Anyone who has walked the Mission District’s sidewalks has seen vendors selling clothes, DVDs, hats, and all kinds of random items on the sidewalk. Many of the would-be entrepreneurs, doling out toothpaste and leather pants, set up shop outside of BART in the Mission, namely the 16th and 24th street stations.
But as of the first week of November, San Francisco Public Works will mandate vendors vacate Mission Street. District 9 Supervisor Hilary Ronen let residents know of the decision in a newsletter, saying vendors create “measurable hazards” in the area. On Tuesday, October 24, however, Ronen’s legislative aide Santiago Lerma clarified the ban will not apply to food vendors. “This is strictly speaking [about] retail vending,” Lerma says. “This particular order signed by Public Works does not apply [to food].” Public Works spokesperson Rachel Gordon confirmed that food vending permitting is not under their jurisdiction.
In San Francisco, food vending falls under the umbrella of two city departments, Public Works and Public Health. Public Works spokesperson Rachel Gordon confirmed that Public Works only oversees vendors selling packaged food such as snack bars and chips; Public Heath oversees vendors selling food cooked on-site such as bacon-wrapped hot dogs and street tacos. The Mission Street vending ban will only impact vendors under the jurisdiction of Public Works, Lerma says.
In the Mission, food vending isn’t a part of the problem the proposed ban aims to address, he says — rather it’s the unsafe conditions created by and facing retail vendors. In other parts of the city such as the ballpark or Pier 39, Lerma clarifies that food vending permits are indeed enforced. “In the Mission, it’s considered a part of the culture so Public Works can look the other way,” Lerma continues. “That’s not the case in other parts of the city.”
The San Francisco Chronicle reports state law SB946 decriminalized selling food or merchandise in 2018 so long as the seller has a permit. That permit enforcement is done by Public Works, some of whom told Ronen they’ve worn bulletproof vests to work after receiving threats from vendors. The Mission District is coming back to life after suffering tremendous impacts from the pandemic, and safety concerns in and around transit areas regarding the sale of stolen goods are one of the supervisor’s top priorities as listed on her website.
That said, the ban does affect some food items. Vendors selling packaged foods — anything in a package that’s not created by the individual such as chips, soda, and cereal — will be affected. That does not apply to a dozen tamales, though, or anything made by the individual or cooked on-site. The mandate will start at 90 days then the office will evaluate whether to extend it and for how long. Ronen’s office will give proper notice to the community, but Lerma says it’s still unclear which specific day the policy will go into effect, as he’s meeting with vendors on Tuesday, October 24 to discuss timing.
In his role as Valencia Merchants Association president, Manny Yekutiel says the ban is a necessary move, even if it does impact food vendors. He further says this policy will really be about enforcement, as there are plenty of laws and policies on the books in regard to this issue but it comes down to how the laws are actually rolled out to citizens. Some sellers may be acting in bad faith whereas many are longtime community members selling bacon-wrapped hot dogs, tacos, and other precious treats. “Maybe we’re throwing the baby out with the bath water, but it’s gotten out of control,” Yekutiel says. “This doesn’t apply to vendors selling hot dogs at two in the morning outside the club.”