Rats in the Palisades

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

This has been a pretty good week for news. There's lots to pick from as the local story of the week.

Manny Ramirez coming to the Dodgers from the Red Sox, for one. Dodger fans love home runs and he should bring a few of those while he's here.

But Angelenos aren't very forgiving of twenty-million-dollar players who refuse to play hard and who sit out over money issues, as Manny did in Boston. He quit on the Red Sox, so we'll see how that turns out here.

You could go with the earthquake that shook the region on Tuesday. Not much damage. But it rattled our collective sense of guilt at not being better prepared for the Big One that scientists keep telling us is due --- any year now.

Or there was Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, canceling his date to speak at the banquet of a big gay organization. Some activists think the group isn't transgender friendly enough, and the mayor listened.

For me, though, hands down the story of the week is the LA Weekly's cover piece on the rat ladies of Pacific Palisades.

First, a data point. Pacific Palisades is not merely affluent, it is top-of-the-charts rich. The average household income exceeds $200,000 a year, making the Palisades one of the wealthiest zip codes in the country.

That all gives a little extra edge to the tale.

The headline is that a pair of identical twin sisters in their 70's may be responsible -- all by themselves -- for adding tens of thousands of new rats to the Westside's rodent population.


What happened is that a young couple moved into the neighborhood last October and immediately noticed that the Spanish colonial home next door seemed a little strange.

The windows were blacked out, the front door rotted. When they got closer, the new neighbors detected an unbearable urine reek.

Worse, they began to notice rats slipping in and out of cracks and drain holes. Then they saw rats in their own yard – not shy rats either, but the bold kind that stand their ground in broad daylight, unafraid of humans.

The new homeowners finally flipped out when rats were spotted eating leftover crumbs in their four-month old's baby stroller.

They learned from neighbors that the residents of the house were two sisters who had lived there a long time.

Neighbors often saw one sister or the other walking back from Ralphs with large bags of dog food. But they don't have a dog.

The sisters have been feeding the rats -– for years putting out pie tins of dog food and milk.

Calls to animal regulation, county health, and Councilman Bill Rosendahl got nowhere. Inspectors would come out, talk to the sisters, and maybe write up a report.

One report talked about greasy rat-fur smears visible on the sisters' outside walls, evidence of a huge infestation. Others observed rats inside the house.

Then nothing would happen.

Now it's all in court. The new neighbors sued the sisters and the actress who sold them the house.


In court papers, one of the sisters says she never got married or had children. The rats have been a source of comfort to her. And she admitted feeding them since…1958!

I can believe it. When I lived in Santa Monica, the tree outside my apartment window served as a highway for mice, possums and large roof rats. You'd see them on the wires crossing over yards and streets.

The landlord finally caved to complaints and called an exterminator. But he refused to take her money. It's Santa Monica, he said. The rats there are out of control, even north of Wilshire where we lived.

After reading the cover story in the LA Weekly, I wonder now if the rat ladies of the Palisades were to blame.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.

Banner image: Chris Rahn