The new fences meant to discourage vending at 24th and Mission Street saw their first Saturday and Sunday of action, and did not seem to deter illegal vending, but instead just deterred access for folks using wheelchairs, walkers, and strollers.
It was last Wednesday when fences went up at 24h and Mission Street, on both the northeast and southwest corners that have BART station entrances, in an effort to curb illegal vending at those corners that’s been rather rampant these last few months. We initially thought BART was behind these fences, but the transit service has since said they put up the fences “At the request of San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen,” and Ronen confirmed on Twitter Wednesday evening.
While it is never my desire to close public space the situation at 24th & Mission BART plaza has become untenable & is causing problems for the whole neighborhood. It infuriates me to see a once beautiful & vibrant community space overrun by open-air drug markets & vendors (1/4) pic.twitter.com/AoIqUd8J7W— Hillary Ronen (@HillaryRonen) July 21, 2022
The above photo makes the area look nice and clear. But Wednesdays are not the big vending day at that corner; Saturday and Sunday afternoons are when that unauthorized vending bazaar sees the most activity. So SFist spent an hour out there on Saturday and Sunday afternoon this weekend to assess whether the fencing tactic was working at peak hours, and we still saw the same number of vendors as any weekend (12-15 on the northeast corner).
Moreover, the sidewalks at that corner were less accessible than ever before, with vendors cramming into what is normally open pedestrian space. It was an absolute disaster for anyone trying to get through that now-cramped area with a wheelchair, walker, stroller, or laundry cart.
First, the good news: There was less trash around the northeast corner come 5 or 6 p.m. compared to the last few Saturdays and Sundays. And the fences did seem to relocate the drug dealers away from the area (except for the dude on Saturday who had what appeared to be a two-pound bag of kind bud), but we did not see people selling little baggies of white powder to anywhere the degree that had been visible in previous weekends.
But the vendors at that particular corner were almost exclusively the ones selling items that sure do look like they’ve been ripped from the shelves of a Walgreens or CVS. The single notable expectation was the flower vendor right at the corner, who is a longtime staple. But the fence effort, thus far, has not deterred vendors selling what certainly appear to be stolen items.
SFist has taken some guff on social media and in the comment section for saying these items look stolen, with commenters wondering how we know they’re stolen. Well, we clearly see price tags attached to some of these items, often price tags that explicitly name a retailer. And the fact that plastic anti-theft devices are often still attached seems kind of a tell?
In fact, plastic anti-theft devices might be the new discarded syringes at that particular corner. By late in the afternoon, numerous plastic anti-theft devices were strewn about the bus stop at 24th and Mission Streets, a phenomenon we have not observed anywhere else in town before.
And honestly, fence people, what are we doing by fencing off this back area at the southwestern BART station corner? There has never been any vending back here! This seems just carceral intimidation for the sake of carceral intimidation, a sort of “Things are gonna change around here!” announcement in a space that has never seen more than a microscopic smattering of harmless loitering.
SFist can certainly see a vision and a path to legal street vending at 24th and Mission working, and working well. In fact, we see it right across the street at the southwestern corner!
The kind of vendors selling art, handmade crafts, aguas frescas, homemade honey, and hot tamales can truly add to the vibrancy of this corner. They can complement the local retailers by drawing foot traffic to the neighborhood, rather than undercutting the retailers by stealing their shit and selling at 24th and Mission.
We understand this whole thing is a work in progress. SFist has reached out to Supervisor Ronen’s office for comment, and we’ll update this post with any response.
According to BART, the fences will remain to “temporarily narrow the plaza’s public footprint for 60 days to allow time for the city and county of San Francisco to put into place a new street vendor permitting system as part of the city’s new ordinance regulating street vending.” Permitted vending is a new solution that has some difficult kinks to work out, but may provide a model that can be duplicated in other neighborhoods so we don’t see bacon-wrapped hot dog vendors getting busted.
But the fences are thus far unsuccessful at discouraging the resale from the spoils of retail theft. And to “narrow the plaza’s public footprint” has an unintended, though predictable, consequence of blocking access for law-abiding citizens. This is particularly impactful for people with mobility issues, and in a cruel way, that's who is currently being penalized the most for the resale of stolen goods at this well-trafficked corner.
Images: Joe Kukura, SFist