The army of rats that plagued work sites along the $1.578 billion Central Subway route in SoMa has apparently grown in strength as construction moves into North Beach. Residents in the neighborhood, many of them already disgusted with the idea of a subway coming to their quaint tourist district in the first place, now have a new reason to be appalled by the construction.
The Chronicle has dispatches from the front lines of the rodent war near Washington Square Park:
"'Teeming' is the word that came to my mind," said Richard Levine, who has lived about two blocks from the park for about 35 years. "They were small rats, in groups of two, three, four, visible and running under and around the bushes on the border of the park on the Union Street side."
What's more, they've apparently formed large roving forces, like a real army and everything. 10-year North Beach resident John Murnin tells the Chronicle he even witnessed, "a pack of 25 or 30, just roaming around together, like in platoon formation."
"It was like a sci-fi movie," Murnin said. "I've never seen anything like it. Tourists were running out of the park, screaming."
Like the rat army's SoMa battalion, subterranean construction is blamed for upsetting the unseen forces lurking just below the surface — particularly the contentious plan to demolish the Pagoda Theater to make way for the subway's tunnel boring machines, which North Beach and Telegraph Hill's notoriously picky neighbors vehemently opposed.
Although rodents have been spotted around Washington Square Park before, the new generation of rats is apparently bolder and lazier than the rats that used to be there:
"There have always been rats, at least occasionally in the park," Levine said. "I have a dog that likes to 'tree' them by chasing them and forcing them to climb the trees. But these rats are unperturbed. They seemed to be less concerned about being seen or banged into than rats generally are. They weren't scurrying. They were just hanging out."
The SFMTA, for their part, says they launched defensive action in the form of a rodent abatement program when construction began and received no complaints at the time. They also claim it is unusual that a sleeping mass of rats would be stirred this late in the construction process. The Department of Health, on the other hand, says they've had two whole complaints about the rodents and have sent in a fixer in the form of a pest control contractor. Levine, who seems to be the most outspoken opponent of ratrification, did mention that park gardeners have been doing "a terrific job" in cleaning out rat nests, so it seems his complaint lies mostly with the subway.