Capitol Hill Residents Want Tougher Rat Bill – Will Testify Wednesday at Council Hearing
by Larry Janezich
Capitol Hill residents living next to commercial corridors with restaurants are afraid the City Council won’t put enough teeth in CM Charles Allen’s rat control bill to make it effective. They say the most important things that the city can do about rats are 1) require indoor storage of trash and grease for new restaurants or those undergoing renovation, 2) require the use of air scrubbers in restaurant ventilation units to remove food odors that attract rats, and 3) vigorously enforce the city’s Health Code. The first two items require considerable investment by businesses. As for the third, residents suspect that there is an unwritten understanding that city should not be too tough on enforcing regulations that impose a burden on businesses.
Capitol Hill Corner talked to several Capitol Hill residents who will testify or submit testimony at Wednesday’s joint City Council Hearing on the rat bill.
One resident whose house backs up to restaurants says, “We are absolutely overwhelmed with rats. I have lived here for a long time, but have never dealt with what we are dealing with now. We get no help from restaurants and the proposed legislation is doing little to remedy that. The resident called the bill a “timid” approach and fears it will “end up endorsing what has already proven not to work”.
Another says, “Restaurants are breeding grounds and food providers for rats. People fought to get good practices in place, but the legislation as written doesn’t require it. We have to get in our minds that the essential health and wellbeing of the city is at stake. Poor legislation is worse than nothing at all – the council will think it’s done and move on.”
A third resident says no legislation will work without better enforcement, adding, “The bill moves the ball forward but does not provide a “big fix”. We have to stop feeding rats.”
Capitol Hill Corner asked CM Allen to react to these concerns. Allen replied “My goal from the beginning has been to work on reforms to the existing laws to give the city new tools to control and attack rodents and the sources that sustain them…. But…I will work with stakeholders to further strengthen the bill.”
Allen says the bill he introduced strengthens existing law by requiring existing food establishments to “enclose” trash when possible, which includes indoor storage, and also requires new food establishments to provide for indoor trash storage “when feasible”. He said that the bill authorizes the Department of Health (DOH) rodent control inspectors to ensure that a restaurant has a system for the proper storage and disposal of grease and issue fines – an authority they currently do not have.
Asked about whether a fund to combat rodents which relies of the effectiveness of the Health Department’s fining violators of the health code is adequate, Allen said, “The Council obviously doesn’t run the agencies – that’s the Mayor’s job – but the bill gives DOH new tools that they’ve asked for. This rodent abatement fund expired several years ago and needs to be revived to give DOH new resources… we’ll look at this during the budget process as well.”
ANC6B Chair Chander Jayaraman and ANC6B Commissioner Diane Hoskins, both strong advocates of requiring eateries to adopt best operating practices including indoor trash and grease storage, will testify on the legislation at Wednesday’s hearing. Both strongly support pollution control units for restaurants – upon which the bill is silent. The units remove rat-attracting food odors and particulates vented from restaurants, and as a quality of life issue, require installation of baffles to address noise concerns.
The hearing on Wednesday is a joint hearing between the City Council’s Committee on Health and the Committee of the Whole. After the hearing, the members of the committee and their staff will make changes to the bill before the Committee of the Whole finalizes and votes on the bill. Those changes will be based on the record developed at the hearing – both in-person testimony and testimony submitted for the record. The record will remain open for two weeks after the hearing for anyone who wants to submit written testimony.
Once the committee votes on the bill, there will be two readings before the full Council, where any councilmember can suggest amendments. Allen says, “There are many opportunities for residents to provide input, and I look forward to continuing to hear how to improve the bill.”
The hearing on CM Allen’s Rat Control Bill, is on Wednesday, December 6, at 9:30am, Room 500, Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW.
For a post on Capitol Hill’s Rat Hot Spots, see here: http://bit.ly/2nxDQWo