24th Street Bart Plaza
24th Street Bart Plaza. Photo by Yujie Zhou. Taken Aug. 21.

The northeast BART Plaza at 24th and Mission streets was again fence-free on Sunday, and crowded with vendors while BART and Muni riders struggled to make their way through the crowds. 

“We feel like, ‘You have freedom,’” said Raul, who was accompanying his friend to sell clothes at the plaza. “This is supposed to be public. If you don’t have nobody, it’s like you’re in jail.” 

The fences that have cordoned off the northeast plaza since mid-July were taken down sometime between Friday night and 6 a.m. on Saturday morning, according to BART spokesperson Alicia Trost. So far, no individual or group has claimed responsibility for the removal. 

As of 4 p.m. Sunday, the dismantled fences were still neatly stacked in one corner of the square. The southwest plaza remained fenced off.

Trost said it was unclear who removed the fences, but that “it appears the group is related to this: @ missiondefence_sf.” That Instagram page is public and belongs to the group Mission DeFENCE Coalition.

The fences were set up in mid-July at the request of Supervisor Hillary Ronen in an effort to combat illegal vending, trash, graffiti and crowding that had become commonplace at the plaza over the past year. They were designed to limit the crowds, cut down on vendors selling stolen goods, and allow BART and Muni passengers the sidewalk space to maneuver home or to work. 

In the meantime, the city was working on a permitting system that launched on Friday and requires all street vendors to obtain a permit by Sept. 12.

The dismantled fences are neatly stacked in one corner of the square. Photo by Yujie Zhou. Taken Aug. 21.

But on Sunday, vendors were thrilled that the fences were down, and few seemed to know anything about the permitting system. Some supporters of the fence-free plaza who passed out leaflets on Sunday appeared to be hostile to the idea of permits. 

“What we want is, basically, a people’s plaza,” said Jas, 27, a supporter of the Mission DeFENCE Coalition, which she described as a mix of vendors and Mission residents. “We want the space to be used as it’s always been used: Publicly. I grew up here in the Mission. This space always had people just working their way up, you know what I mean? Trying to work your way out of poverty.” 

While there have, in the past, been some vendors at the plaza, and for a period of time there was an organized weekend market on the southwestern plaza, it is only in the last year that the plaza and the sidewalks surrounding it have become covered with vendors, many selling stolen goods. 

The supporters of the fences coming down declined to give their full names, because they did not want the city or police to identify them.

Nevertheless, about five of them handed out leaflets on Sunday, listing their objections to the fences and the permitting system. “First they built fences around the plaza. … Permits are just a way for the city to push vendors out by charging them more & more $. … This will literally force Black and brown workers out of the Mission. …Vendor permits are just going to make it harder for people to make a living.”

Susana Rojas, the executive director of Calle 24, has been working with 45 vendors to help them prepare for the permitting process. In late July, however, she said that few of the vendors she was working with were at the plazas, because of safety concerns. 

(UPDATE) Rojas said Monday morning that she was not familiar with the activists on the plaza but she encouraged them to come to the town hall on Tuesday. “We want to be respectful, because everyone has the right to their opinion and to protest,” said Rojas. “We hope that a lot of the community comes with different points of view.”

Rojas said she will be submitting the paperwork for 50 vendors tomorrow, and asking for fee waivers on all 50. The community, she said, has been too affected to pay a $430 fee.

She said Calle 24 is focusing on the sidewalks along Mission Street from 25th to 23rd streets, and that the BART Plazas will not be open to vendors until BART releases its permits. (END UPDATE)

The town hall will be held on Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Capp and 24th Street site where the Latino Task Force collaboration with the University of California, San Francisco, called Unidos en Salud, has been dispensing Covid-19 tests, vaccinations and boosters for more than a year. 

Ofelia Torres, who has been a vendor selling clothes at the plaza for four months, said it was “much better” without the fences.  “Like a free market on Sundays,” she said. 

When asked if she would be applying for a permit, she appeared confused saying she had applied “three months ago.” It is possible that she has been working with Calle 24 in getting her paperwork together. 

Almost all the vendors Mission Local spoke to knew nothing about the permitting system, though they all said they would try to get one when they had the opportunity.

It’s unclear how long it will take vendors to get a permit. The city’s webpage on the permits explains that vendors will be able to sell “merchandise like clothes, electronics or souvenirs, prepackaged food and things you make.” Not allowed: alcohol and food “that is not prepackaged.” 

The permits will cost $430, but waivers are available. Also vendors must have a seven-digit business account number, which means it must be a registered business. 

M.J., 28, another supporter of Mission DeFENCE Coalition, squatted in the middle of the plaza painting a banner proclaiming, “No more fences. No more walls. No more borders.” Photo by Yujie Zhou. Taken Aug. 21.

This is the second time these fences have been torn down. After they were first removed on Aug. 10, officials from the city government restored them the same day. The police and local officials attempted to put the fence back up during the day on Saturday, but were stopped by some people present, according to Lincoln Barajas, 15, who was looking after two booths with his mom, who has sold flowers at the plaza for 20 years.

“I think it’s good. It gives us more space,” said Barajas.

The fences erected over the past month didn’t stop the family from selling. “We tried to put our stuff right next to the fence, where they (the passers-by) could still pass,” Barajas said. “It was kind of bad, because every time somebody stopped to look at stuff, it would get crowded in one spot.” 

M.J., 28, another supporter of Mission DeFENCE Coalition, squatted in the middle of the plaza, painting a banner that proclaimed, “No more fences. No more walls. No more borders.”

“The fences never should’ve been here. This is a community place,” said M.J.

But many in the community, including vendors, according to Rojas, were avoiding the plaza because of the chaotic conditions. In large part, the fences failed to change those conditions, because vendors simply packed in along the sidewalk and against the Muni stops. 

Trost wrote in an email on Sunday that the fences would not go back up tonight. “We’ve notified Supervisor Ronen they were taken down, as the fences were put in place at her request.”

Ronen’s office hasn’t replied to Missions Local’s request for comment, as of Sunday evening.

Lydia Chávez contributed to this story.

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REPORTER. Yujie Zhou is our newest reporter and came on as an intern after graduating from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. She is a full-time staff reporter as part of the Report for America program that helps put young journalists in newsrooms. Before falling in love with the Mission, Yujie covered New York City, studied politics through the “street clashes” in Hong Kong, and earned a wine-tasting certificate in two days. She’s proud to be a bilingual journalist. Follow her on Twitter @Yujie_ZZ.

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  1. “BART and Muni riders struggled to make their way through the crowds”

    This situation is claimed to have bee the case before the fences went up, but I only experienced it after the fences squeezed people into a smaller space.

    I was there this morning and had no problem getting through the “crowd.”

  2. My biggest concern with the vendors is that they have completely taken over the sidewalk at the corner and you can’t barely walk past without stepping into the street. God forbid you have a wheelchair. I think it would be nice to have a good market there in the same way it seems to be working at the station just across from the one in question. Can we all agree that we can do with our the preachers on megaphones on the weekend?

  3. I truly don’t get the framing that this has taken on the website. The constant complaining of people selling stuff on the streets when we’ve been through a pandemic that hit the mission hard, housing prices are through the roof and people are just trying to make a living is ridiculous. At the same time, one street over at Valencia around 17th, people selling stuff in the middle of the street is celebrated because it’s “vintage” and the people selling and buying it are white. Do they have permits as well??? Come on, let’s be consistent here. The flourishing of public spaces like closing off Valencia should be celebrated of course but 24th bart should still be open for people to sell their wares not fenced off because some dont like who does the selling. Those fences are discriminatory. There should be outreach to help out drug users that frequent it but, at the same time, we should be encouraging the market at 24th not slapping a 400 dollars fee to participate in it.

  4. >”Ronen’s office hasn’t replied to Missions Local’s request for comment, as of Sunday evening.”

    Telling, she’s got nothin’. And what about her aide, Santiago Lerma, who set up a vendor stand in college and was talking such a big game? It’s like this project was custom tailored for him. From his LinkedIn:

    “As president [student government association] I focused on improving the student experience and brokered a deal to bring the first food vendor to open a small stand inside the campus and arranged for the infrastructure upgrades necessary to accommodate the business.”

    From ML a month ago:

    “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.”

    >>>>————–>

    Scofflaws/Activists – 1
    Ronen/Lerma – 0

  5. This is a bart train/bus station, not a plaza to sell stuff and do drugs.
    Small businesses have to pay tons of money to rent spaces and to the city for permits and it is just not fair to see all of these people just destroying everything they touch. I am not generalizing, I know good people are selling with good potential to bring something good to the community so yes help them but the rest “come on” it is obvious to see who they are.
    This situation is out of control, mission street is becoming too dirty with no space to walk. If there are no rules they will multiply it is a plague and it will go up to the nicest streets we have still left like for example “Valencia st.”
    Please stop this otherwise Mission street will become a “flea criminal market”

    1. Exactly.
      Here’s something to think about everybody. What if the cartels are pushing the whole situation? Paying people like DeFENCE to test the resolve of Hillary Ronen and Bevan Dufty on the BART board. Oh my. This new permit system better play out as hoped for. I predict more chaos, completely drowning out all the good meaning but hopelessly flawed efforts. We may have a war over the Mission on our hands, we just don’t know or want to admit it yet.

  6. Was there late afternoon Sunday, and how quickly did things revert. Drugees on both sides propped up against the station walls no longer fenced off. In front about 15 ft from the Plaza del Pueblo sign, a guy’s bent over in a heroin/fentanyl stupor–and amazingly has not lost his balance. What a contrast to the still fenced off SW plaza with actual vendor stands. But yes, the NE plaza’s back — another day, another victory.

  7. Interesting that there’s no mention or acknowledgement of drug dealers posing as “vendors”. If the loudest voices who claim to support and love the Mission spoke up against dealing poison to the community, they might have an ounce of credibility. Corruption is everywhere…

    1. The problem here is that people like DoggtownDro think the drug trade is a legitimate upstanding business and a contribution to the “community”.

  8. “The People”. I fear those who use this covert phrase, more that Fascists, Nazis or even Republicans.

    1. Agreed. The people behind this and the People’s Park standoff love to use Maoist rhetoric. You have to wonder why they don’t try to emigrate to the PRC?

    2. Exactly. Self-righteous bullies who are the first to cry racism while clueless to their own. As “community-building” as the megaphone street preachers.

  9. These DeFENCE people are not even from the Mission, or San Francisco. One of them “DoggTown Dro” is an anti-police instigator just getting views on his Instagram page. If you talked to the actual community who live, work, and use the Bart Plaza, they want the people selling stolen shit and shooting up drugs to leave. They want the Senora selling flowers and the man selling his tamales to stay. The community wants to go to McDonalds or take their kids to Buena Vista Horace Mann and Cesar Chavez Elementary without seeing people selling stolen deodorant from Walgreens to make a quick buck to feed their drug habit, who then proceed to shoot up in the same plaza.

    Get The F*ck outta here for speaking for people who DO WANT to use the bus and walk by with their families in peace. These DeFENCE people need to find a new cause du jour, this fence was never a border wall. Come on.

  10. Fence or no fence, something needs to be done about the vendors selling clearly stolen goods all along Mission Street. It’s gotten out of control. There’s no reason to give these people the same latitude as, say, someone selling flowers or homemade tacos when they contribute nothing to our community, detract from the public commons and perpetuate a culture of lawlessness.

    Coming from a family that runs a small business, I’m all for easing permit restrictions, but I don’t think legitimizing urban blight like this is the solution either. No “culture” or “community” is being preserved by allowing people to sell stolen Tide pods outside the 24th St BART Plaza for 3 bucks. Anyone pretending otherwise is delusional.

  11. I just take things from vendors for free if they look like stolen items from stores. You cannot steal something that is already stolen. At that point, it’s up for grabs. The plaza is there to provide for the people so have at it!

  12. This shit’s COINTELPRO right here. How to pick the least sympathetic elements and lash progressive politics to that which appalls and alienates a majority of the electorate to ensure continued conservative rule.

    1. Marcos,

      I agree and it’s in the ‘voice’ of the respondents isn’t it ??

      The way the plaza should look is as it looks across the street where brick and mortar retail outlets have extended onto the sidewalks on both sides cause the walks are wide and they fit and it forms the most amazing corridor of brightly colored stacked goods on both sides for at least a block and it is so beautiful and I have photos below these words about them.

      So, don’t reinvent the wheel, just copy what’s across street.

  13. If people really feel like the plaza is their community’s space and that they should be able to do whatever they want there, then they need to stop littering etc. and help keep the place cleaner. It’s pretty disgusting these days, speaking as a Virgo. The idea of buying or even touching those questionable items laid out on the ground gives me the willies.

      1. Like… somewhere cleaner?

        What a ridiculous response; telling someone to leave SF if they don’t like things the way they are.

        Is wanting public space to be clean and not smell like piss so bad?

      2. @J. Oliver might be running your favorite taqueria around the corner. Once small businesses pull up their sticks they’re not coming back.