Gabriela Carbajal stood close to the group of vendors that had gathered at 24th and Mission Street on Wednesday, Nov. 22.
Keeping a close eye on her puesto just a few feet away, she listened attentively as members of the newly formed Mission Street Vendors Association took turns voicing their frustrations on the 90-day ban.
At the demonstration, the Mission Street Vendors Association asked for the ban to be delayed until Jan. 1, 2024. That didn’t happen. The ban went into effect on Monday, Nov. 27.
The ban — spearheaded by District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen over concerns of public safety — would effectively stop all street vending within a 300-foot radius on Mission Street between 14th and Cesar Chavez Streets. The ordinance is the city’s most recent attempt at a solution to the ongoing citywide issues of unlicensed street vending, the alleged selling of stolen goods and the street skirmishes that have resulted from those activities. Some have claimed that these activities have impacted the neighborhoods’ culturally vibrant streets.
But street vendors are concerned that the ban could potentially be extended indefinitely and hope that elected officials can come up with an actual and better solution. Previously, a fence was erected at the BART Plaza at 24th and Mission to deter activity, but it proved ineffective and was later taken down.
“We are here to fight and to assert our rights as merchants of the Mission,” said Carlos Escalante, a street vendor in the Mission. “If they discriminate against us now, they will discriminate against us all the time … we are here to fight. The city knows what the real problems here are, it’s not us.”
The vendors of Mission Street have seen better days. The label of the Mission’s BART plazas as being hubs for dangerous street activity has been exploited by politicians and corporate media alike, giving the Mission and San Francisco as a whole the perception of being dangerous.
Substance usage, the selling of stolen goods, dirty streets, crime and drug dealing are all issues that exist in the Mission — and have existed for some time. The lack of public safety has been associated with these issues, resulting in street vendors being caught in the crosshairs.
The issues that street vendors are being blamed for bringing into the neighborhood are the same issues that they have to deal with on a daily basis when trying to make a living. These are the result of larger systemic problems. The solutions proposed by Ronen and other city officials require vendors to distinguish themselves from those engaging in other street activity, in order for vendors to continue operating their businesses.
For Carbajal, who has been selling tamales on the street for 10 years, the ban is just another one of the many challenges she faces on Mission Street. The complexities of the permit process as a food vendor have been difficult to navigate, making it hard to access resources that allow permitted street vendors to operate and be eligible for one of the few newly proposed relocation spots — located at 17th and Mission, and 24th and Capp.
Unable to correct an issue with her address and provide receipts for her homemade tamales, Carbajal has yet to obtain the permit that she would need to relocate.
“They never pay attention to us,” Carbajal said. “That’s the saddest thing because … they are not listening to us.”
With nothing to fall back on, she worries she won’t be able to support her family. All she asks for is an opportunity to work.
The sentiment around the ban and vendor relocation is one of doubt and resistance. Vendors and community advocates don’t believe that a ban will solve these issues of public safety.
Susana Rojas, the Executive Director of Calle 24, says they don’t believe that relocation is a solution and hope that the city can address the real issues plaguing the neighborhood. It’s in the best interest of not only the neighborhood but the city as a whole, she said.
“It does not address the quality of life and the safety issues that we are currently experiencing in the Mission,” Rojas said. “It is completely unfair that people who are trying to make an honest living and who are following the rules are going to be the ones that are getting banned for things that [are] not only a problem of the Mission but a problem of our city, and that are the consequences of inequities and systematic failures in our city … we want to make sure that what happened to the Mission doesn’t happen to another neighborhood.”
Calle 24 has served as a beacon of hope for vendors, providing resources and assistance in navigating the permitting and relocation process.
D9 Supervisor candidates also had thoughts on the ban.
“The impact of the ban on the community is significant, and I don’t think anyone believes this is a perfect solution,” said Jackie Fielder, who will be running for D9 Supervisor next year when Ronen terms out. “At the end of the day, this is not just a cultural issue but an economic issue, and I believe the City should be doing a lot more to ensure that all people have a dignified way to make ends meet in San Francisco. Job programs, truly affordable housing, quality healthcare, free childcare, and expanded city services, are the investments we need to make to see fundamental economic change.”
Roberto Hernandez, who is also running for D9 Supervisor and serves on the board of the Mission Merchants Association, claimed that folks engaging in criminal activity came from outside of the neighborhood, and mentioned that when Union Square was “cleaned up,” those folks came to the Mission.
“We’ve been in a crisis for two years, and it’s gotten worse. It’s not only the vendors. You got people coming here selling fentanyl, using fentanyl, right on Mission Street,” Hernandez said. “I’ve said to a lot of elected officials, these [licensed vendors] got permits. They pay for a permit. Why is it that somebody who didn’t pay for a permit who’s out stealing and robbing has more rights than someone who has a permit? Explain that to me … in Union Square, they don’t allow it. So there’s a double standard here in San Francisco. It’s like we’re living in different cities. That side of the city, there’s clean streets, no drug dealing, no homeless, no vending.”
Ronen could not be reached for comment.
When Carbajal was asked what a solution would be, she simply said: “That they let us sell … that they see that we are really doing it with a lot of effort.”