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.
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.”
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.