Commentary: Costa Mesa will find a legal way to stop the needle exchange program

Syringes were left behind along the banks of the Santa Ana River after a large homeless encampment was removed in November.
(Los Angeles Times file photo)

Despite unanimous City Council opposition, the city of Costa Mesa received notice this week that the California State Department of Public Health approved a mobile needle exchange program a block away from two elementary schools, surrounded by a residential area, and 1,500 businesses.

While other council members could only make comments, some very deceptive, I did what lawyers do: I took action by working with lawyer and Councilman John Stephens and our city staff to develop a legal solution to stop the program from starting up in our city.

While the Hepatitis C and the opioid epidemic are public health concerns that worry me, it’s shocking and disturbing that there is little to no regard for the families in Costa Mesa by a state agency assigned to protect the public.

This needle exchange program is just one more instance where state agencies are making decisions or enacting policies that are detrimental to our quality of life without consulting us.


In this case, it feels like Costa Mesa is being specifically targeted. First, our city is already impacted with the 92 drug rehab facility licenses in traditional neighborhoods; now it is hit with this needle program that will be detrimental to our quality of life.

The city and our Police Department did our homework when we learned about the program application. I, along with the council, unanimously opposed it.

We made a very strong case that the operators of the Orange County Needle Exchange Program were negligent when they operated their program at the Santa Ana Civic Center. They were good at distributing needles, but not so good at collecting used ones.

And in their application to the state, the Orange County Needle Exchange Program made a startling admission.


They stated that since opening in February 2016, “We have collected over 2.25 million syringes, and distributed over 2.5 million syringes.” Their own statements demonstrate they were responsible for approximately 250,000 unaccounted for syringes left within the Santa Ana community.

Their application seeks to give 20 needles for every one collected. That’s simply irresponsible.

The needle exchange operators conducted no public outreach in Costa Mesa on their poorly devised plan. In fact, we learned about it through social media.

The application failed to disclose the 500 residences in the area and misled the state by claiming there were no homeowner associations. This area contains numerous single-family homes and apartment complexes, as well as several mobile home parks that are largely occupied by seniors.

Whittier Elementary School and Carden Hall private school are also in this area. Not to mention, there are approximately 1,500 business licenses issued within the area.

It’s a travesty for Costa Mesa families to endure these poorly approved plans by a state agency that fails to consider our own police chief’s research and data. We are on a dangerous path.

I promise you we are going to fight hard to protect the health and welfare of Costa Mesa’s families and business owners. Stephens and I bring our legal expertise and our relationships with the elected leaders and city attorneys of the other involved cities to the table.

Together, with our sister city and county partners, we will stop this needle exchange program and force the state agency to protect the public. For now, these important community issues require thoughtful planning and a legal strategy, not a political one.


Costa Mesa Councilwoman Katrina Foley is a candidate for mayor.