The threat of today’s scheduled permit enforcement at the 24th Street BART Plaza appeared, this morning, to ward off the vast majority of the vendors who typically pack the east plaza sidewalk to sell their goods.
It was day one of the scheduled enforcement, when Public Works and the San Francisco Police Department coordinated to ensure that vendors, including those at the plaza, had their permits — and to ask those without permits to leave. If necessary, they planned to hand out a Notice of Violation or confiscate merchandise but, as of 3:30 p.m., it appeared that none had been confiscated in the Mission.
Enforcement was also focused at UN Plaza and in Chinatown, said Rachel Gordon, the director of policy and communications for Public Works. It’s scheduled six days a week with no end date at this point, she added.
Forty-one permits to sell items were issued as of Sept. 12, Gordon said.
There were few vendors to check at the BART plaza this morning. Most remained along Mission Street, which has also become a destination for them.
But the plaza itself was nearly empty.
“We came up here — we were like, ‘Wow,’” said BART police officer C. Hughes, who often puts in 12-hour shifts, at around 9 a.m.
“This is unusual,” added his coworker N. Lazzaria, who patrols with Hughes.
At 8:45 a.m, one person was selling merchandise on the plaza. Over the next hour, a rotating handful of vendors without visible permits — usually, fewer than five — were present at the plaza.
“Word got out,” said a man who spent his morning on the plaza to watch for enforcement. He said there were around five vendors on the east plaza and fewer on the west plaza at 7 or 7:30 a.m., but they’d cleared out before 9 a.m.
From 9 to 9:15 a.m., two people were selling toothpaste, makeup and a television without visible permits on the northeast plaza.
The number peaked at 9:45 a.m., when there were seven vendors selling Jarritos boxes on a dolly, along with toothpaste, makeup, a television, Clorox wipes, and other items.
When an SFPD van parked at 9:50 a.m., the vendors on the plaza without visible permits began to disperse and, in a matter of minutes, none remained.
At 10:15 a.m., the two Public Works staffers walked in a loop with three police officers behind them. They walked north on Mission Street to 23rd Street and then returned to Mission and 24th streets.
During the morning hours, Public Works employees asked two sellers to leave with their merchandise until they each had a permit.
In one instance, the staffers spoke Spanish with a vendor who was a wide range of items: Backpacks, Monster energy drinks, chocolate bars. The interaction appeared amicable.
“We were asked to leave and not come back unless we have a permit,” said one of the two merchants, Stella, as she packed up.
The interaction followed Public Works guidelines. Gordon said that staffers ask people who sell goods to show their permit and tell those without a permit how to obtain one. (Public Works staffers at the plaza directed questions from Mission Local to Gordon).
Those selling goods in the public right-of-way without a permit are given an opportunity to pack up and leave, Gordon said.
If they do not, staff may issue a Notice of Violation, and goods could be confiscated, Gordon said. Police are expected to be on hand if the staff need their assistance, she added.
Gordon said that if a vendor doesn’t have a permit, they could still be handed a Notice of Violation even if it’s the first time in the day. This would disincentivize sellers without permits who are told to leave from simply showing up on another day.
Asked about SFPD’s process, Lt. M. Bonilla said that police were there “strictly to support” Public Works.
SFPD told Mission Local that daily police officer deployment will vary, depending on the needs requested by Public Works. The police department’s priority is to protect Public Works employees who enforce the legislation requiring permits, and the police will only take action if a criminal act occurs, the department stated.
SFPD added that only Public Works has the authority to enforce the legislation on permits, and the police will not confiscate vending materials — that would be up to Public Works.
In the afternoon, the exchanges picked up.
From 2 to 3:30, as they circled Mission Street from 24th to 20th streets, the Public Works staffers told around 10 people they needed to disperse, the majority of them near El Farolito.
The staffers appeared to let vendors stay if they had a permit or were in the process of obtaining one. If not, the staffers explained how to obtain one, often referring them to Calle 24, a nonprofit helping vendors through the permitting process. They also gave the vendors a flyer that listed resources to guide them toward getting a permit.
After asking a seller to pack their merchandise, the staffers would generally wait around to ensure that sellers without permits left.
Most communications between the staffers and the sellers appeared respectful from both sides, and several sellers who were asked to leave described their interactions with the workers as friendly.
“I was actually impressed how nice they were,” said Kayla, one of the people selling merchandise on Mission Street, as she packed up. “I thought they were going to be rude. I thought I was in trouble.”
By 3:30 p.m., the plaza was empty of vendors.
Gwendolyn Johnson, an older woman who walks with a cane, was glad to see a more manageable plaza. Johnson said the vendors would block her path as she walked to and from the bus.
“Literally walking through here like this, with it being clear, I feel comfortable, because [before], I almost tripped four or five times,” she said.
The San Francisco native also misses walking and playing ball with her dog at the plaza, which had become all but impossible.
“When you’re walking through, people acted like they didn’t see you,” Johnson said. “I’m like, ‘Excuse me, excuse me.’ I have a deep voice. So if I’m saying, ‘Excuse me’ … you’re going to see and hear me.”
Yet, she said, to others, it was like she didn’t exist.
“How can you sell things out here, yet you’re not paying attention to the people around here?” she said.
As he waited for a bus, San Francisco resident Rickey said he also preferred the plaza as it was that morning.
“It was just too many people (before), and I knew … that stuff was stolen. I didn’t want to get involved in any of it,” he said. “It looks good (this morning). It should stay this way. People are trying to have a business, and it’s like they can’t have their business because you end up stealing their stuff and come down here to sell it.”
Two younger people, who went by Aves and Nova Star, expressed concerns over the emptier plaza in the morning.
“People here selling … it’s their lifestyle — it’s their livelihood,” Aves said. “So, it sucks that they took that away, and this is a pretty busy hub.”
Brandon, a man who was selling several tools and a suitcase with a television, said the northeast plaza looked nice, compared to how it usually looks.
“People are willing to get the permit, you know,” he said. “You have good people out here.”