Street vendors at the north-eastern plaza at Mission and 24th Street on June 17. Photo by Will Jarrett.

The city stepped up enforcement of illegal street vending in the Mission last week in an attempt to prevent the sale of stolen goods, but some vendors refused to play ball.

The increased enforcement is ostensibly tied to a new law that came into effect last week requiring vendors to hold permits and be able to prove ownership of their products.

As it happens, the Public Works portal to apply for these new permits is not actually finished and is unlikely to be complete before the first week of July, meaning vendors have not been able to apply for the required permits. Regardless, enforcement of street vendors proceeded, with inspectors from Public Works backed by police officers looking for breaches of existing regulations like blocking the sidewalk for wheelchairs or creating fire hazards.

Supervisor Hilary Ronen, who co-sponsored the new law alongside Mayor London Breed and Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, publicized the blitz to push illegally operating vendors away from the popular 24th and Mission Street plaza.

“For the first time in almost a year, the 24th St BART plaza is accessible to passengers & pedestrians,” Ronen wote in a tweet Thursday afternoon. “For those selling stolen goods, their time is over & they will not be allowed to operate on our streets.”

But it was not long before many vendors were back.

“Some vendors just went across the street and waited for the police to leave,” said Santiago Lerma, Ronen’s legislative aide. “These folks are heavily entrenched. They have been doing this unregulated for months and months and there is a sense of entitlement there.”

“Our main target is the people selling stolen goods,” he added. The permits required under the new law will allow legitimate vendors to sell their wares, but will restrict activity to specific places and times.

By noon on Friday, five or six vendors filled the plaza. Sellers displayed clothes, drugstore supplies and snacks. One individual jumped from behind a stall and threatened this reporter with violence, believing me to be part of a police operation, and demanded that I delete my photographs of the plaza. (The photos, which illustrate this story, were later recovered.)

BART plaza on Thursday afternoon. Photo from Hilary Ronen.
BART plaza on Friday afternoon. Photo by Will Jarrett.

Lerma said the amount of enforcement the Mission will see going forward is largely in the hands of Public Works. But he does not expect many vendors to remain around the 24th and Mission plaza after they are repeatedly moved on — and when the permits come into full effect.

“There is not really anywhere you can vend over there where you’re not in violation of some ordinance,” he said. “I don’t anticipate many stands staying there.”

But again on Monday, vendors remained at the plaza. Several continued to sell up and down Mission Street as well, with goods including tools and electronics.

Public Works inspectors enforce the street-vending rules, with police officers looped in if vendors are aggressive or refuse to move. Breaking the new rules (once fully rolled out) will not result in criminal charges, but may mean fines and confiscation of goods.

“A lot of our vendors are afraid or might not understand all the things that are needed,” said Susana Rojas, executive director of the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District. Calle 24 took part in six weeks of outreach and education before this wave of enforcement began, distributing flyers, organizing workshops, and talking to law-abiding vendors to help bring them up to code.

“We want to help those people who make a living and put their kids through school this way, and make sure they can do it in a way that is safe,” she said.

Rojas said that the people who were moved on last week had typically not engaged with their outreach efforts. She added that some vendors who appeared on Friday were new to the neighborhood, and seemed to have simply moved down from UN Plaza and the Tenderloin when enforcement started up in earnest over there.

“It needs to be coordinated, and programs like the one we’re doing in the Mission need to happen in other areas,” said Rojas. “Just moving people around doesn’t fix a problem.”

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DATA REPORTER. Will was born in the UK and studied English at Oxford University. After a few years in publishing, he absconded to the USA where he studied data journalism in New York. Will has strong views on healthcare, the environment, and the Oxford comma.

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23 Comments

  1. We need 2 security officer at each corner 24 mission to keep them out I’m willing to do job

  2. Rojas is correct. If this is to be a true crack down on (obviously) stolen goods it needs to be City- wide. And real legit vendors do need help navigating the system

      1. “RL E”

        You also have an incorrect understanding of the term “fence”.

        “Fence” (as a verb) means to sell stolen goods to a “fence” (noun). A fence will pay a below market price for the stolen goods and then attempt to resell them and make a (potentially large) profit.

        So the individuals (re)selling stolen goods at the BART plaza are not “fencers” (which is someone that fights with a sword), but are,indeed, “fences” (a noun denoting a type of criminal as I have described above.)

        1. It’s slang, so “fencing” works fine as an adverb. “Fencer” … whatever who cares.

          I’m sticking with “vendor”. Fencing is a prior transaction than selling at the street level. We don’t know if the vendor also acted as the fence, but we do know the vendor is acting as the vendor.

          Do I need to know just to buy some shampoo? I could care less if someone is clearing out a shelf at Walgreens. Buying stolen tools is much more of an ethical concern in my book.

        2. is this what Robert Frost was talking about ? good fences making good neighbors?
          (this comment is meant as humor, please, no one over react….)

  3. Calle 24 is slated to receive $358,851 from the City in FY2022.

    Does any of that go to this? If so, are there performance goals associated with the grant/contract?

  4. What is the point of passing laws if you have a city government that has no will or ability to implement them in the most rudimentary of ways, despite costing a fortune.

    Lobbyists and lawyers and the mayor’s donors are the only ones who win in SF, the rest of us are forced to subsidize it.

    (Also electing Republicans would be more of the same, just with more obnoxious people!)

  5. I like the initiative, and really anything to bring some order to the chaos of it all, but honestly, how can you presume to enforce something when the website to legitimize it is not online yet? was there some kind of need to rush past that…well…critical detail?

  6. Too bad Calle 24 or a similar entity can’t bring technology to 24/Mission to help the legit vendors sign up for permits when the website is functioning. These vendors might not otherwise have access.

    The Hubs would be a perfect place for Calle 24 to use some of their funding for this purpose. Oh, but wait, those are closing in 10 days.

  7. It’s worth noting that this wasn’t even possible until Chesa Boudin was recalled.

    We haven’t yet returned from frontier lawlessness to civilization, but it’s starting, and it’s good to see.

    1. District attorneys prosecute criminal offenses. An infraction is not a criminal offense. A ticket issued for street vending is good as garbage.

      1. Were the vendors there before the recall? Yes.

        Did you see this done before the recall? No.

        City voters said we’re tired of crime being legal. Then this happened. Good.

        1. Jane, causation does not imply correlation. Plans for the permitting were taking place well before Chesa’s recall. They have nothing to do with each other.

    2. Carl, plans for the permitting were taking place well before Chesa’s recall. They have nothing to do with each other.

  8. Ahhh, public works and SFPD. Instead of either of them doing their actual jobs, now public works are sent to act like police, too. Great job creating more red tape, Hillary.

  9. If you think that you are buying stolen goods you are the problem, as well as the vendors. Arrest the buyers along with the vendors if you want to stop the crime. I love living in the Mission!

  10. I passed through that area on foot on Friday evening. It looked to me to consist mainly of fencers selling stolen goods from drugstores and garage break ins (e.g., piles and piles of used tools). There didn’t seem to be anyone around enforcing the laws. Why can’t our city employees do their jobs?

  11. The enforcement is a joke, as is the fact the city establish a basic website in months. Ronen declaring victory with a photo op as “vendors” waited across the street is maddening gaslighting. Having lived in New York from 1976-2003, I can tell you the inability to enjoy a walk down the sidewalk and this kind of incompetence is what allowed Giuliani to get elected as mayor. The recall of Chesa could be just the beginning if people don’t figure out the most basic task of government: making it safe and enjoyable to walk down the street with a toddler. I also think anything sold at the BART plaza should be limited, aesthetic, and relevant to commuters, as is the case in basically all other cities (eg flowers, and, once upon a time, newspapers). Legally acquired or not, no one needs to buy shampoo or power tools at the bart plaza.

  12. Can they focus on cleaning the streets of shit before this? I don’t understand why stolen drug store goods is a bigger issue than unsanitary side walks.

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