An hour by hour log of Mission Street at 24th and the vendor scene.
Hour by hour on Mission Street outside the fenced off BART Station. Photos by Lydia Chávez

Elderly women getting off the bus on Wednesday afternoon could barely squeeze through the crowd of vendors that lined the sidewalk on the northeast corner of Mission and 24th streets. Some of the vendors appeared agitated and skittish; others, comatose. I lived two blocks away from the plaza for 20 years, and never in that time did the 24th Street Plaza look so chaotic. 

And that was one week after the July 20 crackdown that fenced off the BART plazas to discourage illegal vending, and more than a month after the city began enforcing new vending restrictions. For now, city officials acknowledge, enforcement will be sporadic until a new permitting process is in place. The latter will require vendors to show proof of purchase for the goods they sell. It’s unclear when the permits will be ready. 

Until then, the plaza will remain fenced off. This means that, for now, anyone coming up the escalator from BART on the northeast plaza has a somewhat clear path to 24th Street and can make a hard left to walk east on 24th Street; a hard right means running the gauntlet of vendors. Muni riders have no choice. Although a city code prohibits any obstruction within 12 feet of a Muni bus stop, any rider getting off the bus faces a corridor of people in all directions hawking everything from beauty products to roach killer.

Is this really okay?

To get a better picture of what was going on, I returned on Thursday and visited the plaza every hour.

8 a.m.

8 a.m.: 11 vendors

Mission Street

Of the 11 vendors on Mission Street Thursday morning, it is pretty clear that only one, the flower stand set up at the corner of 24th and Mission streets, will be able to get a permit and demonstrate proof of purchase. Most of the vendors offer a singular item or a small collection of items that could have come from the aisles of a Walgreens or Dollar store. 

One man is slumped over a piece of cardboard, where he has set out three, two-pound bags of Colombian coffee; a woman has pulled five bottles of cognac out of a Safeway bag.  Some are selling large amounts of mascara and shampoo; others, a few plastic jugs of laundry detergent or Huggies.

8 a.m.: 0 vendors

24th Street

9 a.m.

9 a.m.: 19 vendors

Mission Street

Mi

Nineteen vendors are selling everything from yoga pants to hair clips, shampoo and tools. The woman selling cognac is gone. 

One young man’s offerings: Smithfield bacon, Scotch-Brite and Raid MAX. 

“They are people fighting for survival,” says the flower seller, who has been licensed for years. 

Two BART officers are surveying the scene, but the vendors hardly seem bothered. The vendors, one of the cops says, will remain until “San Francisco starts confiscating goods.”

9 a.m.: 0 vendors

24th Street

10 a.m.

10 a.m.: 23 Vendors

Mission Street

A few of the vendors sell used clothes, which can be sold legally, but often the used goods are sold along with new merchandise that will require a receipt for proof of purchase. 

Susana Rojas, executive director of the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District, is working with 45 vendors to get their documentation ready for the permit, but only one of those she is working with, the flower vendor, is out selling on Thursday. 

Most of the legitimate vendors she is working with “are afraid to come out and sell” in the current environment, she says. 

Of those now at the plaza, says  Santiago Lerma, an aide to District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen,  “They are all going to go,” once a permit is required.  

Many at the plaza now, he guesses, are coming straight from Walgreens, their backpacks loaded with whatever they were able to shoplift. They sell quickly, leave, and are replaced by another vendor with a backpack. It’s chaotic. Unlike an established flea market, there is little sense of community.

Most of the buyers, and often there seems to be more sellers and pedestrians than buyers, appear to be immigrants. The demographics of the sellers cut across race and ethnicity. Few are older than 50. At different times in the day, anywhere from 50 to 70 percent of the sellers appear to be non-immigrants. Many decline interviews, some say they are from Oakland; others, downtown. No one claims to be a Mission resident.

We’re out here getting money, getting money, yeah, getting money.

One Vendor

One vendor threatens to break my phone after I take a photo of the Real Living Globe Light Sets he’s selling. I explain what I am doing, but he’s not interested. He gets close and shouts at me, then suddenly turns and walks off. 

“Well, you can have it,” he says, leaving his merchandise behind.

The things they sell

10 a.m.: 0 vendors

24th Street

11 a.m.

11 a.m.: 27 vendors

Mission Street

It’s getting crowded on Mission Street and, for the first time this morning, the vendors have turned the corner to sell on 24th Street.

I remember trying to set up a table to sell Mission Local merchandise in 2014 or so and being asked within minutes whether we had a permit. We did not. So our vending enterprise ended quickly. 

We should have waited until 2018, Lerma, Ronen’s aide says. That’s when Gov. Jerry Brown signed the law that essentially made sidewalk vending legal everywhere in California.  “Sidewalk vending provides important entrepreneurship and economic development opportunities to low-income and immigrant communities,” the legislation states.

It did not foresee the urban landmines it would inspire, the fields of vendors trying to make a quick buck selling stolen goods.

When the new vending law is enforced,  “a lot of people will be out of compliance,” says Lerma.

11 a.m.: 5 vendors

24th Street

What they are selling on 24th Street

Noon

Noon: All but one vendor has been cleared.

Mission Street

When I’m on the phone with Lerma, he informs me that a team from San Francisco Public Works, the San Francisco Police Department and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency are at the plaza clearing out illegal vendors. Susana Rojas, the executive director of Calle 24, is also there.

By the time I arrive, only one vendor remains on Mission Street: The flower seller.  

Of those who are gone, says Rojas, “they’re not from this community.” Still, she has a lot of compassion. “When you see the human suffering,” she says, “it is overwhelming.”

She has invited all the vendors to meetings. When I’m skeptical about being able to reform vendors accustomed to dealing in stolen goods, she holds out hope. About 20 have said they would be interested in finding a job, she says. But she understands that getting them to that place will take time and money. “We are only a small team,” she says.

For now, she is focused on making the plaza safer for the families and residents of the Mission. 

She looks at the grungy plaza the city has fenced off to discourage vending, and sees good times ahead. “We will spruce it up, power wash it, repaint,” she says. She envisions free art classes, she hears music. 

Noon: A handfull of vendors remain

24th Street

1 p.m.

1 p.m.: 5 vendors

Mission Street

With the officials gone, the vendors have started to trickle back.

Yet another vendor screams at me to stop taking photographs. I offer my card and try to explain that I am a reporter. He threatens to videotape me and I look at him and wonder if he really thinks that is threatening. 

This, like other interactions over the day, dissipates quickly and instead of being scary, the encounters become increasingly sad. It’s a stretch of urban misery in which the angry seem to understand that they will not win.

The first items to return

1 p.m.: 0 vendors

24th Street

2 p.m.

2 p.m.: 21 vendors

Mission Street

The things they sell

A few old shoes, detergent, mascara; the items generally come out of backpacks or suitcases.

2 p.m.: 7 vendors

24th Street

3 p.m.

3 p.m.: 28 vendors

Mission Street

To my surprise, It is not the number of vendors and crowded sidewalks that begin to weigh on me. Instead, it is the sense of desperation: The women, teeth gone, who sit by small offerings of candy and shampoo; the men, many agitated, who open up an old suitcase to reveal wares that almost always include items few people need: Plastic gloves, eyeliner, a can of Red Bull. 

Those selling jeans, used or new, do best. Occasionally someone selling jugs of detergent will attract a crowd.

When I introduce myself to one young woman, she explains that she is “selling tights that I wore before I was pregnant” and then collapses in exhaustion. Nearby, her friend, who says he is “just visiting,” doodles on a piece of cardboard. Their dog dozes nearby. They are similar to the young teens and 20-somethings who used to be ubiquitous on Haight Street. 

3 p.m. 11 vendors

24th Street

4 p.m.

4 p.m.: 19 vendors

Mission Street

As I walk through the crowd, someone taps me on the shoulder. I turn and it is a young woman who comes close in with her cell phone. Click. She snaps a photo. “Take that,” she says and spins on her heels back to her merchandise.

I realize she is someone who was selling at the front of the line and I had taken a photo of her wares. By this time, a fair number of vendors have gotten used to me. Many have my business card. Some seem interested in what I am doing.

Still, I hear the occasional “bitch,” but I can hardly blame them. They are frustrated, suspicious, and anxious to make a buck and leave.

One vendor is selling used shoes, protein mix, alcohol tests and Tide. Another woman and her friend are selling a 3D printer. We talk about what I am doing, and she seems interested.

“You wouldn’t believe what people throw away,” her boyfriend adds.

I would. I’ve picked up some choice items myself.

4 p.m.: 8 vendors

24th Street

5 p.m.

5 p.m.: 22 vendors

Mission Sreet

Midway on Mission Street, the sidewalk is entirely blocked by a man selling a new bike. Given the crowd gathered around to inspect the Mongoose, the sale will be quick. He wants $80 for a bike that goes for anywhere from $299 to nearly $600, depending on the model.

A small crowd gathered around the bike. It was going for $80. Photo by Lydia Chávez.

Along 24th Street, someone is now selling a full-size mattress that is propped up against the fence surrounding the plaza. 

The Muni bus stop (the one where no obstruction is allowed within 12 feet) has become a vendor’s shelf, displaying Walgreens alcohol spray, a few Cokes, and LiftUp, a volumizing hair foam. 

“Buy it,” the same vendor urges, pushing in front of me a Hillshire snack container with salami, cheese and crackers.

5 p.m.: 8 vendors

24th Street

6 p.m.

6 p.m.: 20 vendors

Mission Street

The woman selling the 3D printer is packing up. It hasn’t been a good day, she says. 

Don’t judge us, she asks. “We’re not all homeless, we’re just selling stuff we’ve found.”

Are some days better than others, I ask.

Yes, the weekends. She breaks out into a smile. “Lots of people are here, she says. “There is music.” 

As I get on the bus to go home, one of the vendors who screamed at me earlier in the day catches my eye. He has a nice wad of cash and he’s sifting through it  looking at me, smiling “we’re out here getting money, getting money, yeah, getting money.”

6 p.m.: 6 vendors

24th Street

What can be learned from a day at the plaza?

  • The city can clear the sidewalk vendors when it decides to.
  • When the city came in, only one vendor could pass their legitimacy test and remain.
  • The 45 vendors working with Calle 24 to get permitted are reluctant to work on the plaza in the current environment.
  • Transit riders getting off Muni are on their own navigating the public sidewalks.
  • Pedestrians trying to get through the maze of vendors often outnumber the buyers stopping to look and buy.
  • A lot of people need jobs and help.
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Founder/Executive Editor. I’ve been a Mission resident since 1998 and a professor emeritus at Berkeley’s J-school since 2019 when I retired. I got my start in newspapers at the Albuquerque Tribune in the city where I was born and raised. Like many local news outlets, The Tribune no longer exists. I left daily newspapers after working at The New York Times for the business, foreign and city desks. Lucky for all of us, it is still there.

As an old friend once pointed out, local has long been in my bones. My Master’s Project at Columbia, later published in New York Magazine, was on New York City’s experiment in community boards.

Right now I'm trying to figure out how you make that long-held interest in local news sustainable. The answer continues to elude me.

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  1. The hazard of the fencing and restricted boarding and access in and out of the Bart stations is a major impediment to seniors disabled and daily riders. When it’s overcrowded it’s a serious hazard. Remove the fencing and find another solution.

  2. On July 21, Mission Local reported that Supervisor Hillary “Ronen said police officers will attempt to prevent crowded sidewalks” by fencing off part of the northeast corner of Mission and 24th street BART plaza.

    Fencing it off is what caused it to become even more crowded because people like me can’t walk where it’s fenced off any more.

    Like this story says, lately I have trouble squeezing “through the crowd of vendors that lined the sidewalk” on that corner.

    Remove the fencing so it will be less crowded duh!

  3. Excellent reporting. Thank you for shedding light on the situation! As a Mission resident, I really appreciate your work.

  4. there are already laws on the books to prohibit this activity. you can’t sell stolen goods. stop waiting for the “permitting to kick in” and enforce the laws that already exist. this city is excellent at kicking the can down the road; terrible at enforcing its laws and maintaining order.

  5. Thank you for bringing this infested area to the lime light. I often walk into traffic because the sidewalks are so crowded, and there are also pickpocketers that take advantage of the crowds… I saw a lady lose her purse and she was having a nervous breakdown because of this – ambulance had to be called.

    It is only a matter of time before someone gets hit by a car because they walk into the traffic lanes due to these overcrowded sidewalks.

    The city must do something ASAP!!

  6. Thanks for this balanced perspective that takes into account several stakeholders for this space. I can tell that you put a lot of time and effort into this.

  7. Dear Sabrina please do not threaten our most hard working journalist, Lydia Chavez. She is the only person willing to devote her time to give us details to the problem of illegal fencing. How is having a college education a bad thing.? Madame Chavez is a female leader of the Mission. Give her the respect she deserves.

  8. #1 the shoplifting law that started this mess must be recalled
    #2programs in schools and PSA have to focus on a message to community that stealing is not ok and spread that message repeatedly just like “Don’t Mess With Texas PSA” for littering
    #3 we must stop enabling homelessness and housing and assisting career Homelessness ,and focus on Transition Living. Meaning you are working on getting help and being proactive in your quest for a better.life. transition living Shelters not Homeless Shelters.

    #4 all Taxpayer funding that goes towards homelessness must be accounted for and public information for the past 20 years so that political and community crooks can be charged. A review of past success and failure programs must be scrapped or updated .
    #5. Residents who pay taxes and live paycheck to paycheck are at a breaking point and are starting to use the power of there voice and vote to replace Public Servants who continue to enable this entire disaster that has been created by
    Those that have changed laws to protect the lawless and force the tax paying, paycheck to paycheck, law abiding people who can’t event walk the streets of the city they pay for because they are over run by homeless gangsters sucking the livelyhood of businesses, tourism and
    Forcing 4000 children to be held Hostage in apartments in the tenderloin because it’s unsafe to play outside
    #6anyone living in the street needs to be given a pink slip with a notice that’s states program information for assistance and given a case number assigned to them with the following statement. you have 48hrs to activate your case profile for transitional living assistance if needed, drug addiction, medical assistance if needed and any other resources if needed. If you are currently living in the streets we invite you and incourage u to get help.
    you have been given this notice to act as a registration for assistance safety info for our most vulnerable and aknowledment for assistance and case pending and or act as a statement of refusal of assistance from all public health and welfare agencies and or partners and may this notice further serve to notify and clarify that you have 48 hours to refrain from loitering, standing, sleeping,blocking and or living in areas for the general public ,children,or disabled let this notice clarify you are free to leave within 48 hrs or sooner by order of the people and the Great State Of California anywhere in the world u see fit it but you may not continue to resume in this city, state or county without a transition case opened for you.

  9. Thank you for a genuinely excellent article—detailed, visual, unvarnished, empathetic—about a cluster of problems that have mostly just gotten the superficial sensationalism treatment from national and even (sadly) most local media. This deserves to be seen much more widely than the latest shaky TikTok video of someone stuffing detergent into a bag at Walgreens.

    As bleak as much of this was to read, I take some hope from local community groups like Calle 24 getting involved in reclaiming public space, and from the implementation of the new permit system soon (although given the city’s handling of things thus far, I have my doubts about how well enforced it will be).

  10. They are called “fencers” not “street vendors. They are obviously selling stolen goods. Arrest them and the people buying the goods for possession of stolen property unless they can produce a receipt.

  11. Closing off the plaza was the dumbest move. It’s like they just push people along so they can’t see them. Well what do you know now it’s worse.

  12. No solo la 24th y Mission tiene problemas para mi que en si de la Mission a la potrero la calle 24 no es como hera ahora ya no me siento segura caminando sobre ella otro claro ejemplo es el callejón de Balmy que se supone que es de un solo sentido la calle pero nadie lo respeta ahora lo an hagarrado como parqueadero para ir a comer a la taqueria Vallarta no solo eso aveces hay personas en sus carros con la música alta a las después de media noche ya no hay respeto por nada ni por nadie

    1. Totalmente de acuerdo. Va de mal en peor y Ronen y otra Junta de Supervisores progresista y sus políticas son el problema.

  13. Thank you for the interesting approach to chronicling the high profile area around 24th St. but this is not the only place where this behavior occurs. The Alemany Flea Market has it’s own illegal vending scene where people are selling their mix of legal and illegal wares in the surrounding residential area and then leave our neighborhood covered in trash. I have to call every Monday in order to have DPW clean up their mess. This is one more example that civilty is dead as these vendors don’t care about anyone except themselves, have no connection to these neighorhoods, and know that S.F. will do nothing to stop them. Then we wonder why shoplifting is rampant! No one in City government has helped, the enforcement seems selective and unless it’s a high profile spot no one seems to care. Shame on those who engage in these behaviors, on our City leaders who don’t do anything and the rest of us who don’t hold them to account.

  14. Wow, I was a street artist/craftsperson in the 1970s and we had to PROVE we MADE the crafts we sold or NO permit.
    Now look!

    You won’t see any arts or crafts enterprise in this City while this goes on. The City can’t fix these people’s lives, and does not have an obligation to offer them anything.
    Most are not even residents and are not contributing anything but squalor, criminal enterprise and are a dam nuisance. This may sound hard-hearted, but …Clean it up!

    Brave reporters are our local heroes!

    1. Agree. It is not hard hearted. What is being practiced by the progressives on the BOS is a form of racism….the racism of low expectations. As a result the Mission in crime and filth ridden. Time to kick ass and do something about this.

  15. I was the one the selling the cognac early in the morning.and I had the receipt to show for proof.so not everyone sell stolen goods . You should ask the people who are trying to make a dollar first where they got there stuff before assuming everyone steals. Not everybody is blessed like you that had the opportunity to go to college and have career like you do. If you were in our shoes I guarantee you would be out there with rest of us selling things on 24th or wherever else people go to sell things!and You are lucky that person didn’t break your phone! Your even luckier you didn’t get beat up ! Your putting people’s daily struggles on blast for the rest of the city to see and read..hope that makes you feel good about your self.

    1. Reselling alcohol is a federal crime. You seriously want us to feel sorry for you selling bottles of booze on the street in the morning? Did you check IDs?

      Be glad San Francisco still doesn’t enforce its laws.

    2. It is not OK to threaten this reporter. She is also just doing her job.

      Unlike yours, her job is legal.

      I don’t know how much profit you’re making from reselling booze from Safeway, but practically every business I walk into these days has a Help Wanted sign. If you want a legal job, you can get one. Try any restaurant.

    3. Uh huh. So your business model is:

      1) buy 6 bottles of Hennessy VSOP at $60 each at Safeway to get the 10% 6-bottle discount
      2) arbitrage them for $80 each to alcoholics who are so far gone they don’t know they can walk 5 blocks for a better deal
      3) go home with your $120/day in profit and make no attempt to scale your business beyond half a dozen bottles per day. (Chances are, if your target customer is actually this hardcore that they’re buying street cognac over list price, they’d rather just have something cheaper like Hennessy VS – which would mean your profit is even lower than $120 most likely.)

      99% chance the claim of a legal original purchase is a ridiculous lie, 1% chance it’s true and that you’re merely a vulture picking at the bones of addicts.

  16. “She looks at the grungy plaza the city has fenced off to discourage vending and sees good times ahead. “We will spruce it up, power wash it, repaint,” she says. She envisions free art classes, she hears music.”

    Wow…Delusional.

  17. Thank you, Lydia, for your excellent reporting. You made me feel as though I was there with you, observing the comings and goings and trying to dodge the unwanted shot of my mug.

    It is hard to believe there is much political will any more to enforce even the simplest of laws in this city. This should be the low-hanging fruit in terms of fixes. It costs so much just to live here. We pay high taxes. Our city and county budget is massive for a city of this size. And yet we are left to tolerate so many infringements to our quality of life, safety, basic rights, and sense of decency.

    If something doesn’t change for the better, it’s hard to see how our worn social fabric won’t end up in shreds.

  18. The timeline with supporting visuals clearly captures the issue – thank you Lydia! Wish we knew ‘where the buck stops’ on this one re: enforcement of current codes and laws. And I still remain flabbergast that Calle 24 leadership is facilitating street vending when most of their membership is certainly brick-and-mortar store owners.

  19. Thank you for the diligent reporting Lydia. I’m a bit surprised you didn’t see or mention anything about drug dealing. I took the BART downtown using the NE entrance last week. On my way there, there were 3 guys obviously selling meth/crack near the BART stairs. Then on my way home, one guy opening smoking crack/meth on the staircase, 3-4 guys selling at the top of the stairs, and a passed out drug addict that I had to step over — that was my only choice unless I wanted to get in between the guys buying and selling crack/meth. It’s ridiculous.

    And WTF SFPD? There is a law that you can’t vend within 12 feet of the muni stops. Given the current fencing and the muni stops on both 24th and Mission, they could just put a cop at the corner and every time someone sets up, you tell them to move along. Do. Your. Job.

    1. Greg: I kept to what I saw and I did not see any open drug dealing, but I know that has been reported earlier and was one of the reasons supervisor Ronen wanted to plaza fenced off. The churn and the items sold suggest people were there to make a quick buck. And yes, there are plenty of codes in place to keep the sidewalks clear. When the city wanted to, it cleared the sidewalks. Thanks for reading, Lydia

      1. Thank you for the thoughtful article and attention to this desperate & difficult situation. I live within a couple of blocks and walk through in the morning and evening. I see open use of hard drugs every day, people comatose or nearly so, urinating and dedicating around the station. It is a miserable situation. While fencing (selling goods, not the chain link kind) seems to be the focus of officials there is a clear need for addiction and welfare services. SF is experiencing an expanding welfare and addiction crisis which is has most recently taken root at 24th and Mission.

  20. I loved the time line and how it showed the tide of vendors ebb and flood. My mind says “why do the do it? Because they can”. As always excellent reporting.

  21. A civil rights lawyer should file a class action suit against the City on behalf of all Muni riders who use the stop at the SE corner of Mission and 24th who have had their civil rights to free movement under the ADA deprived because the City refuses to keep the right of way clear.

  22. The real story here is not that SB 946 enabled an explosion of traffic in stolen goods – it’s that police departments are actually incredibly lazy, and entirely refuse to do the work of investigating and shutting down petty property crime. If they had any interest at all in sorting out legal from illegal goods, SB 946 would have been a nothingburger as far as crime was concerned, but the cops won’t do a single thing unless bright-line rules make their job stupidly easy.

    Why it took four years for the city to shift from one bad bright-line rule (“sidewalk vending in and of itself is presumed illegal unless proven otherwise, especially {wink wink} if you are competing with a nearby brick-and-mortar business”) to a more sensible bright-line rule (“you need a permit and proof you aren’t selling stolen stuff”) is anyone’s guess.

  23. Thank you Lydia for your honest reporting. The work you put into this story is more than anyone from City Hall has invested. This is a thorough investigation into the cause and effect of letting the BART plaza go. I wish more news gatherers lived in or near their subjects. The brutal honesty is jaw dropping. Thank you for excellent journalism.

  24. I support the scofflaw vendors and their worn-heeled customers (the latter of which are not much mentioned, but “appear to be immigrants”).

    The whole process is a joke. Fences, DPW cops, administrative tickets .. oh my!

    And btw, that Mongoose retailed at Target for $230. It’s junk.

    1. Which makes it even more obvious that it’s stolen goods. Get a job and pay for things like the rest of us have to do or go move to a commune where everyone works together to share resources.

  25. Once at a bar heard ; “its not cows that are mad its people.”
    In a country where 40% own 94%of the wealth and it is the raft of the Medusa for the 6% allocated for the other 60% complaining about disembarking from a bus is not the style oof Dickens or Zola but the NYT paper of record for the “them that’s got” in all the last wars and wall street engines. My paper of record is Mission Local with folks like Ghandi and UCSF and the people unmentioned anywhere else who feed 14 blocks long of mission residents