Compton Brickyard neighbors face wild animal, pest invasion
Construction on the Trammell Crow project may be sending displaced wildlife, insects into nearby homes
Residents around Compton Brickyard project claim raccoons, opossums, and roof rats have been rampant since heavy earth moving began; complaints of inadequate official responses to issue
COMPTON — Homeowners in a neighborhood east of the old Atkinson Brickyard, a blight in northwest Compton for decades, allege their properties are being encroached by raccoons, opossums, rodent, arachnid, and insect pests as construction of the new Compton Brickyard project began.
The former brick manufacturing facility located at 13633 S. Central Avenue, ceased operation in the early 2000s. The site is currently being redeveloped as a sprawling 1.1 million-square-foot light industrial park by real estate developer Trammell Crow.
The Compton Brickyard is scheduled for completion in the Fall of 2016.
News of the Dec. 3 groundbreaking for the project appeared on the City website in mid-December; construction had been in full swing months earlier when people living on 136th Street — less than 100 feet from the project — found their homes and automobiles subjected to daily dustings of wind-blown dirt and debris from the site.
Invasion of the food snatchers
The grime was not the extent of the impact by the construction according to homeowner Ginell Butler, a 26-year resident. Butler witnessed creatures negotiating her backyard fence one evening last November. Motion-activated security lights kept flashing on and off, disturbing her sleep. Raising up to peer through the window, Butler remembers blurting, “Oh my God, is that a raccoon?” It was, but on second glance, there was not one – but three.
“One big raccoon and two little ones,” she recalls, still shaken by the sight. “I just laid my head back down and prayed they would go away.” After the encounter, Butler said she began to talk regularly with her neighbors about the encroaching pests.
Danielle Daniels and Anita Williams have lived on 136th Street for five years and two years, respectively. They support Butler’s claims, saying the pests were not apparent before Trammell Crow began the heavy earth moving.
Daniels has been put off by the rats. “Our biggest problems have been with rats — fairly large rats. My husband has killed four of them. I cannot look at them,” she said. “Fortunately, my husband has been putting out traps [and] has caught four in the last month. When we are [home], we can hear then running around under the house.
“It’s a problem because I have a four-year-old son who’s confused because he hears mom and dad talk about getting rid of the rats, and he’s thinking about mice and characters in cartoons. We’re concerned about his safety. We don’t want him thinking it’s okay to play with a rat,” she said.
Daniels believes the rodents have been destructive, chewing wires beneath the water heater, where “we discovered one of the dead rats.”
Close encounters with pets, kids
In daily exchanges about their encounters with the stealthy trespassers that naturally search for food sources in the wee hours, Williams discussed noticeable scratches on her pet terrier’s nose and neck, suggesting a skirmish with another animal in her backyard.
Daniels owns a large dog – a stout breed called a Canecorse [CANE-COR-SAY] – which her husband suspects caught and killed a rat in their backyard because the rodent “was partially buried in the soil.”
“I’ve [also] had spiders everywhere … in my backyard near my kitchen area, but mostly on the side of the house and in the front of the house,” she said.
“My son had several [insect] bites and I had to take him to urgent care to make sure the bites weren’t poisonous,” Williams said. “Thank God they weren’t, but the doctor gave us some ointment to take care of the bites.”
Williams shared medical records with the Herald confirming the bites to her son, who is 10 — from either arachnids or ants, a problem she said wasn’t apparent before the construction.
“There were mounds of dirt at the construction site,” said Butler, convinced the displacement of the earth unleashed the rash of Black Widow spiders on her front porch and in her garage. “I generally see them on my front porch. I’ve had two killed and have a photo of a dead one. I know it’s a Black Widow because of the big red spot.”
Blighted property devolved into wildlife habitat
The Atkinson Brickyard property acreage is bounded by Central Avenue on the east, Rosecrans Avenue to the south, 135th Street to the north, and McKinney Avenue on the west. The property lay dormant for nearly two decades, and arguably weathered into prime habitat for raccoons, possums, and rats, which are common throughout L.A. County. The rustic, unkempt property overrun with brush and wild growth likely harbored multiple species of arachnids and insects, as well.
Butler, Daniels, and Williams initially praised the industrial park and warehouse project. The trio was shuttled to at least one city council meeting on Trammell Crow’s dime to speak on behalf of the Brickyard project in advance of the council vote on the industrial park. The three women, along with several other homeowners in the neighborhood trumpeted Trammell Crow at the invitation of Jamarah Harris, a senior vice president of the Lee Andrews Group, a public relations firm brought on as an intermediary by Trammell Crow.
Relationship with ‘good neighbor’ developer becomes complex
Trammell Crow was approved by the city council to begin construction on the promise of invigorating the local economy with 400 jobs for local residents. The approval was also backed by a ‘good neighbor’ policy commitment to address any problems that arose due to the construction.
After the pest issue surfaced the relationship changed between the company and homeowners who took their grievances to Trammell Crow executives Karen Shorr, vice president; and Greg Ames, managing director, in the hope of ameliorating the problems. Butler, Daniels, and Williams soon found their direct access to Shorr and Ames was blocked after Harris was assigned to mediate on behalf of Trammell Crow.
ComptonHerald.com sought comment on the succession of issues involving Trammell Crow and the homeowners, from Scott Dyche, executive vice president and general counsel for the company, and executives Shorr and Ames. The only response came from Dyche — “No comment; Jamarah [Harris] is our spokesperson.”
The Herald learned that Harris, acting on behalf of Trammell Crow, contracted the services of 3-D Pest Control. Free pest control vouchers valued at $150 were offered to eight residents on 136th Street, including Butler, Daniels, and Williams. Harris said she has been unsuccessful in presenting a pest voucher to Butler, who has failed to return her telephone calls and e-mails.
Butler said when residents refused to sign the liability waiver by 3-D Pest Control, Trammell Crow’s Dyche, is alleged to have said, the company would not “assist residents in the elimination of pests,” citing “unfound evidence,” which apparently exacerbated the problems.
“Trammell Crow changed their ‘good neighbor’ approach in favor of their new approach of coercing local residents to sign a liability waiver stating we ‘wouldn’t sue if the problems persisted’,” Butler said. “The company is not the good neighbor they promised to be.
“[And] Jamarah Harris did not do due diligence in her capacity as liaison. Residents were forced to mobilize for [our] own safety,” Butler added.
Response from Trammell Crow reps further frustrates residents
Harris refutes those claims. “We [told] Ginell and the other neighbors [that] ‘we are happy to pay for your pest control.’ They didn’t have to sign anything — not for us. There was never a Trammel Crow waiver. [They are] not in the pest control business. Any waiver would be between the pest control company and the individual,” Harris said.
Alicia Mendoza, assistant to Jamarah Harris, may have spawned the confusion, according to Williams, who said when pest vouchers were mentioned, initially, the “liability waiver issue never came up” until Mendoza, who was tasked with presenting the vouchers to homeowners, said they would have to sign a waiver.
“That’s what caused this whole issue,” Williams said. “Why would we sign a waiver? What if something happened later, like someone getting sick from being bitten? We’d have no legal recourse. No one wanted to sign a waiver.”
“Alicia Mendoza was introduced into the picture in September 2015,” said Butler. “We were first contacted by [her] via phone and then she was sent by Harris to our residence[s] along with 3-D Pest Control.”
Confusion created by lack of communication, various points-of-contact
There is plenty of confusion to go around. Danny Rollins, Sr., owner of 3-D Pest Control on West El Segundo Boulevard in Compton, told the Herald his company does not require clients to sign a liability waiver as a condition of pest abatement services.
“We have waivers but I don’t require it,” Rollins said, underscoring the fact that the liability waiver controversy did not originate with him.
Rollins said he has never spoken with anyone from Trammel Crow, and only became involved with the pest issue when he received a phone call from Lee Andrews Group.
“They asked me about pest control. My response was — ‘Yes, I do pest control,’ and we met up, I think it was with Harris,” Rollins recalled. “She turned me on to the [homeowners] and we set up a program to eradicate the pests they were having problems with from the construction going on across the street.
“My thing was to just get rid of the pests. I didn’t get any kind of political details as to how this all came about. I’m just a service [man] — that’s all,” Rollins said. As of this writing, Rollins says he has yet to render pest abatement service to any of the 136th Street residences.
Pest abatement services deadlocked
Meanwhile, as late as mid-December, Harris said she was still trying to give out “gift certificates” for the pest abatement services.
“After things got a little confusing, we thought it would make more sense to provide each homeowner with a [voucher] for 150 dollars, that was [3-D Pest Control’s] estimate for a house,” she said. “We mailed them out to each of them, and they can use them however they would like.”
The matter of pest abatement for homeowners on 136th Street remains at an impasse as of press time, with seven homeowners in receipt of vouchers which they have yet to use, according to Rollins.
“I’ve tried to set up schedules with the homeowners, but I have not had any responses from them, yet,” Rollins said.
Residents say local government response lacking
Butler, Daniels, and Williams reached out to elected representatives on multiple levels for help with settling the impasse, contacting the offices of Mayor Aja Brown, Councilwoman Janna Zurita, U. S. Congresswoman Janice Hahn, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, and California state legislators Isadore Hall and Mike Gipson.
“Mayor Brown promised to fix the problem,” Butler said after the three women voiced their concerns at a council session. Shortly thereafter City Manager Roger Haley and Councilwoman Zurita paid Butler a personal visit at her home attended by Daniels and Williams. It is not known if Brown had anything to do with the visit.
The Trammell Crow development is located in District 1 of the city’s four council districts administered by Zurita.
“Nothing happened after that,” Butler said. “Councilwoman Zurita promised a town hall meeting [on Nov. 9, 2015] to address the pest issues, but the meeting never occurred. And we’ve heard nothing from her since.”
Butler’s claims are substantiated by the city’s website. At least one other town hall was calendared for District 1 on Dec. 18, 2015, the regular monthly scheduled town hall on the third Wednesday of each month from 6:30 – 7:30 p.m. at Gonzales Park on 1101 W. Cressey St. That town hall also failed to materialize.
Neither Haley and Zurita responded to The Herald’s attempts to get comments regarding the house call.
The only other response from official providence came from Hahn’s office, which steered the frustrated homeowners to their state legislators, Hall and Gibson. Butler said letters were sent and follow-up phone calls were made, but neither legislator took an interest in their plight.
In addition to the political logjam between Trammell Crow, Lee Andrews Group, and the Compton residents, wildlife laws further complicate the issue.
Wildlife is protected; control options are limited
The invading animals must be handled gingerly, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control, which handles nuisance animal issues involving larger mammals like coyotes, raccoons, opossums, stray dogs, and snakes. A spokesperson for the Carson/Gardena Animal Care Center told the Herald raccoons, opossums – even coyotes – are protected by law and cannot be harmed or exterminated.
Homeowners facing such challenges have few options, the spokesperson said.
“Our office only goes out for wildlife that are sick, injured, or diseased,” the spokesperson said, encouraging homeowners to visit the county website at animalcare.lacounty.gov to learn how to deal with wildlife.
“We advise [homeowners] to hire professionals to remove the animals, or they can get a Trapping License to trap and relocate them. The animals are protected by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and it is illegal to kill them,” the spokesperson explained.
Rabies, roundworms among possible health risks
There are many potential health risks which could be wrought by raccoons, opossums, rats, and Black Widow spiders.
Rabies is a potentially deadly viral disease that causes acute inflammation of the brain in humans and other warm-blooded animals. Rabies is spread by the saliva of infected animals. In addition to the danger of humans being bitten by invading wildlife, altercations between pets and the wild animals can result in the pet becoming infected, and then passing the disease on to humans.
Of particular concern – adult raccoons are known to harbor parasitic roundworms in their small intestine, which, when expelled through the feces is easily transferable to pets and humans. The parasite has been implicated in a potentially lethal disease called toxocariasis which fosters brain, spinal cord, and central nervous system disorders; and serious eye disease in people.
Ultimately, toxocariasis can result in paralysis or death depending on the location in the body and number of roundworms. According to the Texas Department of Health, Division of Zoonosis Control, an estimated 10,000 new cases of roundworm-induced toxocariasis infection occurs in children every year.