New metal fencing has been erected at the 16th St. BART Plaza with the aim of keeping vendors from blocking the plaza, a persistent problem in recent years.
San Francisco Public Works dropped off the barricades on Sept. 12, 15 and 21 at the request of the police department, according to the Public Works spokesperson, Rachel Gordon.
But on Wednesday, the barricades had simply pushed vendors a bit up the street and further narrowed the sidewalk, making access even more difficult.
Instead of availing themselves of the entire plaza, vendors now set up their wares in front of the barricades or on the pavement, reducing space for pedestrians.
Lovefyre Jahworld, who was giving out free cell phones from an American Assistance booth, part of a government program, said he worried about safety hazards in the case of an emergency. Five minutes earlier, he had seen an old man trip over the barricade and fall.
“I’d say it’s for catastrophe, to harm people,” said Jahworld.
“There will be too many people coming in and out, and it’s hard to flow out of here,” he said.
Still, some vendors said that the barricades, which have also been erected at the 24th Street station, coupled with enforcement, had made vending less desirable.
Pinky, a vendor with bright pink hair and a can of pepper spray hanging on her neck, said the fencing would not stop her from setting up — but would make it more difficult.
She began vending at Sixth and Market streets, she said, before coming to the 16th Street BART Plaza four years ago. She was selling clothes, jewelry and a small Christmas tree that had been stored in two suitcases.
“It’s not stopping anybody doing anything; it just makes our lives more difficult,” Pinky said.
The barricades were installed at the behest of the San Francisco Police Department. A police spokesperson said the fencing would address “concerns regarding vendors encroaching on the sidewalk and making it difficult for people to move through the area without obstructions.”
Police added that the move was meant to help access for wheelchair users and facilitate movement during an emergency.
The department said the barricades would stay indefinitely.
Illegal street vendors have become a semi-permanent fixture at the BART plazas since the pandemic began. Vendors, many hawking ill-gotten goods, set up shop at all hours of the day, selling bottles of shampoo, assorted clothing, laundry detergent, and all manner of toiletries, groceries, and items in between.
Particularly at the 24th Street BART Plaza, vendors choke the sidewalk, making pedestrian and wheelchair access difficult.
Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who passed a law last year with other supervisors to push illegally operating vendors away from the 24th Street Plaza, was unaware of the new barricades, her legislative aide Santiago Lerma said.
On Wednesday, the 16th and Mission intersection was still packed with vendors, people waiting for the bus and passers-by receiving flu shots at a vaccination booth.
An older woman in a green fleece jacket laid out her items on a blue tarp: Three onions, one head of lettuce, a bag of green peppers.
Manuel, a vendor with thick silver glasses frames, sold T-shirts and jeans on the other side of the barricades. He said he had a permit to sell, but had to move because of the barricades, regardless.
Hector, wearing a black beanie and pink sweatshirt, was selling next to Pinky.
“No fences are ever really good,” he said. “I like to feel free and have the ability to go out and make money if I want to, but fences are something that holds you back. You gotta go over. It’s an obstacle.”
Despite many calling the 16th Street spot a “shoplifters’ market,” Pinky said a lot of vendors here do not sell stolen goods. “I went out and got stuff from the free list, or donations, or things people have given me. I really try not to shoplift if at all possible.”
She was packing as we spoke, because it was a slow day for her. “I gotta go somewhere else to make some more money.”
It’s been difficult since the barricades here and at 24th Street were installed and police officers are patrolling more, she said.
“At night time, they run us around and move us from spot to spot to spot. It’s absolutely ridiculous, because we are just really trying to survive, you know?”