Santa Monica Residents Demand End To Needle Distribution Program in Public Parks

Santa Monica paramedics were able to revive the man who had taken a drug overdose in Tongva Park.

(Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the Westside Current on April 17 and is reprinted with permission.)

By SANDRA CLARK

Residents of Santa Monica rallied at Reed Park Tuesday morning to protest a controversial needle distribution program, arguing that it has worsened problems by attracting more drug users to city parks, areas which have subsequently seen rises in crime and deadly overdoses.

While Los Angeles County officials defend the program as life-saving, the Santa Monica Coalition contends that such programs should not be conducted near or within parks, where families and children expect safety.

Santa Monica Mayor Phil Brock agreed, telling Westside Current, “The program should be conducted indoors, where other help can be provided. I want people to come and enjoy the park, run on the grass without worrying that there might be a syringe that could harm their child. LA County estimates that it retrieves 40% of their needles, meaning 60% end up in our parks and on our streets. That’s absolutely improper.”

Attendees at the rally expressed major concerns that the needle distribution program does not mandate exchanges, leading to what they describe as “careless and dangerous disposal of used needles.”

Santa Monica Mayor Phil Brock

Brock suggested a potential solution: “Venice Family Clinic is the provider for the county and they have a wonderful facility on Rose. Why not have clients go there, have someone talk to them about getting clean?”

One resident told Westside Current that students at the nearby St. Monica Elementary School across the street from Reed Park have been exposed to dead bodies on the way to school, and that syringes can be found throughout all three main parks, Reed, Tongva Park and the Palisades Park. “It’s so evident that this is not the place to do this. My kids won’t go to any of these parks because they are afraid, and I am afraid for them.

“Tongva Park used to be so much fun and now you walk through there and see people passed out or dealing drugs. I don’t want to have a birthday party at any of these parks with drug-users having episodes and screaming out from the top of their lungs. This distribution program is destroying our city. Why is it that drug-users have more rights than the residents? I am all for helping drug-addicts, but must our kids suffer? Must we all sacrifice our safety and well being? Has Barbara Ferrera ever been to any of these parks? I invite her to join me for a stroll. It’s an open invitation.”

The Santa Monica Coalition has filed a lawsuit against County Health Director Barbara Ferrera, the Los Angeles County Health Department, and the Venice Family Clinic, challenging the Needle Distribution Program initiated in 2020 at all three parks in downtown Santa Monica.

A Venice Family Clinic van goes to public parks in Santa Monica to distribute needles.

The coalition, which has been vocal about the program’s shortcomings, argues that the initiative promotes unsafe conditions. Their petition to terminate the open-air needle distribution has amassed significant support, with more than 20,000 letters sent to Ferrera’s office demanding change.

“Since the program’s inception, there has been an increase in overdoses, assaults, and robberies in the three parks, with 2-3 deaths a day,” Santa Monica Coalition co-founder John Alle told Westside Current. “Santa Monica is now the third largest hub for meth and fentanyl overdoses, behind only Skid Row and MacArthur Park.”

According to the coalition, Santa Monica has now surpassed San Francisco with the highest number of addicts on a per square mile basis.

“Santa Monica is an extremely compassionate city. We want to help people. But it’s not, I repeat it is not compassionate to see our residents, our homeless people in our city die on the streets of Santa Monica,” said Mayor Brock. “The county under the guise of reducing hepatitis, under the guise of reducing aids, is facilitating the killing of homeless people by themselves, by their own needles. That needs to stop in our city. It needs to stop frankly in every city in LA County.”

“I want this park safe enough that people from the neighborhood come here, children have their birthday parties here, seniors from across the street get to play chess and checkers, and everyone gets to use these parks because this is the lungs of our most densely populated neighborhood of Santa Monica,” Brock said.

“Very simply, Barbara Ferrera and LA County Health, stop the distribution of needles and syringes outside in our cities.”

A rally against open-air needle distribution in Santa Monica parks was held at Reed Park, located across from Saint Monica’s school.

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