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Council Bars Use of City Funds for Needle Distribution Program


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By Jorge Casuso

May 17, 2024 -- In a surprising 6 to 1 vote, the City Council on Tuesday barred two non-profits from using City funds to distribute needles around parks and public spaces.

Contracts with the Venice Family Clinic and CLARE|Matrix, which provides treatment for drug addiction, will include the funding restriction as a condition to receive City money.

Oscar de la Torre, one of the sponsors of the Council initiated item, noted that "harm reduction programs" would be able to distribute and exchange needles in an indoor setting where services can be provided.

"These substances now are very dangerous," de la Torre said. "We're seen an astronomical number people dying. We know that that's a problem.

"We send the wrong message when government is handing out needles to inject illegal substances in parks, in public spaces. It's the wrong message to send to the drug addict.

"I want to make sure that none of our funds are used for those purposes," de la Torre said.

Councilmember Gleam Davis voted for the item, noting that City money does not fund the LA County Harm Reduction Program operated by the Venice Family Clinic in three local parks.

"We're voting to tell them not to do something they're not doing," said Davis. "I think it's really important that people be clear that this is not happening.

"They're not doing that," Davis added. "So I'm not really sure why we have this motion."

Councilmember Lana Negrete, who along ith Christine Parra co-sponsored the item, said it is important to put the funding condition in writing.

"We need to make it really clear, because it's hard to trace money," Negrete said. "It wasn't an easy find. It wasn't an easy yes or no. We wanted to put that in (the contracts)."

Councilmember Jesse Zwick, who along with Davis has opposed previous efforts to move the needle exchange program indoors, joined the Council majority Tuesday that included Mayor Phil Brock.

Councilmember Caroline Torosis cast the lone dissenting vote but offered no explanation.

The vote comes after a deeply divided Council last month voted 4 to 3 to approve a resolution that "strongly demands" that LA County Health relocate the needle distribution program indoors ("Rally to Stop Outdoor Needle Program Draws Councilmembers, Press," April 16, 2024).

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).

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