Woman dubbed 'Permit Betty' in viral video speaks out: 'I was trying to help her'

The woman at the center of a viral video, showing her questioning a Latina vendor about a permit, is speaking out about the interaction.

The woman who was dubbed “Permit Betty” by the man recording the video is named Rene Baker-Folena. She said she was not calling police, but rather a “community guide” to help the woman.

The video was taken around 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday on Market Street in San Francisco.

“He didn’t know what I was saying on the phone,” Baker-Folena said. “So he hears “permit” and the next thing I know he’s assuming I’m being mean to her.”

Baker-Folena worked for a company called Streetplus under a contract with the Yerba Buena Community Benefit District or YBCBD. Streetplus provides cleaning and hospitality services to downtown business districts across the country in an effort to make areas safer. She said part of her job was to dispatch people, called community guides, to deal with drug use, homeless issues, and help vendors obtain one-day permits to sell on the street.

“I was trying to help her,” Baker-Folena said. “I never told her she had to leave. I never said, ‘You can't sell here.’ I was on the phone with one of the community guides to come and assist her.”

KTVU caught part of the interaction on camera showing Baker-Folena and the man behind the cell phone. Minutes before the video was taken, a KTVU Reporter talked to her about the city’s homeless issues as part of our coverage of Mayor London Breed’s inauguration that day. At the time Baker-Folena said, “The people she needs to talk to are the people paying taxes and have businesses because they’re tired of having to clean up after them.”

On Friday, Baker-Folena said she got a text from Streetplus management that said she was being suspended for talking to the media. She feels she’s being wrongfully terminated by Streetplus and is no longer contracted to work the YBCBD.

“I don't think I said anything that hurt either companies,” she said. “I was asked questions. I answered them on my lunch.”

Steve Hillard, President of Streetplus, sent KTVU a statement regarding our inquiry about Baker-Folena’s termination. A statement reads, “Company practice prohibits Streetplus from discussing personnel matters with anyone outside of the company.”

A spokesman for the YBCBD also released the following statement:

An employee of a service provider misrepresented the YBCBD on Wednesday. That individual no longer works on behalf of the district. This individual was not a direct employee of the YBCBD. However, we take responsibility for anyone who works on our behalf. Everyone associated with the YBCBD is expected to follow our policies and adhere to our values of inclusivity and of treating people with compassion, respect and dignity.

Baker-Folena said she is half Latina, half Irish. She thinks the real reason for her suspension was the viral video and the slew of hateful messages she is now receiving.

KTVU reached out to the man who took the video, but he did not reply.