Public Works staffers hand a woman a flyer about how to obtain a permit to sell merchandise
Two Public Works employees tell a woman selling merchandise on 24th Street off of Mission Street that she must leave until she acquires permit to sell goods and then hand her a flyer about how to obtain one. (Photo by David Mamaril Horowitz. Mission Local)

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.

Enforcement 

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.

Pedestrian reactions

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.”

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David Mamaril Horowitz

David’s one of those San Francisco natives who gets excited whenever City College is mentioned. He has journalism degrees from there and San Francisco State University, graduating from the latter in May 2021. In college, David played five different roles as an editor at student news publications and reported as an intern for three local newspapers, mostly while waiting tables at the Alamo Drafthouse. His first job was at Mitchell's Ice Cream.

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  1. But it’s too late to save Big Lots which was a main supplier to the thieves selling at the plaza. If only they did this months ago. I sure miss Big Lots!

  2. Sadly, some of these criminals have moved their fencing operations onto residential streets in working-class areas of the Mission, such as my own. It’s quite distressing to see the children trying to navigate their scooters around piles of stolen goods and people peddling fentanyl openly and turning tricks in the tents that line the sidewalks of our one-block long street. I think the laws of the city need to be enforced universally – not just in the wealthy neighborhoods.

  3. “Support” equates to three people with sidearms and qualified immunity. DPW was never going to be enough of a threat, which is why SFPD was surreptitiously written into the legislative script:

    “Department. The Department of Public Works.
    Director. The Director of the Department of Public Works or the Director’s designee.
    Enforcement Official. Officers, employees, and contractors of the Department, and of such other departments and agencies of the City that the Director authorizes to assist in carrying out enforcement functions in a Memorandum of Understanding or otherwise.”

  4. Well done, Public Works and SFPD!!! Wow, I never thought I’d say those words. . . glad to be wrong! I love this partnership. The SFPD should be a back-up for every other department trying to enforce city laws instead of being in the front line of every issue. This is an excellent example of how it should be done.

  5. They are pushing everyone to the side streets. They are taking up residency at the public library on 24th & Bartlett (now abandoned & not managed by the city or library) & up & dwn Bartlett. I wish you’d walk the neighborhood & see how this has impacted the area and not two blocks.

  6. Let’s check back in a few weeks to see if this holds.

    On a different note, at risk this might be considered splitting hair (it’s not): The folks who attempt to move stolen wares (fencing operations) are not vendors who offer “their goods”. These are somebody else’s.

  7. Doug has it right. People that steal from Walgreens and then sell it a few blocks away are not welcome. I would rather buy fresh flowers, homemade tamales and traditional items from permit holders. I want the Old Mission back not the NewTenderloin. Shoplifters beware. Go peddle stolen goods elsewhere.

    1. I personally would LOVE to buy homemade tamales from locals who make them in their homes.

      I’ve never seen them on the street, but usually I avoid that nasty intersection unless I have to use BART. Imagine a clean, uncrowded intersection with a few vendors of tamales, flowers, fruit with chile powder, elote, and bacon-wrapped hot dogs (they’re inevitable, why fight it) — and nobody selling stolen toothpaste. We can have that!

      1. We can, as long as MEDA, Calle 24, HOMEY and Latino Task Force don’t peddle their racist propaganda, and act like a crackdown on crime is somehow disenfranchising the Latino community. These City-funded nonprofits are a cancer on the Mission.

  8. Wait — it’s possible for the city of San Francisco to use police to control the streets?

    OMG who knew???????

  9. Campers!

    The sellers are responsible for paying the correct amount of collected sales tax from the purchasers and sending that money to the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration. If the seller does not remit the taxes, they are then subject to additional tax charges, applicable penalties, and interest charges.

    I seriously doubt these sellers are collecting sales tax and forward it to Sacramento.

    Go Giants!
    Go Niners!

  10. Hi. This is an incredibly positive piece! Wow. A couple SFPD sources, a couple Public Works sources, and some “pedestrian reactions”. Reading this, one would never think that poor Black and Brown folks and unhoused folks are being displaced and punished in the mission and specifically at 24th plaza. You wouldn’t know about the fences that have been erected and removed after protests from community. You wouldnt have the context of the larger picture here, which is that poor and unhoused san feancisans have been pushed so far to
    The margins that they can only acquire basic goods via these grey market outlets, in a city that has forgotten about them, and only caters the the rich and wealthy interests: I.e., this news outlet “mission local” which ONLY prints pro-police, pro-gentrifier BS. This is horrible “reporting”. Did you say “well I could do actual reporting and be somewhat analytical and investigative and critical of the City’s response here…but nah let’s just stop here and make things easy for the cops and Hilary Ronen!” BS.

    1. “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.”

      They should park there 24/7 whether police officers are present or not. The threat is all that’s needed to get rid of criminals and people to stupid to get a permit.

    2. It’s discouraging that people who want to live in a safe and clean neighborhood are attacked as if there is something wrong with them wanting that.

    3. Z, the only way I knew about what was going on with the fences at the plaza was because of Mission Local’s reporting. They’ve done in-depth reporting about every single topic you claim they “wouldn’t know about”. If you’re going to scream into the void, at least be accurate about what you’re screaming about.

  11. “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.”

    Those selling stolen Walgreen, Safeway, CVS, local small business stores merchandise, etc , are not welcome.

    1. No fooling…..”Most remained along Mission Street, which has also become a destination for them.” So they just moved two blocks way. I’m no fan of huge corporations & their crappy products but selling stolen goods is still —-selling stolen goods.