Santa Monica Asks LA County to Move Needle Exchange out of City Parks

Santa Monica Asks LA County to Move Needle Exchange out of City Parks

A homeless man sits in Reed Park of Santa Monica, Calif., on June 2, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Rudy Blalock

Rudy Blalock

4/15/2024

Updated: 4/17/2024

The Santa Monica City Council again asked Los Angeles County health officials to move a needle exchange program out of the city’s parks.
The city’s previous council sent a letter to the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors in September 2022 asking for the program to be halted in and near the parks, but the program has continued despite city officials citing concerns over needles left behind.
The council voted 4 to 3 on April 9 to pass a resolution that “strongly demands” the county move its needle distribution indoors and away from the city’s parks. The vote is nothing more than an ask though, since the county holds priority on such issues, according to the resolution.
Mayor Phil Brock told The Epoch Times the county has insisted the program should take place outdoors.
“They believe their program prevents hepatitis and prevents AIDS. It may well do that. But when they hand out those syringes, they’re not asking for used ones back. So those used syringes end up in playgrounds, in the grass, in bushes, in our parks and around our city,” he said.
In a February letter, the department of public health issued a statement on the harm reduction services it’s providing in Santa Monica, such as clean needles, overdose reversal medication, and connections to mental health and substance use services, according to the statement.
They said because the services target people who are not likely to look for help on their own, it’s important to meet those in need where they are, such as in the parks.
“It is a well-established best practice to provide mobile harm reduction services directly to people where they physically are,” they said in the letter. They noted that the services are also compliant with California’s health and safety code.
But Mr. Brock said while he agrees reducing the spread of diseases like HIV and AIDS is positive, there are consequences to handing out needles.
“By handing out syringes where people take deadly drugs, we’re increasing the chance that they’re going to die because of the drugs they take. So that’s where it stops making sense to me,” he said.
He added that while the county may be reducing hepatitis and AIDS, it’s facilitating people “committing suicide” through their drug use and noted that the city has one to three overdoses each week.
The county has been contracting with the Venice Family Clinic, a community health center at several locations in the Los Angeles area, to distribute medical supplies in Santa Monica, including needles.
The program, which began in 2019, operates Friday afternoons at Reed Park, Tongva Park, and Palisades Park for up to three hours a week, according to the public health department’s recent statement.
The clinic distributes 100 syringes at the three Santa Monica locations every month and disposes of the dirty needles. But city officials say about a third of the needles are left behind and pose a risk to parkgoers, nearby residents and city workers.
Directly across the street from Reed Park is St. Monica Catholic Church and St. Monica Preparatory—a K through 12 school—and about half block away is the Boys and Girls Club of Santa Monica, where as many as 200 to 300 kids visit after school hours, according to city officials.
In their resolution, city officials make it clear that they are not opposed to the county’s harm reduction services, but are against needle distribution near city parks and schools.
“You’re increasing the chance that some child running barefoot in the park will step on a needle or a groundskeeper will reach in the bushes to clean ... then get stabbed by a needle,” Mr. Brock said in the same interview.
Councilmembers Caroline Torosis, Jesse Zwick, and Gleam Davis voted against the resolution.
“We know for a fact this program meets people where they are. ... Eliminating this program will eliminate the opportunities for those people to connect with services, and may actually cause people to die on our streets,” Ms. Davis said during the meeting.
Residents, business owners, and others affected by the county’s program are planning to hold a rally April 16 at 10:30 a.m. in Reed Park to voice their concerns, according to a recent press release by the Santa Monica Coalition, a group of retail and commercial tenants, residents, and property owners.
“This program is attracting substance abusers to settle in our parks, inject drugs and discard their used needles in the grassy areas of the park. ... We want our parks available for safe use for all our families and visitors,” the press release reads.
The coalition also filed a lawsuit against county Health Director Barbara Ferrer, the Los Angeles County Health Department, and the Venice Family Clinic alleging the program was secretly administered in 2019 without consulting local police and without public comment, among other things.
They allege that two former mayors, Gleam Davis and Sue Himmelrich, secretly knew of the program but did not inform the public or other members of the council. Davis and Himmelrich, as well as former City Manager Lane Dilg and current City Manager David White, will be sued separately.
Some city councilors, including Oscar de la Torre, said they didn’t know of the program until it was brought to their attention in 2022 by residents.
“There was never any discussion. We never really talked about it in City Council meetings. It’s never been agendized, so it was kind of a shocker for me to just hear that that was going on,” Mr. de la Torre told The Epoch Times in an interview in June 2023.
In a June 2023 statement endorsing the program, Mr. White also claimed needles were disposed of properly in so-called sharps containers and were exchanged evenly, which members of the Santa Monica Coalition claim is a lie.
According to its founder Mr. Alle, through interviews he and others conducted with staff for the clinic and city workers, they found the needles were not disposed of in such containers as previously claimed.
“No, I’ve never even heard of those,” one worker claimed, according to Mr. Alle.
“So bottom line is there were no containers, there still aren’t. And there’s no trade. They’re just being disposed of,” Mr. Alle said in a recent interview.
A city spokesperson told The Epoch Times that city workers do not take part in disposing of the needles, nor have oversight of the program, but have “urged the county” to address concerns regarding the program.
“The Council has taken action as far back as 2022 to urge the county to address concerns about program operations in Santa Monica,” a city spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
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Rudy Blalock

Rudy Blalock

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Rudy Blalock is a Southern California-based daily news reporter for The Epoch Times. Originally from Michigan, he moved to California in 2017, and the sunshine and ocean have kept him here since. In his free time, he may be found underwater scuba diving, on top of a mountain hiking or snowboarding—or at home meditating, which helps fuel his active lifestyle.

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