The initial success of the vendor permitting system felt a little fragile, and while illegal vendors are only returning in small numbers, a few are testing the boundaries and encountering little blowback.
The relatively recent transformation of the 24th and Mission Street BART station plaza into a rampant illegal vending bazaar has spawned a few attempts to manage the situation; some of them successful, others complete failures. The placement of chain-link fences all over the plaza accomplished nothing except blocking sidewalk access, until protesters eventually tore the fences down themselves. But when permit enforcement of some new vendor permitting legislation kicked in on September 13, the plaza initially cleaned up remarkably well.
But now nearly ten days later, some cracks are starting to show. All of the photos in this post are from today, Thursday, September 22 at about 1 p.m., where a couple vendors selling what are clearly stolen goods — some with price tags still attached —could be seen challenging the new truce (SFist observed three such vendors out there on Wednesday). We knew the initial success might not last, and clearly a few vendors who’d been driven off are testing the waters to return.
One vendor seen Thursday had visible retail-store price tags on nearly all of their items. As someone who frequently shops in the neighborhood, I’d peg these as Grocery Outlet Bargain Market price tags.
The situation is hardly “out of control,” and thus far there have only been two or three unpermitted vendors at a time, where there had previously been more than a dozen on a regular basis. We did observe two SFPD officers present, though really just providing presence, and this seems consistent with the plan to leave the enforcement to Public Works (whom we did not see there) and only have SFPD intervene in troublesome escalations.
To be fair, the system is still largely working. Six of the eight vendors Thursday were the legal, permitted types. The items above might appear to be ripped from a retail shelf, but this vendor clearly has the official Calle 24 tablecloth-signage that many of the permitted vendors have been using.
And yes, that is an official City and County of San Francisco seal on the tablecloth. Again, the vendors out there are largely playing by the rules.
Many are the kinds of vendors you want to see out there, who do add vibrancy to the corner selling flowers, aguas frescas, and hand-jarred honey.
SFist cannot confirm this Wednesday Reddit post claiming “24th street vendors are back in force. Saw someone selling many unrefrigerated steaks.” And we would not say they’re “back in force,” they’re more “back in onesies and twosies.” But as far as the unrefrigerated steaks, this is plausible, based on graffiti SFist observed there Wednesday night (seen above, it’s still visible today) hawking “filet mignon $5.00 / each.” You’ll notice in the upper right, they’re also selling “Star Wars toys.” But honestly, if someone’s out there selling their old vintage Star Wars action figures, we can totally get behind that.
We realize this is an exceedingly difficult situation to manage. Supervisor Hillary Ronen has tried a million solutions before the vending enforcement kicked in, and that enforcement initially did the trick. But it's too early to spike the football.
If word gets out that the enforcement is lax (or non-existent), then more and more of the displaced illegal vendors are going to try their old tricks again. And we’d hate to see the corner turn into, in the words of former Star Wars toy Obi-Wan Kenobi, a “wretched hive of scum and villainy.”
Images: Joe Kukura, SFist