Despite efforts in recent years to exile rodents taking up residence in Chinatown, local leaders say the hairy creatures continue to thrive.
“They go everywhere,” said Angela Chu, the community organizing manager for the Chinatown Community Development Center. “There are places where people see the rodent problem all the time.”
It’s not a question of how to completely get rid of the rats, but how to limit their numbers. At 1.65 square miles and with 18,000 residents, Chinatown is the most densely populated urban area in the U.S. And it boasts a large number of restaurants that can attract rats from the murky sewer, said Johnson Ojo of the Department of Public Health’s environmental health services.
The creatures have posed health risks to local residents for years.
After the problem reached new heights a decade ago — and following a report in 2005 that said rodent problems were among the top complaints for residents of single room occupancy hotels — The City took steps to eradicate Chinatown’s rodent problem.
One included hiring a well-respected pest control company to lead a crackdown by going block by block to identify problem areas, Ojo said.
Another tactic brings health inspectors into Chinatown restaurants, massage parlors and laundromats to ensure cleanliness and cite or shut down businesses that might have rodent issues, he said.
The City had dedicated around $100,000 annually for citywide rodent control during the past decade and another $100,000 annually for citywide pest control, including mosquito infestations, in recent years, Ojo said.
“The [rodent] issues are better now than they used to be,” he said
But some community leaders say the rodent problem persists.
“I would say it is more or less the same [as a decade ago],” Chu said.
Health inspectors recently shut down a restaurant at 1108 Stockton St. due to a rodent infestation, Ojo said.
“It’s not an easy problem,” he said.
King Chan, an organizer for the Chinatown Justice Program, said even more funding is needed to tackle the problem. The latest funding infusion has helped improved pest problems, “but still some families still see roaches and rats [on the streets and in their homes],” he said.
More funding will be hard to come by. The City, which is grappling with a $500 million budget deficit projected for next fiscal year, is cutting services, not adding them.
Thankfully, current funding for pest control is not being cut, Ojo said.