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.
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.
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.