SEATTLE - Property and business owners near First and Bell streets in Belltown are blaming the city's Clear Alleys program for the growing rat problem.
"They're eating on the side street here where all containers are open they're feeding on filet mignon and clams. There’s so much food available to rats," said Dhiresh Tewari, owner of Ampersand Lounge.
Tewari was sent a letter from the King County Health Department, asking him to call a pest control specialist because of rat complaints near his restaurant. He said the problem is all of the trash in bags and not in trash cans in the alleys. Beginning in 2009, Seattle Public Utilities started phasing out dumpsters in alleys in Belltown, downtown, the International District, Pioneer Square, and Columbia City.
"We're trying to create areas in the alleys that the police can see through. It just allows people to have lines of sight in the alley," said Tom Gannon, who runs the Clear Alleys program under Seattle Public Utilities.
KIRO7 asked if the loose bags are contributing to the growing rat problem.
"It is really hard to keep critters and people out of the bags. It is an issue," said Gannon.
He said it's the business owner or building owner's responsibility to make sure food isn't put in the bags that are on the street. Food should be put in compost containers, or other closed trash cans. If they don't they can be fined, but Gannon said the city hasn't been aggressive about fining violators.
"We're more about carrots than we are sticks at SPU we don't really like to go out and fine people," said Gannon.
Brandon Manary, who works at J & M Cafe in Pioneer Square, said he's noticed more rats in the alley since the dumpsters were taken away.
"The trash is sitting out in the alleyway unsecured so it may be. I would think it would bring the rats more," said Manary.
He said he thinks the city should crack down on people who aren't following the rules.
“Absolutely something needs to be done,” said Manary.
Gannon said it’s also important for businesses to put out food closer to when the trash will be picked up. For example, in Belltown, trash collection in alleys is prohibited from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
“A lot of the clubs and restaurants that put their food out at 3 a.m., it won't be picked up for hours,” said Gannon.
Seattle Public Utilities wants to eventually phase out allowing food in trash cans, and requiring people to put food in compost containers.