Costa Mesa council takes next step toward permanently banning needle exchanges; one more vote to go

A dog walker holds a hypodermic needle he found near the mouth of the Santa Ana River in Newport Beach in 2016 — not far from where the state later approved a clean-needle exchange program in neighboring Costa Mesa.
(File Photo)
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Costa Mesa is now just one City Council vote away from a permanent prohibition on clean-needle exchanges.

With little discussion Tuesday, the council unanimously endorsed codifying the ban following a series of temporary moratoriums that have been in place over the past year.

The code amendment will need a second vote, likely later this month, for the change to take effect.


Councilwoman Sandy Genis said this should be the first step in ordinance changes to “tighten this up and make sure that we’re absolutely bulletproof.”

The code amendment stems from the California Department of Public Health’s approval last year of a proposal from the Orange County Needle Exchange Program to distribute clean syringes and other supplies on West 17th Street in Costa Mesa between Whittier Avenue and the city boundary near Armstrong Petroleum Corp., as well as in parts of Anaheim, Orange and Santa Ana.

In response, the council quickly authorized an emergency ban on needle-exchange programs in the city. The council last renewed that temporary moratorium in July.

No one from the Orange County Needle Exchange Program spoke at Tuesday’s council meeting.

Advocates of such programs have said they can help prevent the spread of diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C by providing clean needles and supplies to intravenous drug users.

Costa Mesa officials, however, have said the ban is necessary to protect public health, welfare and safety — citing fears that free needles could draw illicit drug users to the city and jeopardize the sobriety of clients in the city’s numerous addiction recovery facilities.