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Palisades Rathouse: Unchallenged by Health Officials, Elderly Twins Fed Local Vermin Population 

Old ladies lovingly nurtured rats, turning a home in one of the nation's priciest enclaves into Willard

Wednesday, Jul 30 2008
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Last October 25 was the kind of 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

 

Max Taves

Horror house: The day the mop-up man arrived, exterminators removed multiple bags of dead rats.

Max Taves

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.

click to flip through (5) ILLUSTRATION BY CHRIS RAHN
  • Illustration by Chris Rahn
 

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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. Weekly estimate 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.

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