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Fenway Overrun With Rats
Residents May Ask for Emergency Health Measures

(26 July)--A host of festering sanitation and housing problems in the Fenway has unleashed an explosion in the rodent population. "Boston has a budget of almost $2 billion dollars, but our public sanitation is something out of the Dark Ages", says Peter Catalano, a community activist and board member of the Burbank Tenants Association in the East Fens, in the Symphony Hall area.

"Everyone I talk to throughout the Fenway has stories of rats and mice overrunning the place. People can't congregate in front of their homes for 10 minutes without four or five rats and mice scampering by; folks are being driven in-doors for fear of being cornered by hungry sewer rats", says Catalano.

Mindful that rats can transmit disease, most infamously, the bubonic plague -- and more immediately, the fear of apartment infestation -- Fenway residents are beginning to wonder whether it's time to petition Federal, State and City officials to declare a Public Health emergency. An fiat would impose rigorous sanitation codes and sharp penalties upon individuals and landlords who fail to comply with such decrees. Meanwhile, some Fenway residents have already taken less dramatic initiatives.

On July 9th Peter Catalano and Richard Webster of the Burbank Tenants Association organized a task force to deal with the problems on Burbank Street. Leading several city agencies was Senior Health Inspector Frank Sylvester, along with personnel from the Rodent Control Division of the Inspectional Services Department and Steven Vicholson, Fenway's local Code Enforcement officer. Josh Young from City Councilman Tom Keane's office was also invited along with Lisa Harrington, a representative from the Mayor's Office. Joan Livingston and Paula Davis, managers from Burbank Apartments also joined the entourage, along with Tim Davis of the Fenway Community Development Corporation (FCDC) and one of the FCDC property managers.

Though the particulars differ from block to block, the problems throughout the Fenway are the same as those on Burbank Street: overflowing and leaking garbage dumpsters; gutters and sidewalks thick with trash and debris; gigantic rat burrows negligent property owners refuse to bait and fill. "Worst of all" says Catalano, "are toothless sanitation codes and slack enforcement that creates a veritable 'Meals on Wheels' nutrition program for rats."

Under current codes, for example, it's perfectly legal to place garbage on the sidewalk in plastic bags from 5 p.m. until it's picked up 12-14 hours later by sanitation workers. Rats easily gnaw and scavenge noisome mounds of trash from every building in the area. Vagrants also break into the bags overnight, spreading debris and attracting rodents even faster. Few building managers bother to sweep up after trash pick-up and those that do simply brush it into the gutters and say, "Now it's the City's problem".

Making matters worse is Mayor Menino's refusal to budget enough resources for adequate street cleaning and vigilant enforcement of existing sanitation codes. "The funding's just not there to clean the streets" says menino aide, Lisa Harrington.

This year, the Fenway isn't even being cleaned by the Summer Youth Jobs Corps, though Harrington has promised a brigade will stop by. As of late July, the Corps has yet to make an appearance.

Fenway's large student only adds to the neighborhood's woes. One example: The Avis car rental lot on Westland Avenue has a dumpster on its property that services buildings on Westland Avenue. Avis personnel have reported seeing rowdies throwing trash from their windows towards the dumpsters below. Apparently students compete to "three point" the dumpsters with bags of trash hurled from several stories up. "I've seen them doing it myself" says Richard Webster, whose apartment at 48 Burbank Street overlooks the Avis lot.

It's also not unusual for individuals, mostly students, to leave open bags of wet garbage on the streets days ahead of sanitation pickups. According to Catalano "It's easier to plunk trash on the streets than drop it off in a trash room or walk it to a dumpster. Occasionally perpetrators are fined", he says, "but for both property owners and individuals, the levies are ridiculously low and collection is erratic, so it has no deterent effect."

Some help may be on the way. Josh Young, a top aide to Councilman Keane says that legislation is wending its way through the City Council to prohibit landlords from leaving trash overnight on the sidewalks. Stiffer fines and prompt collection schemes are also in the works but remain months from passage according to Young.

For the time being Fenway residents can call upon various city agencies to respond to individual complaints and organize specific task force inspections near egregiously troublesome areas as the Burbank tenants Association has. (A list of these agencies, including rodent control, can be found in the Blue Pages of the phone book under the Inspectional Services Department.)

Emotions, however, are running high. Across the Fenway, sentiment is building for strong and swift action. "While Mayor Menino has been romancing convention planners and touting the baseball All-Star game slated for Fenway Park next year, he's been deaf to the deteriorating conditions here in the Fenway neighborhood" says an irate Peter Catalano. "I wonder how anxious the Democrats will be to hold their convention in Boston when they hear residents are clamoring for a Health Emergency to protect us from the bubonic plague?" he muses.

"Better yet, perhaps the Democratic Convention site selection committee would like to meet some of Boston's 'urban wildlife' via Fedex".

Wanna do something about it? Email the Mayor and let him know you want the garbage cleaned up and the rats gone!