Skip to main content

Cops could get new powers in fight against illegal street markets

A person in a white jacket and black mask browses a sidewalk display of various toiletry items and medicine packages, spread on a green cloth near a chain-link fence.
Cops could get new powers to tackle illegal street vending. | Source: Justin Katigbak for The Standard

Seeking to crack down on the illegal sale of stolen goods in San Francisco, state Sen. Scott Wiener and Mayor London Breed announced legislation Monday allowing new police powers to ticket illegal street vendors.

Wiener said the mayor had approached him about the issue late last year or early this year, indicating it was “a high priority for her given the huge challenges around street vending—particularly in the Mission, but not only in the Mission.”

Senate Bill 925 would let San Francisco establish a list of commonly stolen goods and require street vendors to obtain a permit. To curb the sale of stolen goods, vendors must also show proof of purchase for the items they are selling. Unlawful vendors must also leave the area where they had set up shop within 10 minutes if told to do so.

Repeat offenders could face six months in jail, although Wiener said that was an unlikely outcome as violators would likely be eligible for diversion programs through the courts.

Wiener said he had conversations with multiple Mission organizations to develop the proposal.

“It’s one of those situations where a lot of folks who don’t always agree came together in consensus,” Wiener said.

“San Francisco’s vibrant culture of street vending supports many families and showcases the diversity of our communities,” Wiener said in a statement. “But that cultural richness is threatened when bad actors are allowed to openly sell stolen goods on our streets.”

Wiener said the legislation maintains the 2018 state law decriminalizing street vending, focusing only on those selling goods known to be commonly stolen without a permit.

“It’s a very surgical approach,” he said. “It doesn’t apply to prepared foods at all. It doesn’t apply at all when someone is selling with a permit.”

The legislation exempts permitted vendors and those selling prepared foods. It follows a 2018 state law that decriminalized sidewalk vending, stripping local enforcement of the ability to regulate it through criminal penalties.

A person wearing a mask and black jacket browses clothes laid out on a blue tarp on the sidewalk, beside a red minivan, with urban buildings in the background.
A person looks at items being sold along Mission Street on Dec. 4, 2021. | Source: James Wyatt for The Standard

If the bill passes, it would go into effect Jan. 1. The Board of Supervisors would then have to create and update a list of frequently stolen goods to inform police and Department of Public Works staff tasked with enforcement.

“As the bill continues through the legislative process, we have a commitment to continue to work to ensure this legislation addresses harmful behavior in our beautiful city but protects vendors who may be immigrants,” a letter from a dozen community organizations in support of the bill said. “There is a vibrant cultural tradition of vending in San Francisco, and these proposed changes are intended to protect this tradition long-term.”

Since 2018, police have only been able to interact with street vendors with a Public Works employee present because offenses were no longer considered crimes. But Public Works staffers, who are not armed, didn’t feel safe wielding their authority to confiscate illegal items and issue infractions. 

If the bill passes, police will be able to tackle illegal street vendors without a Public Works employee present.