A Digital Journal - San Francisco Public Works
In the Works
With sidewalk vending mushrooming in some San Francisco neighborhoods, the City has moved to temper the resulting chaos in the public right of way by cracking down on the sale of stolen goods and setting up a low-barrier permit program for legitimate peddlers to set up shop while keeping the path of travel accessible for passersby.
Alejandro del Calvo provides a friendly notification to a vendor on Mission Street about the upcoming street vending permit law.
Street Vending Permit Program Launches
Along the crowded sidewalks at Mission and 24th streets – where commuters weave past street vendors hawking goods as they navigate to and from the BART station, bus stops, shops and restaurants – Public Works Senior Street Inspector Alejandro del Calvo has become somewhat of a fixture during the last couple months.
Del Calvo and his co-workers at the Bureau of Street-use and Mapping have been patrolling street vending hot spots in the Mission, Chinatown and at United Nations Plaza to educate merchants about a new law requiring them to secure a permit with Public Works and keep pedestrian travel paths open.
The new rules, unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors earlier this year, aim to crack down on illegal street vending, combat the selling of stolen goods and maintain an open and safe public right of way.
Not only does the permit program set out to provide clear, safe paths of travel for all San Franciscans and visitors, the goal also is to create a low barrier of entry for merchants to get their permits and bring their businesses into compliance.
A permit costs $430 for the first year but fee waivers can bring that charge to zero. A renewal costs $150 but waivers can cut that in half. Applicants can qualify for a fee waiver if they receive certain government benefits, such as Medi-Cal or the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Lifeline Pass, or they live in a low-income household. Certain nonprofits, such as those involved in community improvement activities, also can get a reduction in their permit fee. Permit holders must have a business license.
“The program seeks to maintain accessibility in the public right of way that we've noticed has been compromised by the presence of vendors recently,” said Gregory Slocum, commercial permit manager with Public Works’ Bureau of Street-use and Mapping.
“It's going to be an avenue of economic empowerment for participants and for folks that are seeking to grow and legitimize their business through using the public right of away as a canvas,” he added.
There has been a prolonged outreach and education effort around the new permit program, which has involved the nonprofit Calle 24 Latino Cultural District, the Office of Economic and Workforce Development and Public Works. A review of the first wave of permit requests indicates that some applicants could benefit from more intensive assistance from community outreach workers to navigate the system. The City’s online portal to apply for permits opened in mid-August.
As of Aug. 30, we received approximately 50 permit applications, mostly for the Mission neighborhood, and issued four. Many of the applications had incomplete information or had to be refined to find an allowable spot where sellers could set up, for example, away from a bus stop. A handful of applicants were referred to the Department of Public Health for special food permits.
Enforcement of the new rules is set to get underway the week of Sept. 12.
However, that doesn’t mean del Calvo and others on the street inspection team – often accompanied by uniformed police officers in case vendors turn violent – haven’t been enforcing the existing regulation requiring a clear path of travel. Many vendors whose wares block the sidewalks pack up quickly when the inspectors approach.
Our street inspectors, accompanied by police, let a peddler know that setting his wares down on the middle of a Mission Street sidewalk is a no-no.
The new permit requires peddlers who set up in the public right of way to maintain a minimum 6-foot-wide path of travel that is always accessible and unobstructed. Certain areas have enhanced clearance requirements – a bus zone, for instance, calls for a 12-foot buffer. Vendors also cannot alter the public right of way and their equipment and belongings must be mobile.
While the Mission has garnered the most publicity because of the at-times chaotic situation at the 24th Street BART Station, our inspectors also have focused on the bustling sidewalks of Stockton Street in Chinatown. There, as shoppers peruse the produce on display at the many markets and grocers unload boxes of apples and trout, Public Works inspectors pay special attention to the angled right of ways along intersections. Those corners are big problem areas where vendors like to set up “because that’s where all the foot traffic is,” said Street Inspector Supervisor Woojoo Chung. That can cause all kinds of congestion and issues for pedestrians.
“We just try to make sure that the sidewalks stay accessible,” Chung said.
Among the most unusual finds inspectors have made so far on their Chinatown tours: an offering of small sharks displayed by a street vendor along the sidewalk. Not only did that incident present an example of a public right of way being obstructed, but it also posed a potential public health issue. That seafood vendor hasn’t been back since, according to inspectors.
On a recent hot August day, Chung, another street inspector and San Francisco Department of Public Health inspectors worked a four-block stretch of Stockton Street to educate street vendors about the new rules. Public Works inspectors focus on merchandise and pre-packaged food being offered, while their health department counterparts keep an eye out for any prepared foods.
So far, conducting outreach has been the main purpose of the near-daily tours.
When enforcement of the new vending permits starts in earnest next month, City inspectors will be looking for vendors to display and/or provide permits upon request. If a vendor doesn’t have one, they’ll be asked to pack up their goods and leave.
In addition to the potential of having their wares taken away if they don’t comply, vendors without a permit face fines of up to $200 for the first violation, $500 for the second and $1,000 for each additional violation within a year.
The new program is pursuant to a California law passed in 2018, known as State Bill 946, that decriminalized sidewalk vending statewide.
Still, the rollout of the new local law has not been without controversy. Some Mission District activists have pushed back against the permit requirement, arguing that it would make it harder for vendors to make a living.
Nonetheless, some residents welcome the new rules.
Near Mission and 24th streets, one passerby thanked del Calvo and his fellow inspectors because he finally could walk past the BART station and bus stop without items for sale on the sidewalk blocking his way. A woman even applauded them.
“That,” del Calvo said, “makes you feel good.”
From left to right: Bureau of Street-use and Mapping inspectors Jondelle Bretz, Alejandro del Calvo and O’Brian Buchanan.
Public Works cement masons smooth out new sidewalk on Ada Court.
A New Tactic to Foil Rats
A violet-orange sun peeked over the clouds as San Francisco Public Works crews arrived with experienced hands, power washers and other heavy equipment one recent morning at Ada Court in the Tenderloin.
The handful of unhoused men and women who sleep on Ada Court, off of O’Farrell Street, were awoken gently and safely escorted aside so crews could begin a deep clean and perform a novel rodent abatement on the tree-shaded court.
Our Bureau of Urban Forestry landscape team made fast work of litter removal, hosing down walls, roadway pavement and sidewalks. The Public Works integrated pest management crew inspected tree basins where Ada Court neighbors told City officials rodents had been burrowing in the bricks.
The plan had three phases, said project lead DeShelia “Nikki” Mixon, supervisor for the BUF integrated pest management team. Step 1: clean; Step 2: demolish; and Step 3: replace the bricks in the tree basins with large rocks in hopes the rodents would encounter the chunky material, find it impermeable and give up and no longer be a nuisance there.
A jackhammer excavator truck breaks up brick in the tree basins (left) and a bulldozer is on standby to clear debris.
“Ada Court is a great example of Integrated Pest Management collaborating with other divisions and bureaus to abate a public health hazard,” Mixon said. “We were able to meet some short-term goals – rodent abatement – and long-term goals in that we are excluding the rodents from entering the areas of concern.”
Cement crews operating a backhoe, which looked like it was borrowed from the set of a Transformers movie, jack-hammered the bricks, being careful not to damage tree roots in the problematic basins.
Neighbor Juan Rodriguez and his sons, Juan Jr. and Zaid, walking along O’Farrell Street, stopped to observe the cleanup effort as Public Works masons poured concrete into empty tree basins and added rock where bricks had been removed.
“There’s always too much garbage,” said Rodriguez, who has lived in the Tenderloin for a decade. “This is very good. I like it. They’re doing a good job. It’s more clean and safer for the residents.”
First, cement is poured to form new sidewalk, then our skilled cement masons put on the finishing touches.
The cacophony of workers’ voices, blended with the beep-beep-beep and roar of heavy machinery, reverberated through the court.
Julius Price, one of the masons, said he was pleased to be part of the effort to give Ada Court a little TLC. “I think it’s a pretty cool cleanup,” said Price, who was donning head-to-toe protective gear. “It’s a step in the right direction for the City and the neighborhood.”
As Public Works crews wrapped up on Ada Court, the alleyway’s unsheltered denizens began trickling back. A San Francisco Fire Department community paramedic, conducting street outreach, clipboard in hand, began gathering data from one individual living in a tent — an initial step on a path toward shelter and support services.
“It looks good out here, a lot better than the norm,” said Markeisha Law, a landscape crew member on site for the cleanup. “Our guys did a good job. Beautifying it hopefully will give incentive to neighbors and pedestrians to keep it that way and help us maintain it on a regular basis.”
Leftover cobblestones, pavers, old granite curb and other materials get stored in this yard until a new use for them is found.
A Treasure Trove
Tucked inside a fenced-in lot on Treasure Island in the middle of San Francisco Bay sits an auxiliary Public Works storage yard where we stow items used to repair our streets, sidewalks and curbs, or to repurpose as planters, benches or other amenities in the City’s public right of way.
Think of it as public works treasures on Treasure Island.
Found there are old cobblestones from long-ago streets, pulled from beneath more modern asphalt roads that have been excavated for underground infrastructure improvements. The most recent batch of salvaged cobblestones came from Hooper Street in the Showplace Square neighborhood.
Today, Public Works has just one remaining surface-level cobblestone-lined road that remains under our maintenance responsibility; it is located along a steep stretch of 24th Street on Potrero Hill. A handful of other cobblestone alleyways still exist, though fall under the jurisdiction of adjacent property owners.
In addition to the stacked piles of old cobblestones, the storage yard – which is located some 6 miles east of downtown San Francisco and only can be accessed by bridge or boat – houses palettes of new bricks that our bricklayers can use to patch United Nations Plaza or Hallidie Plaza, for example.
Then there are the dozens of old granite curbs, cut away from the edge of sidewalks during various street improvement projects. Those leftover pieces can be used to replace broken or missing granite curbs lining City streets.
A handful of boulders scattered around the lot can make dandy additions to landscaped medians and street parks. There’s also a stockpile of hexagon-shaped concrete pavers, rebar-strengthened concrete, black granite slabs with chipped edges that once served as Market Street benches and a smattering of other materials that can be reused for civic projects and kept out of the landfill.
The gated storage yard, which is off limits to the general public, gives off a part-warehouse-part-archeological-ruins-part-junkyard vibe. But when you step back and take in the totality of the materials found there, you get a snapshot of the pieces needed to build and maintain a city.
Sheet metal worker Chuck Reynolds installs a trash can as part of the pilot program.
Trash Cans in Test Run Head to New Set of Locations
San Francisco Public Works is midway through the summer’s public trash can pilot. As we consider which design to manufacture or purchase for our next generation of City cans, we’re relying on real-life street testing and feedback from residents, businesses and maintenance staff.
Since mid-July, we’ve been testing six model trash cans in a total of 26 locations for durability, serviceability and functionality. We’ve already heard from hundreds of people through our online survey, emails and community events.
Between now and the end of September, the cans will be in 26 new locations in neighborhoods throughout the City.
Got feedback? Which trash can works best to help keep litter off the streets and sidewalks? We want to know what you think! You can take the survey up to six times – once for each of the six designs.
In addition, each can has a sticker with a QR code that takes you directly to the survey. The survey is in English, Chinese, Tagalog, Spanish and Vietnamese.
At the end of the pilot, Public Works will review and assess the feedback we’ve received and land on a final design for the new City can. After the design is set, a Request for Proposal will be developed to select the manufacturer or supplier for San Francisco’s new 3,000-plus public trash cans. The target cost for the mass-produced can is $2,000-$3,000 apiece.
The public trash cans on City sidewalks and in public plazas serve a vital role in combatting litter. The current cans were designed more than 20 years ago when street conditions were different and our population and number of visitors were considerably lower. Finding the right public trash can to serve our needs and address our challenges at a reasonable cost has driven this design process. Though San Francisco is not unique in our desire for a high-quality and durable public trash can, we do have specific criteria for this next generation can. All three custom cans meet the following design requirements:
Rummage-resistant: The design must discourage tampering to keep the contents inside the can.
Durable and easy to maintain: All aspects of the can must be made of sturdy materials that are difficult to damage or degrade. The can must be easy to clean and have graffiti-resistant coating.
Tamper-proof: Locks and hinges need to be strong to keep people from breaking into the can to get the contents.
Easy to service: Each can must hold a 32-gallon rolling insert that can be used seamlessly with the Recology trucks for dumping trash.
Built-in capacity alerts: Each can must be outfitted with an electronic sensor that sends alerts when nearing trash capacity so it can be emptied before overflowing.
Accommodate a recycling exchange: The design must include a compartment for a recycling exchange for glass bottles and cans.
Aesthetically pleasing: The design must be a visual asset on the street and complement the design of the new JCDecaux public toilets (now in production), the BART canopies on Market Street and other new public amenities, like the café on Civic Center Plaza.
Volunteers spruce up a median with the the iconic Japantown Peace Pagoda in the background.
There was no magic wand that weeded medians, planted trees, cleaned up littered sidewalks and wiped out graffiti in San Francisco’s central neighborhoods. It was, however, the hard work of more than 100 volunteers who teamed up with our crews at the monthly Love Our City: Neighborhood Beautification Day workday.
The Aug. 27 event took place in the Western Addition, Haight, Japantown, Hayes Valley and other District 5 neighborhoods. Joined by Supervisor Dean Preston, we kicked off the day at Rosa Parks Elementary School before volunteers set out to neighborhood work sites where they worked alongside our staff.
Rosa Parks Elementary School Principal Sherifa Miranda-Tiamiyu paints benches on her campus – one of the Neighborhood Beautification Day projects.
Neighborhood Beautification Day focuses on a different supervisorial district every month.
Young volunteers stand with pride next to a tree they helped plant.
Next month, on Sept. 17, we’ll be in the Sunset and Parkside District 4 neighborhoods. To sign up and learn more, click here.
We hope you will join us!
A bird’s eye view of the Bayview SAFE Navigation Center at 1925 Evans Ave. where unhoused San Franciscans are offered shelter and on-site support services.
Bayview SAFE Navigation
Center Wins Awards
We’re proud of the team behind the Bayview SAFE Navigation Center, which won two awards recognizing the great work that went into the innovative homeless shelter designed by our Bureau of Architecture. Public Works also managed development of the project.
The International Partnering Institute honored the project with the Ruby Level Award.
The design provides guests a communal space to socialize, and bed-side partitions provide people with a bit of privacy in the dorm-style sleeping quarters.
Metal Architecture recognized the project with the Judges Award. “It surprised me,” said Rand Elliott, a judge. “Using metal building parts like they should be used. Taking the parts, rearranging them, using them for what they do best, which is simple volume, structural integrity and that sort of thing and making a space that is friendly. That’s human. This could be a brewery someplace. This could be a great restaurant someplace or any number of things, using a standard kit of parts and raising it to a whole other level. Even the paint color is soothing. It looks like a place you’d hang out with your friends.”