In a stunning move, the Department of Public Health (DPH) closed Canyon Market for remediation of a rodent infestation. While it was a surprise that it happened today (Wednesday around 4 pm), the situation has been building for well over two years. Owners Janet and Richard Tarlov have emails and exchanges struggling to push the city bureaucracy into action to resolve this public health nuisance.
In February 2020, a new resident on Chenery Street moved in and began to scatter birdseed to feed the pigeons around the village, including the commercial areas as well as the BART station and parking lot. And not dainty handfuls here and there — pounds and pounds, piles and piles of seeds. Her garage is completely filled with huge sacks of birdseed which she pushes in a shopping cart on her missions.
“We’ve been asking for help for two-and-a-half years,” said Janet. “On June 1 I was told by DPH that they were going to bait traps in the sewers. Ten days ago I asked what was going on and they said they were waiting for the accounting department to approve the expense. ‘Well, how much longer are we going to have to wait?’ I asked. And they said, “I’m sorry, we don’t know.”
This was just a recent example of the runaround by the multiple city departments who have some hand in solving the problem: The Department of Public Health, BART and the San Francisco Police Department.
In addition, the long vacant Modern Past building is being gutted right in the middle of the commercial corridor, arousing the rodent activity.
DPH is responsible for the mental health needs of the woman dumping the seed and for having the sewers baited where the rats live. BART police are responsible for citing her, as is SFPD, depending on where she does it. To date, these departments have not coordinated a response.
Rats aren’t only “shopping” at Canyon Market. Other merchants are affected as well as the homes of nearby residents.
The closure was triggered by a complaint by one market patron. The market had had a health inspection ten days ago and it passed. The Tarlovs told them then that they were concerned; they asked for help and advice. “This is getting out of control in the whole neighborhood–make this woman stop,” they said.
Photo Credit: Janet Tarlov.
“The inspector found a small amount of rat droppings and pointed out some holes we need to close off with a better material than what we had there which we weren’t aware of previously. For this we were shut down,” said Janet.
“They’ve done nothing. Ironically, only when the inspector came in to shut us down did she say they have a specialist to advise you. I’ve never hidden anything from the health department. I’ve asked for help. What are people going to think? Our reputation for cleanliness is so important to us.”
“Once the rats came, we were on it.” Janet dealt with the city agencies in mounting frustration. She’s also got a broom and bucket on hand. “At the worst I’ve swept up after her three times a day. I’ve swept up 30 lb. in one day.” Richard is in the market every night sealing up holes and watching rat life on the cameras. He’s added knee pads to his uniform.
Pest control people will only seal up the outside of the building. They won’t take any responsibility for what goes on inside.
The situation has also taken a continuing financial toll. Around three months ago the rats got into the compressor which houses the electrical lines that power all the refrigerators. They chewed the wires to the tune of a $5,350 repair bill. Other damages reach into the tens of thousands of dollars.
The Tarlovs say it’s been terrible for the staff, who must clean up, sanitize, unbuild and rebuild the displays. It’s been very stressful.
The Glen Park Association has been working with the Tarlovs by communicating concern to the city agencies. Over two weeks ago, several board members met with Supervisor Mandelman about the lack of help in solving the problem. In light of the closure of the market, the Association has followed up with a letter demanding action.
“This person is causing the main food source in the neighborhood to be shut down,” Janet lamented.
City, please do your job.