Even though the city of Los Angeles has vowed to clean up heaps of uncollected garbage first exposed by the I-Team, NBCLA is finding evidence that the city's rodent population is exploding, and posing a serious public health risk.
Yet, unlike many other major cities, LA still has no formal program dedicated to controlling disease-spreading rats.
The I-Team's investigation found an army of rats racing across Ceres Avenue near downtown's Produce District, the week after the city cleared away heaps of trash piling up for months, with Mayor Eric Garcetti declaring the once-filthy street cleaned up. The mountains of trash on Ceres Avenue were so huge that NBC4's pictures of the street went viral worldwide in late May.
Two rodent experts the I-Team consulted say LA's rat problem is out of control.
"I've never seen this many droppings, ever," Niamh Quinn, Human-Wildlife Interactions Advisor with University of California Cooperative Extension, told the I-Team after inspecting an area near the Produce District last Friday.
"I had no idea it was this bad," says Sylvia Kenmuir, a state-licensed pest control expert who consults with the city of New York on its pest control program and teaches at NYC's Rat Academy—a program which trains city workers on rat abatement.
The rat problem, though, is not only confined to downtown LA and is growing more visible across the city.
The I-Team's cameras spotted rats running around in close proximity to people and munching on trash on numerous city streets and in parks frequented by families with small children. NBCLA's cameras caught rats at various homeless encampments, including one on Venice Boulevard where people defecate on the streets.
"Rodents will eat human feces," Quinn says. "They will eat scraps."
LA Mayor Eric Garcetti has already conceded that the city could "absolutely" be doing a better job to control the growing rat problem. Yet, LA still has no formal program to control rats, eight months after an epidemic of the disease typhus--which is spread by fleas which often live on rats.
The I-Team asked the Mayor to provide exact dates and locations where rat control efforts have taken place in the last two years. A statement received tonight from the Mayor's office did not include those specifics, only referring to efforts in the Skid Row and Civic Center areas.
Cities like Washington D.C. have workers out every day plugging burrows where rodents nest and multiply. New York City's mayor has a Rat Academy to train city workers and has a rat task force that meets weekly.
When asked why the city doesn't have a team dedicated to rodent control, LA's mayor told NBCLA, "We are putting together a team right now...It doesn't have a name." Again, the I-Team asked the Mayor's office for names of people on that team, but got no specifics.
For a few days last October, the city sealed rat burrows in the Skid Row area, and then later in an area around City Hall. But the sanitation department has told the I-Team that there is "no additional rat control effort like that scheduled for 2019."
In fact, there is not even a way to report rat sightings through the city's online 311 system, even though downtown LA workers tell the I-Team that they're seeing more rodents than ever--and they're getting bitten by the fleas that live on them.
"Rats are everywhere," Quinn says. "And it's just not acceptable to expose people to this amount of disease."
And what about all those rats on Ceres Avenue, which sits right next to LA's produce district?
"They're crawling on the boxes; they're crawling on produce," Kenmuir says about the rats on Ceres Avenue. "This is a serious health problem."
When asked by the I-Team what action was being taken to control rats on Ceres Avenue, Garcetti initially said he didn't know but would get back to the I-Team.
The day after the I-Team questioned the mayor, his spokesman said a contractor filled 15 rat burrows on the street with flea powder and rodenticide and sealed them with paper and wire mesh.
But hours after the contractor supposedly did that work, the I-Team took the two rodent experts to the location and found plenty of active rat burrows that weren't filled.
"That's definitely an active burrow," Quinn said at the site.
Rats could also be seen running wild, continuing to threaten the health of everyone who lives or visits Los Angeles.
The experts said that clearing trash without first doing careful rodent abatement may actually have worsened the problem, by pushing rats into nearby businesses to find other sources of food.
Quinn says, "These [rats] are running around our cities, in restaurants, in our children's schools."