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San Francisco keeps responding to calls about poop on this street

A rusted, painted power box located in the Bayview sits on the most-reported SF address for feces complaints. | Liz Lindqwister/The Standard

San Francisco keeps all manner of data about its streets, including where the city gets the most calls about poop. In 2022, an address in the Bayview had the ignominious distinction of being the crappiest in the city, and it’s in the lead again in 2023, 311 hotline statistics show.

But are the numbers unfairly staining the reputation of an address on the corner of Oakdale Avenue and Third Street?

Since January 2022, the address 1615 Oakdale Ave. has been the subject of no fewer than 174 calls to 311 reporting animal or human waste, according to a tally collected by the city. 

But the 311 complaints are, in fact, mostly related to a painted electrical box that is rusting in an unfortunate fashion at its base. The complaints appear to have been made by the same person, over and over again, according to the Department of Public Works. Most requests, which are made by text message, include an identical image of the rusty signal box. 

The painted, rusty box sits on the corner of Oakdale Avenue and Third Street on May 2, 2023. | Liz Lindqwister/The Standard

Despite the duplicative nature of these requests, Public Works continues to send cleaning teams to the site two to three times per week, in what department representatives say is a “mix of proactive and 311-service request responses.” 

Yet, the 311 response notes reviewed by The Standard repeatedly stated that no human waste was found at the site and that the “traffic signal box has already been steamed cleaned.” Another completed 311 report noted that the area smelled good, and 17 requests were marked as duplicates, a few explicitly because Public Works officials noticed the calls had come from the same source. 

The box has generated at least 59 reports of human or animal feces since the start of this year—that’s one complaint roughly every other day. And the city continues to commit resources to it, raising questions about the effectiveness of the 311 reporting system and Public Works’ use of it.

The Standard visited the location on a recent Tuesday morning and found a relatively clear sidewalk and no excrement. Residents from a nearby apartment complex took their dogs on morning walks, notably picking up after the animals, and the only garbage in sight was a pile of neatly discarded cardboard boxes.

The street is not without real cleanliness problems, however. Nearly every day, workers for a nearby restaurant power-wash an alcove by the eatery that is often used as a toilet, Public Works officials said. The restaurant owners also say there is constant garbage by their premises. 

This Public Works-operated Pit Stop is located in the Bayview. There are at least seven of these structures in the Tenderloin neighborhood, where the street feces problem is most apparent. | Liz Lindqwister/The Standard

“The fact that there’s a staffed public toilet available close by suggests that the issue may be more complex regarding the person or persons using this area as their toilet,” said Public Works spokesperson Rachel Gordon. 

Public Works and 311 representatives say their agencies are investigating the duplicate calls at 1615 Oakdale Ave. 

The Real Crappiest Street in SF?

Bayview residents said they were surprised to hear the Oakdale Avenue and Third Street area was a 311 feces hotspot, but said crime and dumping can be an issue on the corner, which sits across from a busy Muni station. 

In fact, Public Works runs a public bathroom known as a Pit Stop near the intersection. The man who runs it, who would only give his first name, Justin, said feces issues in the Bayview are not as intense as in other parts of the city. 

“It’s not going to be as bad as it is in Downtown, like the Tenderloin,” he said. “That’s where [Pit Stops] really come in handy.” 

Street cleaners from the public works department power-wash streets in San Francisco in October 2021. | Sophie Bearman/The Standard

According to 311, some of San Francisco’s most excrement-riddled streets are in the Tenderloin and SoMa neighborhoods. The Tenderloin, in particular, has publicly struggled to help its growing unhoused population and address its filthy streets.

“It’s terrible; this street is covered,” said Joe Souza, a Tenderloin resident who has lived on Larkin Street for a year. “There’s poop everywhere. You always see it along the wall and in front of the garage there.” 

A four-block zone in the Tenderloin, between Larkin and Taylor streets, recorded dozens of feces-related 311 cleaning requests in the last five months. But residents say the problem is much bigger than what the data shows.  

“We clean up five of those [feces] a week,” said Bekzod Ochilov, manager of Halal Dastarkhan, an Uzbek restaurant on the corner of Larkin and Sutter streets. “The government should punish the people doing this with a fine; we need to keep the city clean.” 

The city has responded to cleanliness concerns in the Tenderloin by establishing new cleaning programs and erecting seven Pit Stops in the neighborhood, which may have contributed to the Tenderloin’s declining feces-related calls in 2022. And the neighborhood’s Community Benefit District has responded to thousands of street cleaning requests in the last two years. 

Some residents worry it isn’t enough, however, especially when street cleanliness concerns tend to reflect the city’s intractable issues of homelessness, mental illness and drug use. 

WATCH: ‘This Shouldn’t Be Normal’: Tenderloin Parents Grapple with Neighborhood Woes

A Clean City team member in the Tenderloin power-washes the sidewalk on Hyde Street in the Tenderloin on Jan. 31, 2015. | Paul Chinn/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

“The poop everywhere is terrible, and it’s really everywhere,” said Nina Buthee, a 20-year-old neighborhood resident. “If anyone was shooting up or something, we’d all report it. But it doesn’t surprise me that there are so many 311 calls.”

So far in 2023, the city has received more than 1,322 calls to remove feces in the Tenderloin. 

Data Can’t Tell Us Everything

Though 311 service calls can highlight areas that may need extra attention, the data doesn’t tell the whole story. It can even mislead city agencies into wasting precious resources on situations like 1615 Oakdale Ave.

The stark difference between the most-reported spot in the Bayview and a beleaguered street in the Tenderloin demonstrates how excessive 311 calls or duplicate requests can distort reality and are but one imperfect metric for tracking the city’s cleanliness problem. 

The inclination to report problems like trash and feces, for example, seems to vary by neighborhood.

“We have seen some geographic issues where some neighborhoods or people are more apt to use the 311 system than other neighborhoods, so it can skew it a little bit,” Gordon said. “We know that [311] has not been used as much in the Bayview, but there might be one property owner, one resident there, who’s making use of it.” 

The corner of Oakdale Avenue and Third Street in San Francisco is where the highest number of feces-related 311 calls was recorded in 2022. | Liz Lindqwister/The Standard

The residents of 1615 Oakdale Ave. did not respond to a request for comment by publication time.

As San Franciscans continue to complain about dirty streets or feces on their sidewalks, the city has quietly struggled to keep up. The Public Works Department aims to respond to 95% of cleaning requests within two days. However, just over three-quarters of the street and sidewalk cleaning requests were answered within two days, as of January this year. 

Gordon says delays are largely driven by a shortage of workers and the sheer volume of 311 calls. Those calls—of which Public Works is only responsible for a portion—can range from cleaning requests to parking tickets, and average 60,000 calls per month

“It’s harder to sort out if [service calls] are duplicate requests, or different requests that happen on the same block,” Gordon said. “We do work with 311 in trying to get as much precise information as possible, but there are going to be some duplicative requests.”

Garrett Leahy contributed additional reporting for this story.