor London Breed shares her thoughts on APEC and San Francisco’s preparation for the high profile summit on Wednesday. | Source: Mike Kuba/The Standard

In a widely circulated clip last week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom compared San Francisco to an eager-to-please party host frantically tidying the house before important guests arrive. 

"I know folks say, 'Oh, they're just cleaning up this place because all those fancy leaders are coming into town.' That's true because it's true," Newsom said.

Standing behind Newsom—and looking somewhat less than thrilled in the moments following his quip—was San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who has put drug crackdowns and revitalizing the city’s beleaguered Downtown core at the center of her agenda. 

In an interview on the sidelines of APEC events, Breed said that the goal is to sustain the clean and bustling streets that have greeted the city’s tens of thousands of APEC visitors. 

“You know how long we've been working on cleaning up this city?” Breed said in a Wednesday interview.

“I'll give you a perfect example: We've been working with the [California Highway Patrol], with the federal government, the U.S. Attorney's Office, as well as the Drug Enforcement [Administration] and a number of federal agencies to deal with a lot of the on-the-ground drug dealing,” Breed added, referring to heightened coordination on drug activity that kicked into gear over the summer. “And it's made a big difference in terms of a lot of the drug dealing that's been happening in San Francisco.”

Mayor London Breed gives comment on San Francisco's efforts to clean up parts of the city's downtown corridor ahead of the APEC summit. | Mike Kuba/The Standard | Source: Mike Kuba/The Standard

The weeklong APEC summit was a high-wire act involving months of planning and a multitude of state and federal partners, along with local departments, who prepared the streets surrounding Moscone Center, the main hub for the conference. 

But that was hardly the only area of the city that saw a change in conditions. Ahead of the event, there was a noticeable decline in the number of tents and drug activity along highly trafficked areas around Van Ness Avenue, United Nations Plaza and the Speaker Nancy Pelosi Federal Building, which has long been the epicenter of the city’s drug crisis. 

The U.S. Secret Service restricted access to a 12-square-block radius in the South of Market neighborhood for the event, which has brought scores of high-profile world leaders and top CEOs to the city. The California Highway Patrol and other Bay Area counties deployed over 1,000 additional law enforcement officers to the city to boost security.

The city opened 30 beds at its winter shelter facility for homeless people last Friday and is “inflating” some existing shelter facilities to accommodate more people. Earlier this week, Breed introduced legislation to open a vehicle and cabin site in the Bayview neighborhood.

Breed described progress on reducing homeless encampments, pointing to a recent Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals hearing that “made it clear that if we offer shelter to someone who is on the streets, they are no longer involuntarily homeless. So we're able to take a lot more aggressive action to clean and to clear the streets.” 

In polls, San Francisco residents consistently cite homelessness, drugs and crime among the city’s top problems. And voters have grown impatient with Breed and other elected officials charged with making progress on stubborn issues like street conditions and petty crime. 

No wonder Newsom’s comment struck a nerve: On social media, the governor was roasted for the acknowledgment that hosting “fancy” VIPs was a forcing function for giving the city a good scrub-down. (He later papered over the comment by pointing out consistent improvement on city streets in the months leading up to the event.)

“The goal is to continue to keep our streets clean. And the less people you have living on our streets, the cleaner the streets are going to be,” Breed added. “My hope is that people will continue to see and feel the difference.” 

The mayor has played host to multiple events this week, including a Sunday night welcome reception at City Hall and an exclusive bash with President Joe Biden at the Exploratorium Wednesday night. On Thursday, City Hall hosted the foreign press tasked with publishing their impressions of APEC and San Francisco. 

Outside of the official events, which also included a party for global dignitaries at the Legion of Honor Thursday night, neighborhoods such as Chinatown have rolled out the welcome mat for APEC visitors with food tours, bar crawls and dance parties. The city has also promoted restaurants and venues throughout the city’s commercial corridors to APEC delegates and visitors. 

Mayor London Breed shares her hopes for the impact of the APEC summit on San Francisco moving forward. | Mike Kuba/The Standard | Source: Mike Kuba/The Standard

Some businesses located near Moscone Center, however, have worried about lost revenue owing to tight security surrounding the event. Breed said the city’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development has been “in touch” with business owners in the area. 

Breed said the city is estimating 55,000 hotel room nights for APEC and described bustling neighborhoods, packed restaurants and good vibes across town that she hopes will leave a lasting positive impression. 

“People seem really happy, and they think San Francisco is beautiful. I keep hearing people talking about the food and how good it is, how beautiful the city is. The light shows, all the excitement and the energy,” Breed said.