In response to an outbreak of flea-borne typhus in the downtown area and a possible spike in the number of rodents and fleas in City Hall, the Los Angeles City Council Friday approved a motion seeking options on combating the problem, which may include removing all of the carpets.
The motion introduced by Council President Herb Wesson on Wednesday was fast-tracked, bypassing the usual protocol of a committee hearing prior to being brought before the full council.
“I want to make it crystal clear that this council truly believes that when individuals come to work for the city of Los Angeles that the only thing they should be concerned about is getting here on time,” Wesson said. “They should not be concerned about coming to work and finding themselves in an unsafe or unhealthy environment.”
The motion says there has been a “noticeable increase in the volume of rodents in the area and within city buildings,” and also referenced a recent report by NBC4 on a City Hall East employee who is convinced she caught typhus last November from fleas in her office.
The motion says that Wesson’s office became aware of vermin issues within his personal City Hall office that month and brought in pest control experts who set traps, advised the removal of all live plants which the rodents were consuming, and recommended the removal or containment of all food products.
The motion says that within two weeks, Wesson’s office was also experiencing fleas in the carpets, so he had them removed.
“Since the work has been completed, our employees have not reported any new rodent or flea issues within the office,” the motion states.
The motion instructs city staff to report back with a cost estimate and plan to remove all carpets in City Hall and City Hall East, and to report back with an assessment of all live plants in any city building, city-owned facility and city-operated facility within downtown, including which varieties are most attractive to vermin.
Before the meeting, Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez shared video footage with some news outlets of her staffers screaming and reacting to a rodent running down a hallway, and Councilman Joe Buscaino posted on Twitter a note he shared with his staff, telling them that the office is being visited by rodents and reminding them not to leave food and dishes out overnight.
During comments on the council chamber floor, Buscaino pointed to a 2016 federal court ruling that limits the amount of homeless encampment cleanups the city can do in the Skid Row area and prevents the city from seizing and destroying homeless people’s property in Skid Row and nearby areas without posting advance notice.
U.S. District Court Judge S. James Otero also ordered the city to segregate and store impounded belongings where they can be recovered. The ruling has led to a significant increase in homeless encampments in downtown, Buscaino said.
“That injunction is prohibiting our outreach workers from getting to our most vulnerable homeless population in and around the downtown area. So rats are a symbol of this injunction,” he said.
Members of the Personnel and General Services departments told the council that they are already working on the rodent and flea problem. A pest control vendor is currently inspecting every floor of City Hall and City Hall East to identity and address any problems with fleas or rodents, they said.
According to Wesson’s motion and a member of the Personnel Department, the current demolition of the Los Angeles Police Department’s former Parker Center headquarters building, which has been mostly vacant since 2013 and is across the street from City Hall East, may be partly responsible for the rodents in the Civic Center area.
Typhus is not transmitted person-to-person, and flea-borne typhus can spread to people from infected fleas and their feces. Typhus infection can be prevented through flea control measures on pets, using insect repellent to avoid flea bites, and clearing areas that can attract wild or stray animals like cats, rats and opossums, according to the Department of Public Health.
Symptoms of typhus include high fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and rash and can be treated with antibiotics.
Health officials in October announced there was a typhus outbreak in Los Angeles County, including in the downtown area of Skid Row, where an estimated 2,000 homeless people sleep.
From 2013-2017, the average number of reported cases in the county of flea-borne typhus doubled to nearly 60 cases per year, and from 2018 to date, there have been a total of 107 documented cases of flea-borne typhus, the Department of Public Health reported.
Since October, a total of 19 cases have been documented in downtown Los Angeles, with eight out of the 19 involving people experiencing homelessness, the department said.
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