A mass of people and vendors line up at the Northeast 24th and Mission BART Plaza
24th and Mission BART plaza. Photo by William Jenkins

Overview:

While the southwest plaza appeared tidy, the northeast plaza still had crowded vendors

On Wednesday, BART erected a fence surrounding the 24th Street BART plazas at the behest of Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who is campaigning to prevent overcrowding and illegal vending. 

One day after its installation, many vendors haven’t moved. 

The northeast plaza, where the majority of illegal vending and crowding issues occur, remained fenced off. But some 10 vendors lined up just outside the fence, congesting the sidewalk, just as it had been earlier. In contrast, the southwest plaza appeared orderly and tidy. Mission Local visited both plazas multiple times during the day. 

As early as 8 a.m., one reporter spotted at least five folks setting up shop along the northeast sidewalk, an area that is supposed to remain clear under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Only when Public Works staff and police officers arrived at around 1 p.m. to enforce the disability law did two or three vendors pack up their merchandise in suitcases and pushcarts and scuttle away. About seven to 10 vendors remained, purportedly waiting out their enforcers and leaning along the fence. 

“These people are waiting for the police to leave,” said Santiago Lerma, a legislative aide for Ronen. Still, Lerma visited the plaza Wednesday night, and he believes that fewer people were “hanging out” than before, thanks to the fence.

Ronen said she didn’t expect much progress after just one day. She hopes, however, that routine enforcement led by city staff will eventually restore the plaza to the “vibrant … passable” area it used to be. 

“It’s an iterative process, and we’re acting as it happens,” Ronen said. “Right now I know [vendors] are on the outside of the fence. That can’t be.”

Public Works staffers are scheduled to visit the 24th Street plaza twice a week to enforce the ADA law, said Lerma. Police officers will also be present when Public Works asks vendors to leave, though Public Works will lead enforcement operations. “This is a community space used by elders and children. We want to make sure everyone feels safe,” Lerma said. 

“We’re not trying to criminalize any vendors,” Ronen said. “We want to get to what we had before: Where people from all over Latin America were selling all their goods [like] paletas and pupusas, and people could get to the bus stop unimpeded.”

Ronen’s office is also in discussion with Mission Street business owners, who may open their shops to host an “indoor flea market” to help out vendors who desire a fixed place to sell.

The fence sparked controversy among some in the neighborhood. Some called the fence a barrier to a vibrant public space that deprives longtime vendors of an income source. Others lauded the supervisor for addressing the plaza’s unsafe conditions. The 10 vendors lined up at the northeast plaza at 11 a.m. sold everything from bongs to vintage video cameras.

On the northeast plaza, police officers cleared vendors selling open cans and bottles of alcohol at the bus station on Mission Street. Susana Rojas, the executive director of Calle 24, was on site with her staff, reminding officers to not be harsh while removing people. 

“We want to make sure vendors with licenses aren’t impacted,” Rojas said.

By 1 p.m., two Public Works staff in yellow vests approached and began gently asking people to move their belongings from the sidewalk. Two police officers, one who spoke Spanish, also monitored the situation and asked vendors blocking the path to move. The sidewalk, indeed, became clearer and “passable,” unlike the earlier morning scene. How long that would last was unclear.

Some vendors on the tidier southwest plaza said they were grateful for the fencing. 

Lourdes was one of the vendors at the southwest plaza pushed to the sidewalk when the fences went up Wednesday. On Thursday, she was closer to the sidewalk, with less space for her tamale table, but nonetheless, she was happy. The fence had brought more clients to her business.

“We’re happy because it looks clean,” she said in Spanish while glancing around the fenced-in plaza. “People feel better to come and shop.”

Lourdes was accompanied by four other vendors who have been selling in the area for years. She said vendors, including herself, should be flexible in complying with the city’s orders. “We don’t have any problems with adapting to this new situation,” she said. “[The city] wants to help us.”

Nearby, Millie, who has been selling jewelry on the southwest plaza for eight years, said the fence makes it safer for everyone, especially vendors with business permits, like her.  

“I hope they can keep the fence,” she said. “I don’t need to check who’s behind me. There are no more homeless people using drugs or using the bathroom.”

“It affects our business, because people don’t want to stop,” she said. “People say 24th is ugly; people don’t want to come.” 

Hours before opening up shop, Delia, another vendor who sells a variety of beauty products, received her business registration certificate from the Office of the Treasurer and Tax Collector. She said she feels better having a city certificate in her possession, so she can show it to Public Works and the police.

These certificates, however, differ from the new permits that Ronen’s vendor law will create, which will be checked by Public Works staff. Ronen will use the vendor law to crack down on illegal sales in the future, but Public Works has so far failed to launch a permit system that would allow it to be enforced. The system is expected to launch in mid-August, Ronen said. 

Despite concerns that large groups of vendors and illegal activity would shift to lower Mission hotspots like Mission and 18th streets or the 16th Street BART Plaza, Mission Local did not yet find that to be the case on Thursday. Ronen and BART Director Bevan Dufty said on Wednesday that if similar poor conditions occurred at 16th Street, a fence could go up there, too. 

Still, that won’t stop some vendors from playing cat-and-mouse with DPW staff. Back at the northeast plaza at 1:15 p.m., one vendor by the bus shelter started closing up shop after recognizing Lerma sipping a coffee and chatting with a police officer. The vendors’ offerings of shampoos and toothpaste were conveniently packed in two suitcases. “I leave when the city talks to us,” he explained in Spanish. When asked where he goes, he replied: “To 18th and Mission.” Then he comes right back.

Reporter Carolyn Stein contributed to this report.

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REPORTER. Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused on local news and immigration. She is a proud Chinese and Filipina American. She has a twin brother that (contrary to soap opera tropes) is not evil.

Follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaHom.

Christine Delianne

Christine flew across the country from Long Island to the Bay Area for college. She is a junior at Stanford University, where she served as the Managing Editor for the student newspaper. Before joining Mission, she covered breaking news as an intern at Bay City News and The Sacramento Bee.

Intern Reporter. William moved to the Bay Area from Nashville to pursue a Masters in Journalism from UC Berkeley. He's covered police reform in Oakland and also investigates correctional officer misconduct at the Investigative Reporting Program. You'll mostly see him behind a camera. Follow him on Twitter @WilliamJenk_

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19 Comments

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  1. I am not a fan of the shit show that the 24th street Bart Station became overtime. I am not naive to think there are not stolen goods being sold illegally. A pedestrian has to walk in the bus zone to avoid the chaos. The fence is a start, however people just set up outside of it and there is still nowhere to walk anymore. Confiscate the merchandise until they get a permit. Have the Department of Public Health check the people cooking sausages in unsanitary conditions. Find empty parking lots nearby for permitted vendors to sell legally. Something had to be done, now finish the job.

  2. This article makes it sound like all that’s being sold is tamales and home made beauty products.

    Why not explain that the vendors are almost all illegally selling stolen goods?

    kids, you need to do a better job of at least pretending to publish unbiased articles or it damages your credibility.

    1. Chloe — 

      I don’t know, everyone else seemed to get it.

      Commenters, when you refer to professional journalists as “kids,” you come off as condescending and patronizing. Combine that with implying a “bias” toward criminals selling stolen goods and you just come off as unintelligent. It makes us wonder if you know what the term “bias” actually means.

      Best,

      JE

  3. There are lots of legit vendors there and they certainly should not be criminalized. But the ones who are selling clearly stolen goods ARE criminals. I’m not saying lock them up or even arrest them, but confiscating the stolen goods is a good place to start. They won’t be able to set back up as soon as DPW or the cops leave, and if your stolen goods get confiscated more than once, it’s going to be a losing business pretty soon. Take away the incentives.

  4. San Francisco is so fearful of enforcing the rules and regulations that they let scofflaws walk all over them. The fence is doing nothing except making less space available – and moving unlicensed vendors and people selling stolen goods further up Mission street. San Francisco “progressives” have turned the city into a lawless mess. Welcome Anarchy.

  5. Evidently, Hillary Ronen doesn’t like the overcrowding and illegal vending, without mentioning health or sanitation issues which should be her focus as a city official.

    Yes, it’s hard for me to weave through the crowd at 24th but I don’t see what the big deal is about it.

    I’d rather see the exuberant overcrowding at 24th than the barren and boring 16th BART plaza that is three blocks from where I live.

  6. Annika,

    Love these neighborhood stories.

    Hillary’s heart is in the right place as she showed with her pilot project allowing the homeless or really poor at end of month tables to sell their stuff from behind the armory.

    What a battle.

    First, cars owned by new ‘gentry’ towed in middle of night.

    Second, outcry to Mayor who has both ears open for any real or fake news of bad acts by my supe.

    You telling me they cleaned up the mattresses in the alley under the murals opposite the arab style becoming mixed market which I loved and my apartment looks like it ??

    I was at the BART station on a bus at 24th first day of da fence and the vendors violating the law to get a fix were blocking and forcing people in front of buses.

    Better to bring back free tables for the poor (proof of EBT or whatever?)

    Bring em back alongside the murals in filthy alley that the Mayor can get cleaned for the occasion ??

    First thing ??

    Get rid of the Fencing.

    Fences are for East Berlin.

    Go Giants !!

    h.

  7. While I have no problem with home -cooked foods (with a legit license of course) or real handicrafts……ask and ask again where “The vendors’ offerings of shampoos and toothpaste” come from……..pilfered off a Safeway or Walgreens truck possibly. THAT’S the problem.

  8. I do not understand why the cops cannot just arrest or give big fine to anyone selling stuff without a license, as it is mostly stolen stuff in the first place! For those accusing Hillary of not wanting to criminalize vendors, I think you missed her point. She is trying to protect those who play by the rules and do not sell stolen stuff. I do not think all her efforts on this is to protect the law breakers. But people have to hate on politicians here.

    And they only check twice a week to stop those blocking the sidewalk? I am sure the people in wheelchairs trying to get though appreciate that “huge” effort. oy!

  9. “We’re not trying to criminalize any vendors,” Ronen said.

    THIS is the problem. It’s the Chesa Boudin-like idea that criminals will stop committing crimes if you’re nice to them.

    Send in the cops, arrest everyone, confiscate their stuff. We don’t need to keep them in jail for a long time: a day or two should be sufficient; maybe more for a second offense.

    If we don’t do this, there’s no reason for them to stop. So many people in SF hate the cops now but this is the kind of situation where nothing will happen without them.

    1. To be fair, some of the vendors are just selling food and jewelry legally, right? So that would be awful to arrest them along with the others, no? I remember when the drug thing happened mostly in the McDonald’s parking lot. If you weren’t interested you merely stayed away from that area. The plaza itself was ok if a little crowded and loud with the Jesus megaphone people. Strange to think of that time with nostalgia(?) now.

      1. I have no nostalgia for the screaming loud religious fanatics; you could often hear them in the library down the street

      2. If you are selling legally, you won’t get arrested. Why do people(Kim, Oliver S. and others) think that legal vendors that are allowed to sell things would get arrested or fined? Doesn’t make any sense. If you want to protect the folks selling legally, bring in the police. Legal/licensed vendors should welcome the cops everyday.

        I’d love to understand where Kim and Oliver are getting the idea that legal vendors would have a problem with the police. Where does this come from?

        1. I had the impression that since the permit program is not complete that people would not be able to get permits? Or that it would be difficult for DPW / police to determine who is a legal vendor currently? I kind of like the idea someone had above about confiscating stolen goods as opposed to throwing everyone in jail. From another article it sounded like we don’t really have room for scores and scores of people right now or the staff for that..

      3. I can hear the Christers screeching their amplified witnessing at passers by from my garden on weekend mornings. Another case of people doing what makes them feel better with absolutely no connection to their goal of “saving” anyone’s soul, as nobody would respond favorably that crap.

    2. “It’s the Chesa Boudin-like idea that criminals will stop committing crimes if you’re nice to them.”
      No; it’s the idea that people will work to survive whether or not that work is legal.

  10. “We are not trying to criminalize the vendors.” But Hillary, so many of them are criminals. Why not enforce the laws against illegal activity? The area is a cesspool.

  11. Many Mission dwellers must define ‘vibrant’ as chaotic shit show. Keep and electrify the fence if that’s what’s needed to ensure passable sidewalks and access to bart. So glad Ronen is finally reading the room. Maybe someone should tell Rojas to start supporting her ‘housed’ Calle 24 businesses instead of those stealing from them.

  12. Sorry but someone was selling open containers? Really? What does that mean? They crack open a beer and then try to sell it? Who would do that? Who would buy that? What did you mean exactly? It’s all so arbitrary. So it would seem at least.