Subway Project Stirs Up Rats Issue in SF's SoMa District

By Stephanie Chuang
|  Friday, Nov 15, 2013  |  Updated 6:44 AM PDT
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Rats are everywhere due to the central subway project in San Francisco, according to business owners. Stephanie Chuang reports.

Rats are everywhere due to the central subway project in San Francisco, according to business owners. Stephanie Chuang reports.

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The first critics of the Central Subway Project in San Francisco were unhappy by the cost: an estimated 1.57 billion dollars. Now, construction has angered one SoMA neighborhood for a whole different reason: rats.

Hundreds of them, according to construction workers at the site off Fifth and Bryant, who said they are now eating meals among the rats and even stepping on them. The project is set to connect the Bayshore and Mission Bay areas to SoMA, Downtown and Chinatown, set to offer commuters a direct transit link among those neighborhoods by extending the Muni Metro T Third Line.

But for business owners who’ve set up shop along Bryant Street, the noise, dirt and dust were just the start of daily headaches.

“Rats. We started seeing the rats when they started doing construction around the street,” said Bobby Crooks, who works at Dubbelju Motorcycle Rentals.

He added the rat problems have gotten so bad, they’ve had to distract customers from noticing the creatures scurrying around outside.

“There were two to three rats running across the driveway and you want to make sure [the customers] are not seeing the rats!”

Edgar Fernandez works next door at ABC Imaging. He said it was just last week when he walked out and thought he spotted a cat.

“But then when we took closer look it’s a platoon of rats!” he said, adding he counted up to 25 of them. “All of a sudden, it’s like whoa, really? Then we ran away to the other side!”

But Paul Rose, a spokesman for the SFMTA, which is in charge of the project, said it was the first time the agency had even heard of a rat problem. He said there have been no complaints about rats the duration of the construction. Rose also said the SFMTA implemented its usual abatement program before construction began a year and a half ago, putting a few dozen rat traps around the area.

“We’ve caught very few rats in the traps in the area because we do clean the area, as clean as possible,” said Rose. “We clean up any trash in the area any night to make sure we’re being very clean and very responsible for merchants and residents around us.”

There was a report that the SFMTA had not implemented a thorough abatement program that would also include poison, exclusion and targeting nesting areas. Dr. Johnson Ojo with the city’s Department of Public Health told NBC Bay Area there was a mix-up in information: that plan was executed, but for another portion of the Central Subway Project – the Chinatown-Stockton-Powell corridor. The DPH also said there have been no reports of complaints about a rat infestation.

But some business owners still feel not enough has been done. The Bryant Transmission Center has put out its own rat traps, claiming to catch up to ten at one time. Others said there have always been rat problems that are now exacerbated by the homeless feeding pigeons nearby.

One thing they all agreed on was having the city reach a quick solution: the project isn’t expected to be complete until 2018.

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