How do you combat 24th Street BART Plaza’s illegal fencing? With fencing, apparently.
“Temporary” fencing has been erected with the stated intent of keeping out the illegal vending, trash, graffiti and crowding that has become commonplace at the plaza over the past year. The fence, however, is a band-aid solution, and is slated to only stay put for 60 days. After that, Supervisor Hillary Ronen expects her proposed longer-term solution, a new street vending law, to finally be enacted, and ostensibly protect the plaza from its present issues.
But until then, the “nightmare” on the plaza needs to be addressed, the supervisor said. The “chaotic” situation has especially escalated in the past few months as drug dealers congregate and illegal vendors have threatened legitimate merchants and community organizers who are monitoring the area.
“It’s just reached a point where it’s dangerous and so problematic, that we want to disrupt and recalibrate,” Ronen said, who asked BART to put up the fence this week. “The best way to do that is to prevent people from hanging out in the plaza in the coming months.”
The fences will not prevent BART riders from using transit, according to BART board member Bevan Dufty. But the barrier — rising some six feet high, and zig-zagging hundreds of feet on its perimeter — will also not allow any wiggle room for potential merchants in the future. Calle 24 Latino Cultural District, the nonprofit organization working with Ronen and BART on the street conditions, warned legal vendors about the change yesterday, and will help them find new vending locations today.
“The way I see it, this is the next step in really helping our vendors and making sure everyone in our community feels safe, not just certain groups,” said Susana Rojas, the executive director of Calle 24. “We’ve been telling anybody who is willing to listen to us that we have education and solutions. The legislation will [take effect] once the permitting system is in place.”
Meanwhile, Ronen and Calle 24 are waiting for her street-vending law to get off the ground. The legislation, which was introduced in March and made effective by mid-June, created a new permit for street vendors that Public Works staff and police officers will inspect and use to enforce legitimacy. Any street vendor in the Mission or Civic Center plazas who fails to show the permit, or proof of ownership of their goods, could have their goods confiscated. Vendors may also be fined or asked to leave by Public Works staff or police officers.
Rojas was out on Wednesday morning talking with legal vendors, many of whom were pushed to the sidewalk as the fence was being put up. Some expressed concern that they had nowhere to go.
Milagros Lopez, a jewelry vendor at 24th Street, told Mission Local that she was happy that the fence went up. “It’s good for me, because it’s more safe,” she said. “A lot of people don’t respect the [BART Plaza] private property.”
In the middle of talking with Mission Local, however, Rojas informed Lopez that tomorrow the city will come by and tell her that she has to move. Lopez was outraged.
“Why [doesn’t the city] let me stay here? Who can help me?” Lopez said to Mission Local. “I’m a single mom. I’ve been here for eight years. I don’t want to have to start over.”
Another vendor, who only gave her first name, Gabrielle, expressed similar disappointment at the thought of moving. She, along with Silvia Urquilla, sells tamales on 24th Street. The two women feel that there aren’t any other safe places to go for their business. They have also been working to get a permit, but have faced many obstacles due to the restrictions around selling food.
Gabrielle used to walk up and down Mission Street between Otis and Geneva streets selling tamales. In 2017, however, she started selling her food near the 24th Street BART station.
“I don’t know where to go,” she said. “If I move somewhere else, will [the city] ask me to move again?” Needing help to pack up her tamale cart and two plastic chairs, she decided to stay along the sidewalk until being replaced by the fence.
Dufty appears optimistic that the fence will work. During the pandemic, Public Works donated a shorter fence to prohibit congregation, and few folks hung out on the plaza. Generally clean conditions persisted when Unidos en Salud, the UCSF and Calle 24 collaboration, stationed Covid-19 testing hubs there.
What’s the hold-up on the street vending law? Public Works has not finished creating a permit system, meaning none of the consequences for illegal vendors can be enforced, said Ronen.
“Believe me, I’m beyond frustrated with the delay, but a brand-new permitting system and a brand-new portal takes time to create,” Ronen said. “I had thought we were ready to enforce the law at multiple points, but then were told we needed to do something else. My frustration is through the roof.”
Ronen suggests the permitting system will be ready by August.
In the meantime, Ronen said police officers will attempt to prevent crowded sidewalks by enforcing street-safety laws that require six feet of space on public walkways for the disabled. Over the past few months, dozens of residents, business owners, and Muni riders complained about the congested and littered sidewalks on Mission Street.
Another fear is that illegal vending or crowding will simply migrate to the 16th Street BART Plaza. Both Dufty and Ronen admitted this might occur, and both said they would monitor the situation.
“If we have to, we’ll take similar steps to reset 16th Street,” Dufty said.
“I think the process is frustrating,” Rojas said. “But most important is our community is being taken care of — from the most vulnerable, to everybody else.”