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Rally to Stop Outdoor Needle Program Draws Councilmembers, Press


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By Jorge Casuso

April 16, 2024 -- About 50 demonstrators -- including the mayor and three City Councilmembers -- participated in a rally Tuesday morning at Reed Park to protest LA County's outdoor needle distribution program in Santa Monica.

Needle Distribution Protest
Rally at Reed Park Tuesday to protest outdoor needle distribution program (Photo provided by Councilmember Lana Negrete)

There were no discarded needles to be found on the clean grounds of Reed Park, which has been the target of residents who complain the park has been taken over by homeless drug addicts.

But there were a number of reporters -- including one for a Chinese newspaper -- and news crews from local stations covering the event.

"I'm very happy to see this park is the cleanest it's been in a year or two this morning," said Mayor Phil Brock. "So I thank our City staff and Police Department for taking action."

Councilmember Lana Negrete, who spoke along with Councilmember Christine Parra and Oscar de la Torre, offered a personal account of how the needle distribution program has mushroomed into a battle waged in both the Council chambers and County court.

Negrete said she first learned about the program from a mother whose diabetic daughter asked if the needle she had found in the park was hers, and from a father whose son stepped on a used needle and was taken to the hospital.

"I was floored," Negrete said. "I didn't understand where these needles came from."

After bringing it up at a Council meeting and finding that "nobody seemed to know," Negrete went to check it out.

"It was not a one-for-one exchange," she said. "Bags of needles, ten or twenty needles were being handed and left at the park. There was no one offering any services."

When she asked County officials about the program, Negrete said she was told, "We're trying to meet the needs of addicts where they are."

"If we caught our kids using in the bedroom would we say, 'Honey, let me bring you a clean needle?' We wouldn't do that.

"We need to get them the help they need," said Negrete, who said her half brother and uncle are meth addicts.

John Alle, a leader of the Santa Monica Coalition, which organized the rally, estimates that approximately 85 people attended the rally at some point.

Alle said that during the rally homeless individuals were engaging in drug use and drug dealing.

"The rally was a demonstration that this community is against the needle distribution part of the harm reduction program," Alle said. "Our parks are for family, residents, visitors and tourists. It's not a hospital."

Tuesday's rally comes one week after a deeply divided Council voted 4 to 3 to approve a resolution that "strongly demands" that LA County Health relocate the program indoors.

The Council action was taken after repeated requests from the City had been denied for more than a year and a half.

In September 2022, then Mayor Sue Himmelrich sent a letter to health officials conveying the Council's initial request ("Council Expected to Ask County's Help Removing Clean Needle Program from Parks," September 12, 2022).

A month later, the City received a response arguing against the move. Further efforts by individual Councilmembers also have failed ("Little Progress Moving Needle Exchange Program Indoors," March 23, 2023).

At a hybrid community meeting March 29 County officials reiterated that they have no plans to relocate the program currently run for one hour a week from a van stationed mainly at Reed Park.

City officials aren't the only ones pressuring the county. In February, the Santa Monica Coalition filed a lawsuit seeking to halt the outdoor program ("Santa Monica Group Files Lawsuit Over Needle Program," February 16, 2024).

"This should not be a political issue," Negrete said at the rally. "This should be a common sense issue. Let's stop making things political."

Editor's note: This article was updated at noon Wednesday to include comments from rally organizer John Alle.

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