DTLA—Over the course of the last year, people in Downtown Los Angeles have grown alarmed by the presence of rats in municipal buildings, including City Hall and the Central Division police station in Skid Row. Tensions ratcheted higher in the wake of an outbreak of typhus in Downtown. The flu-like disease is spread by fleas on animals such as rats, cats and opossums.
In February, the City Council called for a report on local vermin and pest control issues. That same month, a leading councilman and a leading rat held a secret meeting to discuss the situation. But with little improvement since then, they scheduled a second session, coming together recently in a hidden penthouse above the Tom Bradley room in City Hall. I was allowed to observe, on the condition that I didn’t name either the councilman or the rat.
Councilman: Thanks for meeting me again. Can I get you anything? Water? Food? Mice Krispies?
Rat: Are you [expletive] serious? Not only is that joke dumb, but it’s about a whole different species. I should shed some fleas right here.
Councilman: Please! Don’t do that! [Pause. Deep breath] I’m sorry. Us council folk are under a lot of pressure. People in L.A. are really angry about the situation on the streets.
Rat: It’s okay. Chill out.
Councilman: I’ll try. It’s just you and I met back in February, and you’re still here. I thought you’d be gone by now.
Rat: Funny. Given your performance in recent months, I thought you’d be gone by now.
Councilman: Hey, you rats gave Europe the Bubonic plague in the 14th century.
Rat: And the City Council in the 2000s gave Los Angeles a mega-building boom that somehow resulted in less affordable housing in the city. Do you really want to go toe-to-paw with me on this?
Councilman: [Long, slow exhale] We had an agreement after our last meeting. We promised to clean up the streets and you promised to duck out of view and do your ratty business elsewhere.
Rat: You’re right. We did have an agreement.
Rat: You call the streets clean? Have you noticed that portions of Downtown have turned into Mount Trashmore? News flash: Rats like trash. Piles of trash mean scraps of food and places to burrow. It’s simple: You get rid of the trash, and we’ll go somewhere else.
Councilman: We’re working on that. We recently introduced a comprehensive plan to address trash on city streets.
Rat: Oooh. A government plan. Does it involve clichés?
Rat: I’m used to government plans that are more about clichés and headlines than actual change. You know, ones where the politicians go, “This will not stand,” and “Change begins now.” Los Angeles has had plans to eradicate homelessness and reduce gridlock and transform the L.A. River and eliminate pedestrian deaths, and I’m still waiting for any of that to happen. Now you have a plan to pick up trash.
Councilman: Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Rat: Rome also wasn’t covered in garbage and didn’t have a government-declared “Typhus Zone.” But L.A. does.
Councilman: It’s complicated. We’re dealing with a lot of illegal trash dumping in Downtown.
Rat: Illegal dumping’s a brand new issue, right? Never happened until, what, the past couple months?
Councilman: No, it’s been happening in some parts of Downtown for decades. Most business owners dispose of their garbage the right way, but others toss it in the streets.
Rat: That’s been happening for years and now you decide to address it and step up enforcement? What’s wrong with this picture?
Councilman: There’s a lot to take care of in Los Angeles — Olympics, bike lanes, Airbnb regulations, pot shops, elections. We can’t do everything.
Rat: But you have a plan, right?
Councilman: Exactly! A comprehensive plan. This garbage — change begins now!
Rat: I don’t know what to say.
Councilman: Let’s regroup, take a break. Wanna play a game. How about some hide and squeak?
Rat: What the [expletive] is wrong with you?
Councilman: Sorry. I get it. People are angry about the situation on the streets — I’m not sure if I mentioned that before. The sidewalks are filled with tents and garbage and it’s going to take time to clear it all away. But let’s start small. How can we get the rats out of City Hall?
Rat: You start with the poop.
Councilman: Exactly. We’d prefer you not poop in the building. You know, the city has been sued by a woman who claims she caught typhus from a rat-riding flea in City Hall. We call that muy no bueno. In English that means “very no bueno.” So yeah, let’s ix-nay the oop-pay in City Hall.
Rat: Who elected you? I’m not talking about rats pooping in the building. I’m talking about people. One reason we rats are in City Hall is because, according to a city-commissioned report from a pest control company that the L.A. Times wrote about June 3, homeless individuals are relieving themselves in pits on the side of the building that are covered with grates. You gotta stop that.
Councilman: Easier said than done. Do you have any ideas to prevent people from doing their business here?
Rat: Just one: Permanent nearby portable toilets with hand-washing stations and on-site staff. I don’t know what it costs but it’s gotta be worth the investment. Give people an alternative so they’re not using grates.
Councilman: That’s a great idea! Get it? Grate? Great! Great grates! Great grates while eating grapes! We’ll include it in the plan.
Rat: Heaven help us. When are you termed out?
Councilman: There’s another thing I’d like to discuss.
Rat: Is it the proposal to ban behested payments from elected officials, the idea of halting the practice of politicians asking for charitable contributions from those who do business with the city?
Councilman: No! Are you kidding? We love behested payments. I don’t want to discuss that at all.
Rat: Is it the ongoing pay-to-play investigation at City Hall and the FBI raid from last November, and speculation from the general public about who will go down?
Councilman: No! I don’t want to discuss that either.
Rat: Quel surprise.
Councilman: It’s actually, well, I’m up for re-election shortly, and I was hoping that you and some of your fellow rats might sneak through cracks into the offices of some Downtown buildings and see if you can find any documents from competitors that we could use during the campaign.
Rat: That’s sneaky. We rats can get anywhere at any time, but this doesn’t sound like a bright idea. Can’t you run on your record of achievement during your time in City Council?
The councilman raises his eyebrows and is silent for a moment. He slowly shakes his head back and forth, before speaking.
Councilman: Go with my idea. I’ll pay you by letting you rats have all the garbage you want — we’ll make the cleanups even slower than they’ve been so far. We’ll buy some time.
Councilman: I even have a good name for the plan.
Rat: What is it?
Rat: You’re hopeless.
The rat turns around and scurries away. The councilman asks his assistant to send in the opossum.
Copyright 2019 Los Angeles Downtown News