Maybe Mission Street vendors need an app

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I was out of town for a few weeks. A lot of things happened. Allow me to join you in making up for lost time.

But first, some things I learned on my first trip to Europe.

Portugal is charming. Like many European cities, Lisbon is eminently walkable: narrow streets with cobblestones, as hilly as SF, winding alleys full of outdoor cafes (and in Portugal, every cafe serves beer and wine), amazing views, amazingly friendly people. (We had a connection back home via Paris, where the people were much less friendly.)

But people still drive cars in Lisbon (and Porto, Sintra and Nazare), and they share these pedestrian streets – and drivers don’t seem to get the idea that ‘driveable’ is a value. Sometimes cars, especially Ubers, tear down narrow alleys, which have very narrow sidewalks (if any), and pedestrians scatter for their lives.

There is no Vision Zero in Lisbon. The only reason pedestrian fatalities are relatively low is that the streets are so narrow and winding that it is difficult to increase speed.

Tipping is not a big deal in Europe, in part because people who work in the service sector already earn a decent wage. I always want to tip the bartender or waiter, but I’ve found it’s best to tip in cash. several people told me that if you add a tip to the credit card bill, the management keeps it.

The European timetable is perfect for me: Nothing starts too early, breakfast is a light snack, 2pm is a good time for lunch and 8pm is a normal time for dinner. In between, a Super Bock or a glass of wine with a snack at 4 p.m. works well. (Bourbon is hard to get in Portugal, and I’ve never seen anyone serving or selling vodka, but every bar has gin, scotch, and Irish whiskey. The wine, of course, is amazing. )

Portugal seems environmentally conscious… Public transport is cheap, easy and efficient. The buses we rode were new, clean and ran on natural gas instead of diesel. In hotel rooms, you have to put your key card in a slot that turns on the own power supply; when you leave, the lights go out. (Brilliant idea.)

And yet: everyone drinks water from plastic bottles. When you walk into a restaurant and ask for water, it’s plastic. The airport has nowhere easy to refill a reusable water bottle. When I asked a tour guide at a winery where I could refill my bottle he suggested ‘the toilet’, and although I think he was referring to the faucet in the bathroom, that seems to be the attitude general towards water in this part of the world.

Which is crazy: I drank tap water every day. I looked for it; Portuguese tap water is perfectly safe, regulated, meets (high) EU standards. I can’t believe water in plastic bottles is any better.

There are still communists in Portugal, and they have long contributed to bringing down the fascist regime of Antonio Salazar. They don’t have much political influence at the national level – when Portugal joined the EU it was forced, like every other country, to accept neoliberal economic policies – but you see the posters all around, celebrating the legacy. If nothing else, it made me smile.

Poster in Lisbon for a festival honoring the former communist party newspaper, Before

Back home: I understand why Sup. Hillary Ronen is waging a crackdown on what my kids call “open-air Walgreens,” the open-air markets at the BART station on 24th Street where some vendors are selling what are clearly stolen merchandise for so little as legitimate brick-and-mortar stores in the area can’t compete. I agree that the best solution is not to arrest people but to require permits for street vendors and some sort of proof that they have legally acquired the goods they are selling.

I also understand the frustration of vendors, who get caught up in the bureaucracy of the city’s public works department and can’t get permits that don’t even exist at this point. (Someone from DPW should go to the area with a set of forms and register people there. How difficult is that?)

The BART station fence is clearly not working. MissionLocal tracked vendors all day for the past week and found that the minute the cops and DPW left, they called back. I pulled over today and the whole sidewalk was pretty much blocked off.

The Outdoor Walgreens now blocks the sidewalk

I see a lot of outrage on social media: how dare these scammers threaten legitimate businesses? Call the cops! Lock them up!

I wish the same level of outrage would happen with Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb breaking the law, destroying long-standing legitimate businesses mostly immigrant-owned, devastating the city’s housing stock, and (unlike street vendors) turned venture capitalists into billionaires – all with the full backing of then-mayor Ed Lee and current mayor of London Breed, as well as former sup. and now City Attorney David Chiu. (Ronen worked for Sup. David Campos, who valiantly tried to control Airbnb, and was foiled.)

Imagine what would happen if someone created, for example, “sfstreetvendors.com” (the URL is available) and implemented an app where customers could scan and purchase available (possibly stolen) goods, and have them delivered to their homes by some sort of robot or drone. Would the race administration support this “local start-up” by ignoring city laws and encouraging “disruption” and “innovation”?

Would it matter that Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb were all run and funded by wealthy white people, and that the sellers were mostly poor Latinos, many of whom are immigrants?

I’m not for selling stolen goods, but still: the double standard I see on social media is so obvious it makes me sick.

I’m happy with the SF Standard, unlike the Chron and the local TVs who attacked the former DA Chesa Boudin, is prepared to apply some of the same standards to the new district attorney. According to MissionLocal, his first days on the job were a political disaster with the mayor’s office pulling the strings. She faces a looming legal nightmare and can’t put more people in jail, even if she wants to. It now turns out that she failed to disclose evidence to the defense in a homicide case.

I have yet to see the news outlets that pushed the recall most heavily pay much attention to this. Not a single Heather Knight story. Nothing from Dion Lim on Channel 7 news. Now that Chesa Boudin is gone, all problems seem to have magically disappeared.

But that’s not the case on the street, and sooner or later the public will realize that.

Supes, the planning commission and most of the other members of city hall are taking a summer break until September. But there is still a lot going on in local politics, and we will keep pace.


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