Monday, July 22, 2024

The public testimony at yesterday’s Ordinance Committee meeting was like something out of the era of the bubonic plague, when flea-ridden rats spread an incurable disease that killed 137 million people.

Maybe it isn’t that bad in Cambridge yet.

But elected officials and residents at yesterday’s meeting agreed on one thing: the rats are taking over the city and must be stopped — perhaps through strict enforcement of an amended version of the Cambridge Municipal Code of Refuse and Litter, which would cut the rats’ food options with a ban on plastic garbage bags on city curbs, requiring rat-proof garbage cans and bumping up the time for putting out the trash for collection from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. the day before pickup.

Perhaps the most powerful testimony of the evening was delivered by resident Wanda Queen, whose family was driven out of their apartment by an infestation of rats moving constantly through the walls like something out of a horror movie.

“They are dripping out of the heaters,” she said.

“The school called to tell me that my daughter was tired,” she said, because her kids can’t sleep with all the rats. “We spent three nights sleeping in the hallway because it was so bad.”

Four families shared that hallway because they had rats in their walls and apartments, she said.

Hearing this, co-chairman and City Council member Ken Reeves asked if there was anyone from the Cambridge Housing Authority at the meeting. Hearing no response, he said, “In a month’s time, they collected over 100 rats, so the denial has to cease.”

Several people noted that requiring seniors to hump rat-proof garbage cans out to the curb, when they were used to dragging out a plastic garbage bag and a recycling bin, might be a hardship.

Other residents noted that poor people might not be able to afford the rat-proof garbage containers — a demonstration of which is expected to take place in City Council chambers in the near future, along with price listings.

Helping people take out their trash or pay for either proper garbage cans or extermination — just a few of the suggestions thrown out at the meeting — would be a “huge cost,” city manager Robert Healy said, reminding the committee that there is no rubbish collection fee in Cambridge.

City Council member Tim Toomey suggested twice-weekly trash pickup.

Resident David Scondras listed six additional changes that he and the members of Area IV Coalition of Cambridge would like to see added to the city’s garbage code.

Those changes include putting the city in charge of educating on why it’s important to comply with trash regulations; coming up with stiff penalties for failure to comply with city code; authorizing the health department with the power to perform “rat inspection”; helping people who have financial hardship that would prevent them from complying; and providing street cleaning the day after garbage pickup.

“People who pick up the trash often don’t pick up all of it,” Scondras said.

One resident, Chuck Cnudde, said that just before the meeting he had caught a rat in a trap at his home.

Queen had said she caught five.

And Reeves said he knows where there are hundreds of rats in the bushes near Central Square.

Council member Denise Simmons said the Housing Authority and other agencies were “conspicuously absent” from yesterday’s meeting.

The committee voted unanimously to kick the amendment proposal over to the full council, with assurances by committee members that the council would act swiftly — before the end of the year — to come up with a solution.