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Take them out of the ballgame, city says

Angel Stadium has a problem with rats. Anaheim wants the team to solve it.

August 07, 2007|Christian Berthelsen and Dave McKibben | Times Staff Writers

Two years ago, Orange County suffered the indignity of having its baseball team adopt the name of that gritty metropolis to the north. Now Angels fans must contend with another unwelcome urban element: rats.

Public officials reacted with anger and disappointment Monday to news that food vendors at Angel Stadium, including its exclusive Diamond Club behind home plate, had been cited 118 times for vermin violations since 2005 -- far more than other stadiums in the region.

Anaheim and Orange County officials said they were considering whether to take more aggressive steps to force the team to clean up the stadium, and the team said it was considering stepping up efforts on its own.

For a region that was founded on the vision of a suburban oasis from city blight, the image of rats and cockroaches overrunning the home of its beloved team was too much to take.

Curt Pringle, the mayor of Anaheim, said the city has "pride in the public facilities we own" but admitted to embarrassment over the situation. "We require them to be managed to a certain standard."

The matter is slated for discussion during a closed session at today's City Council meeting. Anaheim owns the stadium, which is leased to the Angels.

The violations included 33 "major" citations, in which evidence of rodents or other pests was detected in areas where food was stored, prepared or served. Most were issued in 2005 and 2006, although there have been two more this year -- one at a concession stand under the right field bleachers only last week. In each case, the vendor's permit is voided until the concession is cleaned up and passes a reinspection.

Of the 60 restaurants and food stands in the stadium, 30 had major violations, which were discovered over the course of more than 400 inspections. The violations were first reported by the Orange County Register on Sunday.

A large part of the problem may be something that would also, seemingly, be a no-brainer to fix: The Angels have been leaving the detritus that is a byproduct of any large gathering of people -- half-eaten food, discarded wrappers -- in the stands overnight until the cleaning crew comes in the next morning.

In San Diego and Los Angeles, the Padres and the Dodgers send out the cleanup crew immediately after each game. Their citations were vastly lower two in San Diego's Petco Park and seven in Dodger Stadium, the Register reported. The Honda Center in Anaheim, where the Ducks play, had just one vermin citation during the same period.

The Angels say that the problem stems from the stadium's open-air design and proximity to the Santa Ana River, and that heavy rains in 2005 drove rats into the stadium and contributed to the high number of citations that year. Team spokesman Tim Mead said the team had increased its pest control efforts and had reduced the problem each year.

"We take very seriously our [responsibility for] health issues at this ballpark," he said.

Mead could not explain why the stadium had not put its cleaning crews to work immediately after games, even though the idea has been under discussion since team representatives met with county health officials in March 2006.

County officials said they have the power to cite vendors only for health code violations, but cannot compel a cleanup outside food service areas such as in the stands. The county has told the team that if the problems continue it could begin revoking vendors' operating permits or even refer the matter to the district attorney's office for prosecution.

"We would certainly like to see them clean up right after the game rather than the next morning," said Howard Sutter, a spokesman for the county's Health Care Agency, which enforces the health code.

Pringle, the Anaheim mayor, noted that the team's lease agreement with the city contains a clause requiring that the stadium be kept to a "general quality standard" on par with "first class professional baseball stadium operating practices used in Major League Baseball, such as Kansas City and Dodger Stadiums."

The stadium lease, negotiated in 1996 by former owners the Walt Disney Co. and the city, has been a contentious issue over the last two years. The city said Angels owner Arte Moreno broke the lease when he changed the team's name from Anaheim Angels to the L.A. Angels of Anaheim. The city lost the jury trial.

Some city officials were sympathetic to the Angels' plight.

"It is very sad to see this occurring, but these things can happen to anybody who is serving food," said Councilman Harry Sidhu, who owns several El Pollo Loco restaurants. "Hopefully it can be corrected in a timely manner."

Chris Norby, chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors and whose district includes the stadium, said he hoped the public reaction to the news would prompt the team to get the place cleaned up quickly.

"It is a very high-profile venue, and we certainly want to protect the public and protect the fans," he said. "It definitely is a messy situation."

christian.berthelsen@latimes.com

david.mckibben@latimes.com

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