The good news is that two trash-strewn downtown Los Angeles
streets I wrote about last week were cleaned up by city work
crews and have been kept that way, as of this writing.
The bad news is that I didn’t have to travel far to find
more streets just as badly fouled by filthy mounds of junk and
stinking, rotting food.
Then there was the news that the LAPD station on skid row was
cited by the state for a rodent infestation and other unsanitary
conditions, and that one employee there was infected with the
strain of bacteria that causes typhoid fever.
What century is this?
Is it the 21st century in the largest city of a state that ranks
among the world’s most robust economies, or did someone
turn back the calendar a few hundred years?
We’ve got thousands of people huddled on the streets, many
of them withering away with physical and mental disease.
Sidewalks have disappeared, hidden by tents and the kinds of
makeshift shanties you see in Third World places. Typhoid and
typhus are in the news, and an army of rodents is on the move.
On Thursday I saw a county health inspector on rat patrol
between 7th and 8th streets on skid row. He was carrying a
clipboard and said he had found droppings and other evidence of
rodents, and I asked where:
“Everywhere,” he said.
Well, it’s nice to know somebody is doing something, but
you don’t need a clipboard. I’ve seen so many rats the last two weeks in downtown Los
Angeles, I have to suspect they’re plotting a takeover of
City Hall, which vermin infiltrated last year.
The city of Los Angeles has become a giant trash receptacle. It
used to be that illegal dumpers were a little more discreet,
tossing their refuse in fields and gullies and remote outposts.
Now city streets are treated like dumpsters, or even toilets
— on Thursday, the 1600 block of Santee Street was
cordoned off after someone dumped a fat load of poop in the
street. I’m not sure when any of this became the norm, but
it must have something to do with the knowledge that you can get
away with it. Every time sanitation crews knock down one mess,
another dumpsite springs up nearby.
You wanna take a tour with me of how things looked Wednesday and
OK, the shovels were still out on Crocker Street, which was
looking pretty good, so I went over to East 10th Street and
Naomi Avenue, several blocks away, near the Coca-Cola
The north side of 10th Street looked like a landfill. Trash was
scattered in the street and on the sidewalk, and there was a
little bit of everything. Splintered lumber, metal poles, soiled
blankets and clothing, a sofa, buckets, boxes.
“Trucks come by and run over the trash,” said Ron
Riego, 60, who lives under a tarp on the corner and pointed out
where some of the debris has been flattened by traffic.
Riego said he was just back from the hospital, where he was
treated for congestive heart failure and water on the lungs. On
returning to his tarp, he discovered that someone had set fire
to some of his belongings. Now he was sorting through his things
to see what was salvageable, and planning to move a few feet to
“Rats chased me out,” he said, so he was
surrendering his lean-to to the rodents.
“Someone came by in the middle of the night and dropped all
those bags,” Riego said, telling me such dumps were
common. “I looked out and saw a nice new white pickup
truck stop and toss everything, then he took off,” he
The bags, some of which were split open, contained spoiled fruit
and trimmings from pineapples and mangoes. That part of town has
a lot of produce wholesalers, and it’s no secret that some
of the illegal dumping is done by local merchants and customers.
Nor is it any secret that food scraps attract rats.
At East 16th Street and Compton Avenue, just south of the 10
Freeway, trash billowed at the corner and tapered gradually to
the east along a building tagged with graffiti. The debris
included boxes, bulging trash bags and a crushed Lime scooter.
The centerpiece was a heaping shopping cart.
I saw a few encampments nearby and standing, murky green water in
the gutters. Were the drains clogged with trash? Is a water or
sewer line leaking? You just never know, and you almost
don’t want to think about it. I go through a lot of
antibacterial wipes after a day here, and I take my shoes off
before I enter my house. It’s horrifying to think about
how many people live in the middle of all that muck.
I went back to 16th and Compton the next day to find a city crew
cleaning up the mess, and I spoke to James Campbell, who runs
the uniform rental company on that corner.
“I call the city and they usually come within a week, but
then it’s always piled right back up again,” said
“I don’t even like stepping out here because of the
needles,” said Campbell, who told me he cringes when
customers come to his office and witness what’s at his
“It’s embarrassing,” he said.
Yes, but it’s not Campbell who should be embarrassed.
It’s L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and the 15 members of the
City Council who run the city and have not responded with the
urgency necessary to deal with the homelessness and trash
problems that plague Los Angeles.
They alone did not create the social and economic woes that have
contributed to the city’s major problems, and it’s
not as if they’ve been completely unresponsive. About
27,000 people were housed last year, for instance. But even more
people have ended up in their cars and on streets and riverbeds,
and taxpayers are right to wonder why City Hall keeps losing its
most important battles.
When I called Councilman Jose Huizar’s office about the
trash piled on Ceres Avenue, a staffer told me issues like that
are complaint-driven, and if no one has called, the office might
not know the problem exists.
What, they don’t have eyes?
Look, I know Huizar might be a little distracted, given that the
FBI has hauled records out of his home and office as part of a
City Hall corruption probe, and the councilman has other legal
But council districts have as many as two dozen employees and in
times of crisis they ought to have more than a few of them in
the field, spotting and solving problems, and cracking down on
illegal dumpers. Not just with citations, but with handcuffs,
perp walks and mandatory trash pickup duty.
The city has thousands of workers on the streets every day
writing tickets, fixing potholes, driving trash trucks. Every
one of them ought to be reporting issues they see on their
“If you’re writing a parking ticket and someone dumps
a toilet in the street, you should call sanitation,” said
Estela Lopez of the Downtown Industrial Business Improvement
District, or BID.
The crews that clean the streets of that BID are homeless or
formerly so, and they’re employed by the nonprofit
Chrysalis, which tries to get them all housed and
self-supporting. James Blackwell, for instance, supervises
Lopez’s crew and told me he just moved into his own place.
It’s a terrific program — clean the streets and get
people off the streets at the same time. Chrysalis staffs 16
BIDs in L.A. and 10 Caltrans crews, and would like to do more.
But an expansion proposal has gotten bottled up at City Hall.
Stay tuned for more on that in the near future.
Meanwhile, let’s keep the pressure on City Hall.
I drove a little farther south Thursday and found a monumental
dumpsite at East 25th Street and Long Beach Avenue along the
railroad tracks. I took photos during my survey to share with
City Hall, and I’d like you to do the same.
Get your camera or phone and send me photos of eyesores in your
neighborhood or near your place of employment. Include the
address, and I’ll take a look at as many as I can get to,
publicize the filth and count the days until City Hall cleans it
If we don’t take charge, who will?
For more information about rat control,
contact EHS Pest.