Participants in a small group discussion.
Participants in a small group discussion. Taken by Feb. 9, 2023. Photo by Andrew Brobst.

Everything was on the table at Thursday’s community meeting focused on how to improve the ambiance of the BART plazas at 24th and Mission Street, including greater restrictions on permitted vendors.

This comes as a response to the persistence of illegal vending, which everyone at the meeting, organized by a coalition of local nonprofits and held at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, agreed is bad for the plaza and the community.

Community members are frustrated that the employees who are supposed to be limiting illegal activity are not.

 “Public Works hides, cops don’t get out of their cars,” said William Ortiz-Cartagena, founder and treasurer of CLECHA, a nonprofit that supports Latinx entrepreneurs.

Ortiz-Cartagena presenting at the meeting. Taken Feb. 9, 2023. Photo by Andrew Brobst.

This leaves some feeling that the only solution is to redirect the Mission’s 112 permitted vendors away from the plaza. Several participants, many of whom identified themselves as Mission business owners, suggested changes to the ways permitted vendors operate: That they should operate markets in parking lots, or be given assistance to move into brick-and-mortar spaces.

“There’s no hierarchy, we’re all out there to do business and survive,” said Ryen Motzek, president of the Mission Merchants Association, about those operating legitimate vending businesses. But he also suggested that perhaps only crafts and artisan products should be allowed to be sold on the street, as it’s too difficult to distinguish stolen from purchased merchandise. 

Susana Rojas, executive director of Calle 24, spoke in support of the permitted vendors. “Those of us from the Mission know we’ve had vendors all along.”

Calle 24 director Susana Rojas speaking at the meeting. Taken Feb. 9, 2023. Photo by Andrew Brobst.

This desire to get rid of all vendors isn’t new, said Rojas. The nonprofit supported last year’s ordinance for vending because it was receiving concerned emails from wealthy Mission residents who wanted to ban street vending in the Mission altogether.

In a conversation prior to the meeting, Rojas said that she thinks there needs to be greater efforts to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate vendors.

“Let’s not clump everyone under one term,” she said. “There are those who are permitted and who have been doing this for years. And there are those from vulnerable circumstances who come here to make a quick buck.”

Almost a year after the permit ordinance was passed last March, Rojas believes that we’ve reached the limits of its ability to address activity in the plaza.

“People who were ready to engage in the permit process have done so,” she said. “Now what we’re dealing with is people in vulnerable circumstances who need other types of support.”

By the end of the night, the attitude among the 30 or so who attended the meeting seemed to be, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” with participants calling for the community to “occupy” the plaza with music, performances, and resources alongside the permitted vending.

They also agreed that the plazas need more supervision, through ambassadors and street cleaners. Nightly street cleaning was framed as a form of supervision, and ambassadors must be willing to clean, participants argued.

In terms of the illegal vending, Mission residents said they want to see more from the people who are already supposed to be looking out for them, including supervisors, city departments, and city employees on the streets.

Valerie Tulier-Laiwa, Coordinator of the Latino Task Force and the meeting’s facilitator, said that the Department of Public Works, BART, and Supervisor Hillary Ronen’s office will all be invited to the next meeting.

The theater at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts. Taken Feb. 9, 2023. Photo by Andrew Brobst.

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Christina grew up in Brooklyn and moved to the Bay in 2018. She studied Creative Writing and Earth Systems at Stanford.

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7 Comments

  1. The original complaint was that the area behind the bus stop at 24th & Mission heading north was too crowded for pedestrians, and I agree that it was. For weeks now however, the area has been easy to walk through, so now the complaints about it should be dropped.

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  2. Rod – I share your concern. Maybe Calle 24 did a financial background ck on the residents?

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  3. More importantly, what are we gonna do about the christian fundamentalist that monopolize the public space and yell at us from amplified mics? (BTW I’m Catholic. A crappy one but nonetheless…)

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  4. Any dope fiend thief can off their wares there. Recently as the bus arrived at 24th a young black male got off holding a Safeway hand basket full of steaks and began selling where he stood. The crowds provide effective camouflage for the people there that sell fentanyl (another reason you have so many people there selling whatever they can-the dope’s right there) which isn’t even mentioned in this article.

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  5. How does the Calle 24 representative know that the emails from people wanting to ban the vendors all together are wealthy? Or is that a misreporting?

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  6. There is really no need to allow any outdoor street vendors of retail items. There are plenty of available spaces in the Mission that could be converted into indoor arcades with small retail booths. They could be rented for a low price, or even given provided by the city at no charge to permitted individuals / operations. Or, you could even build actual retail stalls at the BART station – but the key is that they are assigned spaces with a permit to operate. If a person is not capable of navigating this kind of system, they have some other kind of problem (e.g. goods are stolen, mental health issue, homeless, drug addict), or the operation is simply not profitable enough to survive. Believe it or not, we as a society actually can choose not to endure a bunch of scavengers and serial shoplifters cluttering up our streets, and causing legit businesses to close, simply because it is a lifestyle they prefer.

    I think it probably is reasonable to continue to allow some number of permitted food vendors outside, if they are using cooking equipment.

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