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Fines Boost West Nile Fight

L.A. council gives initial OK to rules that would let officials enter private property and assess owners up to $1,000 a day for standing water.

August 12, 2004|Regine Labossiere | Times Staff Writer

Stepping up its battle against West Nile, the Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved new rules that would allow officials to issue fines of up to $1,000 a day on residents who don't remove dirty standing water from their property.

The rules, among the first of their kind in the state, would allow local vector control officials to enter private property with recorded mosquito problems and clean stagnant water if the owners won't do it themselves.

The city could also fine owners until they address dirty water in swimming pools, ponds and puddles, which are prime breeding spots for the mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus.

On the same day that Los Angeles took the action, health officials announced that a fifth Californian had died from the virus. Rialto resident Richard Shaddox, 81, died Tuesday afternoon at St. Bernardine Medical Center in San Bernardino, health officials said. He may have been bitten on the back of the neck by a mosquito when he and his wife were outside during the Fourth of July holiday, health officials said.

California's West Nile fatalities have been elderly people and many had health problems. Officials have confirmed that 115 others have become infected but most have recovered.

People contract West Nile from mosquitoes that have bitten infected birds. About 20% of those infected feel flu-like symptoms, often weakness, fever, headaches and rash. About one in 150 develop encephalitis or meningitis, and less than 1% of those infected die from the illness.

Los Angeles is the first Southern California city to authorize fines on property owners who won't remove standing water, said Jack Hazelrigg, general manager of the Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control District. Several cities in Contra Costa County adopted similar measures, he said.

The City Council ordered the city attorney to draw up language for the new law, which should be ready by next week.

Vector control workers already look for standing water and respond to calls from concerned residents. The law would empower them to enter properties without an owner's permission, something they now can't do.

Councilman Greig Smith, who co-sponsored the measure, said 80% of mosquito problems occur on residential property.

Some council members expressed reservations about the new law, even as they stressed its importance.

"I'm concerned about seniors or homeowners who might have a birdbath," said Councilwoman Janice Hahn. "I'm nervous about suspending privacy rules."

Smith said he wants the law to emphasize education.

"They are not interested in citing people," he said of vector control agents. "They want to knock on their door and say, 'Please take care of this problem.' "

Los Angeles' only West Nile fatality was a 91-year-old Northridge woman who died Friday. The state's other victims were from Long Beach, Grand Terrace and Fullerton.

Shaddox, the latest victim, experienced flu-like symptoms for a few days, which developed into an inability to walk, a stiff neck, sore shoulders and incoherence. Shaddox, who suffered from diabetes, was admitted to the hospital on July 12, officials said.

"He had other medical complications, which kind of fits the pattern," said Jim Felten, public health officer with the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health.

Rod Peterson, 83, a television writer and producer, died Monday of encephalitis, his family said. Doctors believe he may be another victim of the virus but are awaiting test results.

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Times staff writer Jessica Garrison contributed to this report.

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