As sidewalk bazaars of items that “fell off a truck” crowd Mission Street and Civic Center, the Board of Supervisors just passed a bill to regulate and permit vendors to keep the stolen stuff out.
It’s pretty easy to connect the dots between viral videos of shoplifting at Walgreens and street vendors selling items clearly stolen from chain retailers, like the image seen above. Sure, some neighborhoods may not be thrilled with bacon-wrapped hot dog carts and people selling bottles of beer from a cooler on the sidewalk. But the obviously hot merchandise markets operating along Mission Street and at U.N. Plaza in Civic Center are a different animal entirely, and clearly part of the organized retail theft ecosystem.
And that’s why the Board of Supervisors took up a measure Tuesday afternoon to implement permits and regulatory requirements for street vendors, according to the Chronicle. And that vending permit legislation passed the board unanimously, 11-0 Tuesday afternoon, requiring permits for street vending, and vendors will have to show proof that they own the items they’re selling.
“This is heavily tied to the brazen and organized retail theft that we’ve seen in the city,” Supervisor Ahsha Safaí told the Chronicle. “We believe by having this, it will force a lot of the people that are taking these stolen items showing up on the street to disperse. We believe that it will be a great suppression tool.”
Enforcement would be handled by Public Works, who are looking to hire 14 inspectors at a cost of $2.15 million to enforce the permit compliance. In terms of permit fees, there would be waivers for people who are facing financial hardships, and truly selling their own stuff. (Or the old ladies who sell generic groceries they got through charities in order to buy stuff they want?)
“Only folks selling new and labeled items will be required to show proof of ownership, so that we do not interrupt the sale of used goods,” Supervisor Hillary Ronen said before the vote. “All fines and fees associated with the permits may be reduced or eliminated altogether based on the individual’s ability to pay. And there will be a 48-hour opportunity to cure any violation before a fee is assessed, or a confiscation takes place.”
A Saturday walk down the Mission Street stretch of Ronen’s district will present you with a number of street vendors, selling items both stolen and not stolen. Some of these individuals are making an honest living, albeit under the table. Though there are also individuals, like a fellow the Chronicle spoke to, who flat out told a reporter that “he stole the goods from stores,” and “Proceeds from the sales help support his drug habit.”
Will vendor permitting legislation “crack down” on organized retail theft? I am not holding my breath. Best case scenario, you will clean up some street blight, and surely Mission Street storefronts and the Civic Center Farmers’ Markets would appreciate their customers having more space to walk (and fewer… externalities confronting them).
But there are excellent reasons to believe that many, if not most stolen items are ending up Amazon and eBay, and that lax vetting on those platforms enables rampant shoplifting in the name of Silicon Valley growth. That’s probably not something the San Francisco Board of Supervisors can solve. And even with the smartest local shoplifting deterrents in place, the ease of selling hot merchandise over online marketplaces might steal this legislations thunder.
Image: Joe Kukura, SFist