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.)
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.”