A new city law prompted by overcrowded sidewalks, trash and illegal vending will require street vendors selling merchandise to have a permit. As of June 16, vendors without a valid permit will be asked to leave, and will be subject to a fine starting at $100. The latter can be withdrawn with retroactive compliance.
Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who authored the legislation, mandated at least eight weeks of permit education so vendors have time to secure their permits. “We didn’t want to create a situation where we had city workers and law enforcement confiscating and disrupting [them] without giving them fair warning,” said Santiago Lerma, Ronen’s legislative aide. “A lot of the vendors are legitimate and just trying to survive, so we wanted to make sure these folks were protected.”
Community organizations like Calle 24 Latino Cultural District are helping vendors transition to the new rules, but how many will obtain the permit before the deadline remains unclear.
To get a permit, a vendor must apply to the city and provide a proof of identity and contact, a description of what and where they intend to sell, and vendor certification.
There are dozens of street vendors have long been an important fabric of the Mission District community, said Susana Rojas, executive director of Calle 24. Vendors surged in the pandemic, Rojas said, as essential and low-income workers lost their jobs and resorted to selling whatever they could.
It’s unclear how many street vendors operate in the Mission and, of those, how many have a permit. The city collects permits for displayed merchandise, the kind of vendors that congregate at the 24th and 16th BART Plazas and also up and down Mission Street, but none of that data is publicly available.
Vendors appear to be resigned. “I have to get it to keep making money,” said one long-time vendor who declined to be named. He has sold scarves and bracelets with his wife for more than 25 years and, for a seasoned vendor like himself, he’s already familiar with navigating the city bureaucracy to be permitted, so acquiring this new one will be easy.
One man on Mission Street, who requested anonymity because of his immigration status, had a hodgepodge of items splayed out in front of his minivan: Peet’s coffee, women’s lingerie, Old Spice shampoo, a single knockoff designer wallet, and a pair of sneakers. He doesn’t know if getting permitted is worth the energy, as he only earns $75 or so a day.
He started selling in 2021 after he lost his job as a grocery truck driver in the pandemic, and the money supports his family in the Mission.
“It’s better than nothing,” he said in Spanish. This vendor said he’s currently looking for a job that’s not street vending, and he’s banking that the economy will bounce back by the start of next year. “Last year was a disaster. I couldn’t get unemployment, either. Now the economy is better, but I hope it improves way more.”
Next to him, a man selling myriad drill bits and power tools said he’s on the fence, but leaning toward getting a permit.
The new law addresses other street-vendor concerns, like the chaos at the 24th Street BART Plaza, one main reason this law was initially created by Ronen.
“It’s good to have the city how it was before, with order,” the man who sells bracelets said in Spanish. “We depend a lot on tourists, and [the plaza] needs order. If I was a tourist and saw [the plaza] now, I’d leave.”
Fencing, also known as the sale of illegal goods, occurs there, too.
“They come with big backpacks, about every half hour,” said Jorge Armando, a guitarist who regularly visits the plaza.
We watched as a tight-knit ring of potential customers crowded a man as he pulled out an item from a backpack, quickly dispersed when a pair of cops walked by, then regrouped.
Other vendors openly brag about stolen goods, and drug sales also happen. “It’s mostly weed,” Armando said, “but I’m sure if you asked, you can get something more cosmic.”
Ronen’s office said police officers will crack down on illegal sales and may help city workers check permits. Police officers may cause apprehension among vendors, so Rojas said Calle 24 may give permitted vendors identification, such as badges or clothes to immediately communicate to officers their legality. This could limit interactions between vendors and police.
“We are hoping that, through the program and education, the police will not have to be involved in a way that is detrimental,” Rojas said, “but in a way that is there to ensure that everyone is safe.”
This article has been corrected to reflect just merchandise vendors need the new permit, not food vendors.