Will SF be able to rehabilitate its image during next month's APEC summit? Here's what experts say

While there are many iconic landmarks, SF's tarnished image around the world is best described as a beauty in distress

Lyanne Melendez Image
Tuesday, October 10, 2023
Will SF be able to restore its image during next month's APEC summit?
San Francisco faces one of the biggest challenges, to enhance the city's image and not give credence to what others are saying about ongoing issues.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- San Francisco faces one of the biggest challenges in decades, to enhance the image of the city and not give credence to what others are saying about the ongoing issues. Next month, the world will be focused on San Francisco during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit.

While there are many iconic landmarks, San Francisco's tarnished image around the world is best described as a beauty in distress.

Journalists based in San Francisco who work for foreign media have much to write about.

"Especially since it changed a lot. It's not the hippie city anymore, then the tech bros came in and a lot of money came, really a lot of money came in, and San Francisco changed dramatically," explained Axel Postinett, a new reporter for Handelsblatt Media Group, a German business newspaper interested in how San Francisco grapples with its commercial real estate downturn.

"The question is will we see anything like this in Germany too or in other cities," he added.

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One organization addressed unhoused, cleanliness and safety issues now that the Dreamforce Convention 2023 convention has concluded in San Francisco.

That's an issue to be discussed in mid-November during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit hosted by San Francisco.

Here's the APEC lineup:

21 world leaders

30,000 delegates

1,200 CEOs from around the world

Not only is the city's image at stake but some say it is the beginning of its economic recovery.

San Francisco has the potential to lure much needed foreign businesses to its downtown where one-third of the commercial space is vacant.

"The opportunity to have international folks here, folks from China, Korea, Japan, people who are only hearing the stories and not seeing the reality in investment, to see the opportunities to invest in here and the path forward, we think is a real strong point," expressed Sarah Dennis-Phillips from the Office of Economic and Workforce Development.

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"We are going to showcase our cutting edge thinking on artificial intelligence and on biotech and everything else that is out there. Our autonomous vehicles, we're going to be a big showcase on all of that. Like everybody who comes to visit, we think they'll get excited about it and want to come and expand and be part of what we got here. That could really help our economy," outlined John Grubb, of the Bay Area Council.

San Francisco has just one month left to prepare. So far, the city has raised $20 million to make it an extravagant event but also make it clean and safe.

Right before his big Dreamforce convention, admittedly Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff became the squeaky wheel, suggesting he might leave if San Francisco didn't clean up.

It worked. Here's what Benioff said in September once the city had cleaned up near Moscone Convention Center, where Dreamforce was held.

"Everything is spiffy, cleaned up, nice, I went down Howard street, I'm like what did they do, pour fresh cement? You can eat off the sidewalk, it's incredible," expressed Benioff last month.

But it only worked for a few days during Dreamforce. Howard Street is no longer gleaming and some of people hanging out on nearby streets have resumed their activities.

Mayor London Breed seemed undaunted.

"What's interesting is we had about 250 delegates from around the world who are like the advanced team for APEC and we took them to the Tenderloin, we took them to neighborhoods and around the city and what they said is this happens where we are from too, we don't see what everybody is talking about, where as a city, a major city, San Francisco just like any other mayor city it has its challenges," Breed revealed.

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Postinett disagrees. He says, the international media will be reporting on everything they see, encounter and experience.

"Keep them out of the Tenderloin. If they come here, if they see, this is definitely, absolutely outrageous. If you come here and you're not prepared for that, you really think, this is San Francisco? Oh my God!" expressed Postinett.

"We are going to continue to chip away at it. We're going to continue to work very hard to get people off the streets. We're taking the very bold, controversial steps of making arrests for not just dealers but also users," added Breed.

Meanwhile, neighboring counties are watching too.

"San Francisco, obviously they are going to have great motivation to try and spruce up the city," said San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.

He is concerned that those drug dealers may quietly move across county lines, during APEC.

Wagstaffe warns of what may follow.

"If we see it, we arrest them, we will prosecute them and we will lock them up. We're really concerned. We do not want San Mateo County in any fashion to turn into what San Francisco has become and it won't because we're not going to let it happen," said Wagstaffe.

The APEC conference is also a chance for San Francisco to take center stage when the leaders of the two largest economies, the U.S. and China sit down to meet in good faith.

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The meeting goes beyond trade talks. It is also an opportunity to convince more Chinese tourists to travel here, despite what they have seen or heard.

Chinese tourists spent $1.2 billion in San Francisco in 2019. But have not returned in pre-pandemic numbers.

"You never get a second chance to make a first impression," added Postinett.

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