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Costa Mesa extends needle-exchange moratorium for 10 months

Costa Mesa extends needle-exchange moratorium for 10 months
Syringes were left behind along the banks of the Santa Ana River after a large homeless encampment was removed in November. (File Photo / Los Angeles Times)

Needle-exchange programs will remain banned in Costa Mesa until at least next summer after City Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to extend an urgency ordinance prohibiting the establishment or operation of such services in town.

With the extension, the ordinance — first adopted Aug. 7 for a 45-day period — is now in place through Aug. 5, 2019.

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Before opting to lengthen the restriction for 10 months and 15 days, some council members found themselves sparring over seemingly common ground — their opposition to the California Department of Public Health’s recent approval of a needle exchange that would operate in the city.

With the November election just around the corner, the planned Orange County Needle Exchange Program has become a political football locally, even though the council has consistently presented a united public front against it.

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“We’ve been unanimous in our opposition to this proposal,” said Councilwoman Katrina Foley. “It’s disingenuous for anybody up here or in the public to be stating anything different.”

Mayor Sandy Genis said, “I think we agree that we all hate it, and we don’t have to fight about who hates it more.”

Councilman John Stephens said he and his colleagues are “all trying, in our own way, with our own skill set, to address this issue on behalf of the citizens of Costa Mesa.”

“I don’t think we need to play this game of ‘Who’s doing the right thing? Who’s doing enough?’” he said. “Let’s work as a team. … Let’s use our superpowers to address this issue and let’s get off each other’s case.”

The moratorium was one of the council’s responses to the state’s decision to approve a proposal from the Orange County Needle Exchange Program to distribute syringes and other supplies in Costa Mesa, Anaheim, Orange and Santa Ana for the next two years. In Costa Mesa, the program would operate from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays on West 17th Street between Whittier Avenue and the city boundary with Banning Ranch.

Last month, the council also voted to join the county in a lawsuit seeking to stop the program.

Advocates of needle-exchange programs say they are intended to help prevent the spread of diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C by providing clean needles and supplies to intravenous drug users.

But city leaders and law enforcement officials in Costa Mesa and neighboring Newport Beach have raised public safety and health concerns about the program and said its proposed operating area is inappropriate given its proximity to homes, businesses and schools.

“I don’t want needles out there in the park; I don’t want them distributed at any rate,” said Costa Mesa Mayor Pro Tem Allan Mansoor. “We want to help people up and out of that addiction, up and out of homelessness, but I do not want to enable and encourage them.”

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