By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Last October 25 was the kindof community-council meeting that made news in Pacific Palisades. A smooth-talking, overperfumed lobbyist for a global gas company was there explaining that a proposed gas terminal some 28 miles off the coast would pose no harm to the denizens. A local woman disagreed, leaving in tears. An LAPD vice cop — a Sergeant Crump — showed up in an undercover “drug-dealer hippie” getup, and, to an audience with mouths agape, reported that teenagers in the squeaky-clean Palisades had been buying booze and drugs by a local Mobile station.
Illustration by Chris Rahn
(Click to enlarge)
(Click to enlarge)
Horror house: The day the mop-up man arrived, exterminators removed multiple bags of dead rats.
(Click to enlarge)
Palisades kids avoided 1018 Fiske and its rotting front door at Halloween.
Somewhere in the presentations, the local code-enforcement fetishists had their say. Susan Oakley made an impassioned plea: “There’s flagrant violations!” The owner of Subway was using signs to promote sandwiches. The new CVS drugstore had neon lights — not allowed.
On a rare day like this, when the audience is almost as big as the 22-member council, the minutiae can go forever. But it’s a tidy, rule-obeying bunch. When the clock strikes 9 p.m., the librarian turns the lights off and everyone must leave promptly.
First-timer Scott Denham fidgeted as his chance to speak approached, then barely got to be heard. He sprang from his seat at about one minute before 9, speaking rapidly to beat the librarian’s stopwatchlike closing procedure.
At 34, Denham stood out as being at least 30 years younger than almost everyone else in the room. He began, “Hi, my name is Scott Denham. I just moved in to the Palisades with my wife and two young children. ... [Twenty seconds left.] I’m here because we have a major, major rodent problem. There’s an infestation on my neighbor’s property. It’s spilling over, and it’s posing a serious health risk to my family. ... [Ten seconds left.] I need your help. We’re not getting any help from the city or the county. ...”
It turned 9 p.m. Blank stares. What’s this guy talking about? Some council members started stacking chairs. Taking pity on Denham, an aide to Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl who was sitting in the back, and who is assigned to the Palisades, stepped in, telling Denham, “I got it. We’re on it.”
The evening’s minutes would later recall this extremely brief exchange between Rosendahl’s aide and Denham with a great deal of added — and, it turns out, ridiculously optimistic — political flourish: “[Rosendahl’s deputy] reported that the Councilman’s Office has contacted the appropriate agencies in the City and the issue is being addressed as expeditiously as possible.”
Had Denham been given more than the time of day that night, he would have told them a tale beyond belief about one of the richest enclaves in the United States. His sweet old neighbor ladies, identical twins, had spent years fanatically feeding the Palisades’ rat population. Although the full dimensions of the environmental and health damage done by the peculiar pair are unknown, experts contacted by L.A. Weeklyestimate that the ladies’ actions may have added tens of thousands, even 500,000, new rats to L.A.’s Westside.
Chris Conlan, a longtime inspector with San Diego County Vector Control, says, “That number could be monstrous. You could get numbers approaching hundreds of thousands of rats. It’s impossible to quantify.” The case gives pause to the seen-everything-twice Animal Care and Control department in New York. “That’s definitely one for the books for us!” declares Richard Gentles, of that city’s huge animal-control bureaucracy. “This is the first time I’ve heard of someone living with that many rats. We don’t have problems to that level.”
The agency charged with stopping them — the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health — visited repeatedly, saw rats through the windows of the sisters’ home and did virtually nothing to end the threat to the public, the neighbors or the sisters themselves. Nor did the office of City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo act without weeks of foot-dragging and buck-passing.
Now, sisters Marjorie and Margaret Barthel are in court, facing a lawsuit filed by neighbors Scott and Liz Denham. The Denhams were forced to exact their own form of vermin justice in the civil courts after discovering that multiple agencies, from Los Angeles County to City Hall, allowed a Westside rat boom to reel out of control — until the Denhams acted to put a stop to it. While the scenes were straight out of Willard, the message is that in Los Angeles, much of local government is broken.
The small beachside town of the Palisades, which is really just a far-western neighborhood of the city of Los Angeles, flanks Sunset Boulevard beginning at the termini of Malibu, Santa Monica and Brentwood. Residents divide their 27,000-person suburb into several zones that real estate agents use as marketing tools: The Riviera and the Huntington have big, expensive homes on large lots. The Highlands has the most expensive tract homes you’ll ever find. Britney Spears bought a home there last year. Castellammare is a Mediterranean-inspired seaside bluff. Marquez has old hillside homes with great views.
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city