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Santa Monica Passes Ordinance Saying City Funds Can’t Be Used for Needle Exchange Programs

Santa Monica Passes Ordinance Saying City Funds Can’t Be Used for Needle Exchange Programs

A family uses a playground near a homeless man in Santa Monica, Calif., on June 2, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Rudy Blalock

Rudy Blalock

5/22/2024

Updated: 5/28/2024

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The Santa Monica City Council recently voted to revise contracts with two nonprofits, indicating that it cannot use city funds to distribute clean needles for drug addicts in the city’s parks or public spaces.
Residents and business owners alike have complained to city officials about a needle exchange program in the city, which has been in place at three of its parks since 2019.
The council voted 7–6 on May 14 on an ordinance making the change to revise its contracts with the Venice Family Clinic and CLARE MATRIX, which both provide homeless outreach and drug addiction services in Santa Monica at their physical locations in the city. The nonprofits also receive funds from the county, which are used for the needle exchange program.
Councilman Oscar De La Torre said during the meeting that the ordinance would double down on the city’s stance, opposing outdoor needle exchanges.
“We want to keep reiterating in different ways that we feel that the approach is problematic,” he said regarding so-called harm reduction methods that include exchanging dirty for clean needles, especially outdoors. “We send the wrong message when government is handing out needles to inject illegal substances in parks and public space.”
Members of the Santa Monica Coalition, a group of retail and commercial tenants, residents, and property owners, who recently filed a lawsuit against county health officials and Venice Family Clinic for the needle exchange program, said the ordinance is a step in the right direction.
“It’s really one step closer to educating the public about what’s been going on, that they have not known about,” coalition founder John Alle said.
The ordinance applies to nonprofits that receive the city’s Human Services Grants.
Santa Monica Councilwoman Gleam Davis clarified during discussion of the item that city money hasn’t been used for any needle exchange programs and that the ordinance isn’t actually addressing any issue currently happening in the city.
“I think someone may look at this and think that our current grant monies are being used by Venice Family Clinic or CLARE for the Harm Reduction Program. ... I just think it’s really important that people be clear that this is not happening,” she said.
The city’s previous council sent a letter to the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors in 2022 asking for the program to be halted in and near parks, but the program has continued despite city officials citing concerns over needles left behind.
In April, the city passed a resolution that “strongly demands” that the county move the program indoors, again citing safety concerns.
In an interview at the time, Santa Monica Mayor Phil Brock said many dirty needles have been left behind, despite claims otherwise by county health officials.
“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.
The city’s new ordinance wouldn’t stop the clinic from passing out the needles for the county-funded program but only specifies that if any city grant funds are used for that purpose, the nonprofit could be disqualified from receiving any grant funds in the future for the other services they provide.
The needle exchange program is administered by the county’s Department of Public Health, and operates on Friday afternoons at Reed Park, Tongva Park, and Palisades Park for up to three hours, according to a February letter by health officials on their website over the Santa Monica situation.
The mobile clinic program in the parks offers clean needles, overdose reversal medication, and connections to mental health and substance use services, according to the letter.
Health officials claim that because the services target those 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,” the health officials said in the letter.
They noted that the services are also compliant with California’s health and safety code.
But some Santa Monica residents say they are unhappy with the program. In April, about 50 residents gathered for a rally to call for a stop to it.
“I think that most important here ... our children do not need to be exposed to open drug use, period,” Santa Monica City Councilwoman Christine Parra said during the April 19 protest.
Locals say they are concerned that the passing out of clean syringes attracts drug users to the parks, and it has made them unsafe for local residents, including children and senior citizens.
Nearly 72 percent of Santa Monica residents live in apartments, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, leading them to rely on city parks for outdoor recreation and relaxation.
“Whether it be our elderly or children or just people enjoying some open space during lunch break, we rely on our parks to be safe places,” Santa Monica Councilwoman Lana Negrete said during the same protest.
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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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