Study: LA, California cities 'overrun' by rat infestations

Fueled by an increasing homeless population and government restrictions on select pesticides, rat infestations have spiked in major cities across California, most notably Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco, according to a report released on Tuesday by a political action committee.

"California is being overrun by rodents, and without immediate emergency action by state and local government, we face significant economic costs and risk a public health crisis," said Carl DeMaio, chairman of Reform California.

The report cited various indicators of a burgeoning rat problem, including a Los Angeles police officer contracting the bacteria that causes typhoid fever and social media photos of a rat falling from the ceiling of a Westchester restaurant onto a patron's table.

Rats can carry dangerous diseases, such as typhus, which an employee at Los Angeles City Hall reported contracting in the past year, blaming an increase in pests in the Civic Center area.

"Both in terms of measurement and observation, it is clear that California's rodent population is exploding," DeMaio wrote in the report.

The study included a list of "rattiest cities" in the United States published by the pest-control company Orkin, which named Los Angeles as the second-rattiest city behind Chicago.

The study claims the increase in cities' rodent population was not linked to environmental factors but correlates with actions some local governments have taken to ban certain rodent-control methods. It also cited as a likely contributor the spike in cities' homeless populations and accompanying filth conditions.

The report, spearheaded by DeMaio and various vector control industry leaders, asks Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a public health emergency and require public entities to address the situation. It also asks for a public education campaign for businesses and residents to mitigate the rodents. It also calls on the state Legislature to oppose Assembly Bill 1788, which seeks to outlaw certain rodent-deterring products that use more robust chemicals but have concerned environmentalists.

"Instead of acting to address this developing crisis, California state lawmakers are just days away from passing legislation to ban the best rodent-control tools and methods available and would require use of less effective, so-called `green alternatives,"' DeMaio said. "It's madness."

Proponents of the legislation contend that the targeted rat poisons often wind up having a deadlier effect when rats that ingest the poison are consumed by wildlife. Proponents also contend such rate poisons present a danger to children who may accidentally ingest them.

The Reform California report's authors surveyed 23 private pest-control companies that operate throughout California, and all of them reported rat service requests had increased substantially in the last year. None of the companies reported a decline in service requests since last year, according to the study.

It could be that homelessness and vector control restrictions are not the only problem related to the rodents. Last month, Los Angeles County cited 85 downtown businesses for not having proper trash receptacles, exacerbating the problem of illegal dumping.

The Los Angeles City Council recently allocated more than $6.5 million to the Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation to cover costs of hygiene and health services and cleanup teams that will target areas in desperate need of cleaning.

Mayor Eric Garcetti said the revamping of trash-cleanup efforts and outreach to homeless communities using "cleaning and rapid engagement," or CARE, teams would shift the city from simply reacting to complaints about dumping to pro-actively responding to high-need areas.

City sanitation officials reported that in the first five months of the year, it responded to an average of 1,200 illegal dumping requests per month. The volume of requests has created an ongoing backlog, City Councilman Huizar said last month.

CNS contributed to this report.