City says it is addressing Telegraph Avenue rat problem

The city of Berkeley’s environmental health division says it is working to solve the problem of a rat infestation on a vacant lot on the corner of Telegraph Avenue and Haste.

City of Berkeley spokesperson Mary Kay Clunies-Ross tells Berkeleyside that city officials have been to the site “a couple of times” since a report on Berkeleyside highlighted the presence of the rodents, which can clearly be seen by passers-by walking on the sidewalk.

“We have been baiting the rats,” Clunies-Ross says. “There is a long history of rats at this location and at other spots in Berkeley. The rodent population goes up and down according to the season and depending on whether they have sources of food and water.” She added that the city is also in communication with the owner of this particular lot, Ken Sarachan, to address the problem.

On January 28, we posted a story with accompanying video titled “The rats of Telegraph Avenue” which was prompted by remarks made by Amoeba Music owner Marc Weinstein at Berkeleyside’s January 24 Local Business Forum. We went out to investigate his claims that the vacant lot near his store on Telegraph and Haste was infested with rodents, drawn there at least in part by people leaving food out for them. On the day we visited there was a large quantity of what appeared to be bird food on the lot.

As our video showed, there was a significant number of rats. Our story was picked up by local TV stations and has so far elicited 80 comments from members of the community concerned about the situation and the state of Telegraph Avenue in general. Reader J. Johannson wrote: “…that lot is one of the most potent symbols of institutional neglect of a modest downtown space I have ever seen”. Several readers had suggestions as to what could be done with the space. Dan Bert wrote: “The city should purchase the property and put in a combination police station annex and community center.”

Clunies-Ross says the city is taking an integrated pest management approach, using low-toxic poisons, cutting back bushes that provide shelter for the rats and discouraging people from leaving food on the lot, which only amplifies the problem. “We are working to find a solution,” she says.

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  • JimR

    I heard a long time ago that that lot was purchased by the owner of Rasputins (and Blondies Pizza, and the giant glass T-shirt store, etc) when he heard that Amoeba was thinking of buying it and expanding, perhaps even with a foot-bridge over Haste. Instead, Amoeba expanded to the adjacent building, and the empty lot has sat for years upon years. I don’t understand how such a prime real estate spot could sit neglected for so many years. Then again, I have shopped at Rasputin’s before – a very, very, very, VERY long time ago.

  • tizzielish

    I won’t do this research myself but I would like to know what city ordnances are already in place that establish our community’s standards regarding rodent infestations. I am troubled to read Clunies-Ross’ evasive statement ‘we are working to find a solution’ because I venture to guess there already are legislated solutions on the books. I venture to guess that the reason there is a rodent infestation on this downtown vacant lot is because city staffers have failed to implement community standards. Our laws are our community standards. Surely it is the job of city staffers to enforce our community standards? We don’t need staffers to ‘find a solution’. We need staffers to enforce the law.

    So what are the laws? What city ordnances already exist that address open rat infestations? And what penalties are proffered in those ordnances? Implement those solutions, Ms. Clunies-Ross. I bet some of those solutions include fines, citations, hearings about code violations, etc. Implement them all.

    I have been reading, with increasing frequency, complaints about the human denizens of the Telegraph neighborhood. Almost anytime there is any mention of street crime in that part of Berkeley, someone suggests that it is the quality of people attracted to People’s Park and vague derision is cast on the young, homeless vagabonds who seem to keep finding their way to Berkeley because of Berkeley’s stories hippie past. And there is a stream of humans who come to Berkeley because of the hippie past and People’s Park and the idea that Berkeley is kinder to homeless wanderers than most places. I get that having scruffy-looking young adults with dirty backpacks sitting in front of a business on Telegraph begging for food money is not good for the retail businesses on Telegraph … I really do get that is a problem.

    But I am sickened that I see more calls to get rid of young vagabonds than I see for the basic enforcement of city codes such as rat infestations. I see more concern for getting rid of young beggars than I see for getting rid of open rat infestations. What is wrong with this picture?

    I am angry to read a city staffer say she is looking for solutions to the rat problem on Telegraph. As I wrote above, I am sure city ordnances provide solutions. All city staffers need to do is enforce those solutions. Send out inspectors, issue fines, enforce the laws already written.

  • Berkeley Mom

    I am a little perplexed as to why the city does not display the same zeal in enforcing statutes against health hazards, derelict property, etc – as exemplified by this vacant lot – as it does in making people who wish to open a new business, like to owner of iScream, jump through every hoop imaginable…including meeting standards that aren’t even written down, but merely part of an inspector’s understanding of the community’s standards.

    What is wrong with this picture???

  • Bruce Love

    @Tizzielish, you might not know that the City of Berkeley publishes the municipal code on its web site. It even has a “pretty good” (not perfect) interface. And, it’s not all that long so that after you start to get a good feel for how it is organized, it’s easier to find stuff in it. Of course, state law might also be in play here and, in my experience, the much larger or horrifically badly constructed state code is harder to navigate. I find it fun and interesting to use to I like to mention it and, here:

    11.32.070 Accumulations creating rodent harborage prohibited.
    No person shall place, leave, dump or permit to accumulate any garbage or rubbish in or upon any building, structure or place so that the same shall afford food and/or harborage for rodents. No person shall accumulate or permit the accumulation on any place, premises or on any open lot any lumber, building material, boxes, paper, rags, excess or dense vegetation, or any material that may be permitted to remain thereon that may serve as a rodent harborage, unless the same shall be placed on open racks that are elevated not less than eighteen inches above the ground and evenly piled or stacked, or otherwise made reasonably unsuitable as a rodent harborage by such manner as may be approved by the chief of environmental health. (Ord. 4883-NS § 1 Exhibit A, Ch. 5 Art. 3 § 5, 1976)


    11.32.100 Premises subject to repeated infestation.
    Wherein or upon any building, structure or place is subject to repeated infestation with rodents, continuous and repeated rodent extermination shall be performed in addition to such rodentproofing as may be required. (Ord. 4883-NS § 1 Exhibit A, Ch. 5 Art. 3 § 8, 1976)

    I think those are probably the most applicable.
    Other language in that in related material points out that refusal to do this by the owner is a misdemeanor (this is not to assert that in this case the owner is guilty).
    Other language describes the rule sunder which the City can go an and attempt to abate a nuisance.
    In this case, apparently, the owner and the city are cooperating and working on abating the nuisance.
    As for the thrust of the gist of the comments you refer to, what is there to say. Between those and quite a lot of other common themes in the public discourse here and in some other aspects of Berkeley, I’ve started to conclude it is one of the most anger filled and hate ridden towns I’ve ever seen, combined with having some serious inflation in its self image. (Conventionally, someone at this point would pipe in with something like “Well, leave if you don’t like it!” :-)

  • anon

    Well, leave if you don’t like it!

  • berkopinionator

    The City should exercise eminent domain, take the property, abate the nuisance, build a nice hotel, restaurant and cafe, and generate tax revenue and jobs. We could end up with a new popular destination on Telegraph.

  • Bruce Love

    @anon, Thanks! ;-)

  • hi_friend

    What can we, as citizens, do to force the city to do its job? I am endlessly frustrated with the ridiculousness of Berkeley government, and would gladly put some time/effort into changing things.

  • anon

    hi_friend, the only thing you can do is get ACTIVE in local politics. Start really caring about who gets into the City Council and actively join someone’s campaign when it comes time to vote. There are enough of us un-gruntled Berkeleyans out here that we can affect some real change if we put our minds to it.

  • Berkeley Resident

    “As for the thrust of the gist of the comments you refer to, what is there to say. Between those and quite a lot of other common themes in the public discourse here and in some other aspects of Berkeley, I’ve started to conclude it is one of the most anger filled and hate ridden towns I’ve ever seen, combined with having some serious inflation in its self image.”

    Do you think that is a valid statistical sampling? Reread your own recent post about sampling bias.

  • Mike Farrell

    If you can’t handle the heat, you post anonymously.

  • Bruce Love

    @Berkeley Resident,

    re: “Do you think that is a valid statistical sampling?”

    I’m looking at the public face of debate. So, yes, the comments on just about every local news blog I can find, the kinds of op-edish stuff that goes around, some of the comments of local politicians and so forth. You are absolutely correct to correct me for seeming to imply that the people of Berkeley are, individually, on average, angrier and more hate filled or inappropriately ego-invested than other places I’ve lived – that is not what I meant. I was describing the public discourse that I see – the way that issues get framed in public forums and the kinds of conversations that happen there. I am describing how I think the city looks on the global stage, so to speak. I don’t think any of that data is hidden from me.

    I’ve lived places that are more homogenous in the sense that most people already agree about most political issues – and the debate is nothing like this, of course.

    I’ve also lived places that are as or more heterogenous and where people have plenty to disagree about, but also have been through harder times and so have more of a culture of celebrating “win-win” solutions. Again, the debates and discussions are far more civil and productive.

    The multiple extreme polarizations in Berkeley’s public political face are interesting, unique, and I think observably counter-productive for all. It’s fascinating, that’s all. What can one say?

  • Name Withheld


    If you think the comments here are bad, you must never read SFGate.

  • bs

    @Berkeley Mom, spot on. The city knows how to be a thorn in the ass, they just don’t have a good compass for figuring out who to inflict their pain on. Seriously, time to quick picking on homeowners and businesses that are trying to invest in and build our economy and community and put the f*cking screws on the unproductive folks who are dragging us down.

  • bs

    @Bruce, if this was SFgate you’d be burnt to a crisp already..

    That said, if it was up to me I’d have the university fence off people’s park and put it to some productive use. Yes, I know the history and I’ve lived here for 30 years. I call bullshit, it’s not what it was. These days you can’t walk two blocks in downtown or southside without getting a nose full of rank urine or stepping over human feces. Does the “community” use People’s Park? No, I wouldn’t take my kid there for a minute.