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California

L.A. exposed city workers to trash, bodily fluids outside City Hall East, state says

City Hall East
A homeless man named Tyrone Vincent VCaliant, 73, uses a broom pulled from a trash bin to clean up near his encampment for the night along North Main Street, between L.A. City Hall and City Hall East on Thursday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The state agency that enforces workplace safety rules says employees of the city of Los Angeles were exposed to unsanitary conditions on the walkways outside City Hall East, according to two citations issued last week.

Inspectors with the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal/OSHA, found that workers at City Hall East were exposed to “trash and bodily fluids” on the exterior passageways. City Hall East is home to several city agencies, including City Atty. Mike Feuer’s office. Homeless people frequently sleep overnight on the sidewalks outside.

Cal/OSHA issued one citation to Feuer’s office and another to the city’s General Services Department, which oversees maintenance of city properties, assessing a combined $1,995 in penalties. Rob Wilcox, a Feuer spokesman, said the city would appeal both and noted that the city attorney’s office is not responsible for upkeep of the grounds outside City Hall East, which is across the street from City Hall.

“The tentative OSHA citation addresses conditions on the exterior grounds of City Hall East,” Wilcox wrote, referring to the citation sent to Feuer. “Our office clearly has no role in maintaining the building’s exterior grounds.”

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Wilcox could not immediately provide the reasoning for the General Services Department to appeal its citation.

Cal/OSHA took action roughly eight months after a pest control company issued a report linking a rodent infestation at City Hall to several homeless camps in the immediate area. Maintenance officials never mentioned those findings during three City Council meetings called to discuss the rat problem.

The report, submitted by pest company Cats USA, identified unsanitary conditions in the Civic Center, such as leftover food, human waste and hypodermic needles.

la-me-city-hall-trash-cal-osha-citations_2.jpg
Debris is piled on a sidewalk outside City Hall East in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday. Cal/OSHA issued citations last week saying that city workers were exposed to trash and bodily fluids outside the building.
(David Zahniser / Los Angeles Times)

The latest Cal/OSHA citations were issued in response to a complaint from Deputy City Atty. Elizabeth Greenwood, who said this year that while working at City Hall East she had contracted typhus, a flea-borne illness that can spread when fleas bite rats and then pass the bacteria on to humans.

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Greenwood said she viewed Cal/OSHA’s actions as vindication, arguing that Feuer has repeatedly failed to take responsibility for how she contracted her illness. “They checked for fleas in the dead of winter, when fleas are dormant, and declared it was not their fault,” she said in an email.

Greenwood, who filed a $5-million legal claim against the city this year, said she is “grateful and relieved someone is going to force them to deal with this.”

Regulators examined City Hall East between Feb. 7 and Aug. 7, according to state records. The citations are only the latest to focus on the city’s maintenance practices.

In May, inspectors identified a rodent infestation and other unsanitary conditions at the Los Angeles Police Department’s Central Division station. The agency imposed fines of $5,425 on the LAPD and $1,910 on the Department of General Services.

Regulators said the LAPD did not have an effective program to exterminate and control rats, fleas, roaches, gnats and other insects within the building. The department also failed to train employees about how typhus is transmitted or how to properly clean dust, mold and other substances within its heating and air conditioning systems, the agency said.


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