Vendors and the city are playing cat and mouse on the fenced 24th Square



While the southwest plaza looked tidy, the northeast plaza still had crowded vendors

On Wednesday, BART erected a fence surrounding the BART plazas on 24th Street at the request of Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who has led a campaign to prevent overcrowding and illegal sales.

A day after its installation, many sellers are unmoved.

The northeast plaza, where the majority of illegal selling and overcrowding occurs, remained fenced off. But some 10 vendors lined up just outside the fence, crowding the sidewalk as it had been before. In contrast, the southwest plaza seemed orderly and tidy. Mission Local visited both several times during the day.

As early as 8 a.m., a reporter spotted at least five people settling along the northeast sidewalk, an area meant to remain clear — a requirement of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It was not until Public Works staff and police arrived around 1 p.m. to enforce the Disability Act that two or three vendors packed their wares into suitcases and carts and fled. About 7-10 vendors remained, allegedly waiting for their henchmen and leaning along the fence.

“These people are waiting for the police to leave,” said Santiago Lerma, a Ronen legislative aide. Still, Lerma visited the square on Wednesday night, and he thinks fewer people were “hanging around” than before thanks to the fence.

Ronen said she didn’t expect much progress after just one day. She hopes, however, that law enforcement led by city staff will eventually restore the square to the “vibrant…passable” zone it used to be.

“It’s an iterative process, and we’re taking it as we go,” Ronen said. “Right now, I know [vendors] are outside the fence. It cannot be.

Public works personnel are required to visit the 24th Street plaza twice a week to enforce the ADA law, Lerma said. Police officers will also be present when Public Works asks vendors to leave, although Public Works will direct law enforcement operations. “It’s a community space used by elders and children. We want to make sure everyone feels safe,” Lerma said.

“We’re not trying to criminalize sellers,” Ronen said. “We want to go back to what we had before: Where people from all over Latin America sold all their goods [like] paletas and pupusas, and people could get to the bus stop without a hitch.

Ronen’s office is also in discussions with Mission Street business owners who could open their stores to host an “indoor flea market” to help vendors who want a fixed location to sell.

The fence sparked controversy among some neighborhood residents. Some have called the fence a barrier to a vibrant public space that deprives longtime vendors of a source of income. Others praised the supervisor for addressing the dangerous conditions of the place. The 10 vendors lined up in the northeast plaza at 11 a.m. selling everything from bongs to vintage video cameras.

In the Northeast Square, police officers cleared vendors selling open cans and bottles of liquor at the bus station on Mission Street. Susana Rojas, the executive director of Calle 24, was on hand with her staff, reminding officers not to be harsh when removing people.

“We want to make sure vendors with licenses aren’t impacted,” Rojas said.

At 1 p.m., two Public Works staff in yellow vests approached and began to kindly ask people to remove their belongings from the sidewalk. Two police officers, including one who spoke Spanish, were also monitoring the situation and asking vendors blocking the path to move. The sidewalk, indeed, became clearer and “passable” in contrast to the morning scene. How long that would last was unclear.

Some vendors in the southwest cleaner plaza said they were grateful for the closing.

Lourdes was one of the vendors in the southwest square pushed onto the sidewalk when the fences were erected on Wednesday. On Thursday, she was closer to the sidewalk with less space for her tamale table, but nonetheless, she was happy. The closing had attracted more customers to his business.

“We’re happy because it looks clean,” she said in Spanish while glancing around the fenced-in plaza. “People feel better coming to shop.”

Lourdes was accompanied by four other vendors who have been selling in the area for years. She said vendors, including herself, should be flexible to comply with city orders. “We have no problem adapting to this new situation,” she said. “[The city] wants to help us.

Nearby, Millie, who has been selling jewelry in the Southwest Square for eight years, said the fence makes it safer for everyone, especially for licensed sellers like her.

“I hope they can keep the fence,” she said. “I don’t need to check who is behind me. There are no more homeless people using drugs or using the bathroom.

“It affects our business because people don’t want to stop,” she said. “People say 24 is ugly; people don’t want to come.

Hours before the store opened, Delia, another saleswoman who sells a variety of beauty products, received her business registration certificate from the Office of the Treasurer and Tax Collector. She says she feels better having a certificate from the city so she can show it to Public Works and the police.

These certificates, however, differ from the new permits that the Ronen Vendor Law will create, which will be verified by Public Works personnel. Ronen will use the Vendors Act to crack down on illegal sales in the future, but Public Works has so far failed to launch a permit system that would enforce it. The system is expected to launch in mid-August, Ronen said.

Despite concerns that large groups of vendors and illegal activity are moving to lower Mission hotspots like Mission and 18th Street or 16th Street BART Plaza, Mission Local has yet to find this to be the case. Thursday. Ronen and BART manager Bevan Dufty said Wednesday that if similar conditions occur at 16th Street, a fence could be erected there as well.

Still, that won’t stop some sellers from playing cat and mouse. Back in the northeast plaza at 1:15 p.m., a vendor near the bus shelter began closing up shop after recognizing Lerma sipping coffee and chatting with a police officer. The vendors’ shampoo and toothpaste offerings were conveniently packed in two suitcases. “I leave when the city speaks to us,” he explained in Spanish. When asked where he was going, he replied, “Around the 18th and Mission.” Then he comes right back.

Journalist Carolyn Stein contributed to this report.


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