Majority of City Council Attends Rally Against County Needle Program Hosted by Group Known for the “Santa Methica Is Not Safe” Banner

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Yesterday, a majority of the Santa Monica City Council joined roughly four dozen activists at a political rally organized by the Santa Monica Coalition to demand that LA County end its needle exchange program in Santa Monica public parks. The rally featured speeches from at least two Councilmembers running for re-election, Mayor Phil Brock and Oscar de la Torre, another from Lana Negrete who was elected in 2022, and Christine Parra who has not publicly declared if she will seek election this year.

Santa Monica Closeup recorded the rally and posted a lightly edited video of the event at its YouTube channel.

The rally followed a 4-3 vote last month directing city staff to send a letter to the county demanding that the program be ended. At last week’s meeting, the Council approved the text of that letter. All four of the Councilmembers that voted to direct staff to write the letter spoke at yesterday’s rally.

The county’s needle exchange program at Reed Park, Tongva and Palisades Park has been controversial since it began in 2020. The letter sent by the city isn’t the first time the city has asked that the program be either ended or moved; then-Mayor Sue Himmelrich sent a similar letter in 2022.

In both 2022 and 2024, the Council has claimed to support harm reduction programs but wants them out of the city’s parks. After noting that 70% of Santa Monica residents are renters, de la Torre made an argument based around equity to end the program.

“The vast majority of our residents depend on public parks, depend on our beaches, depend on our public space…there are 360 seniors living across the street from the park, and they can’t enjoy the park,” de la Torre stated.

While not responding directly to yesterday’s event, LA County has stated that the program at Reed Park has saved hundreds of lives, but is only active for a couple of hours every week. A van visits the park, exchanges used needles for clean ones, hands out NARCAN kits to treat overdoses in an emergency, and offers access to services to those seeking drug rehabilitation.

The Santa Monica Coalition has been a controversial organization since its founding, also in 2022. In February, the coalition filed a lawsuit against the county to try and end the program. 

The coalition has made headlines first with its “Santa Monica Is Not Safe” sign hanging on unrented space on the Promenade. When that sign wasn’t controversial enough anymore, it upped the ante with a new sign that read “Santa Methica Is Not Safe” and called for both the end of the needle exchange program and the firing of City Manager David White.

Immediately before a speech by Christine Parra, Santa Monica Coalition co-founder Jessica Rogers repeated the call for White to be fired. 

“There are seven council members in Santa Monica. You need four to hire a City Manager, but five to fire them,” Rogers said, placing the blame for White’s employment on the three Councilmembers not present at the rally. “We have a rogue city manager. He is operating against the will of the majority of residents in Santa Monica.”

Parra did not comment on Rogers’ statements concerning White.

Santa Monica Next reached out to all of the councilmembers who spoke at the rally to ask if they felt that White should be fired. As of the time of this writing, only Mayor Brock has gotten back to us and defended White’s work on this matter. Brock begins speaking at the 11 minute mark of the Santa Monica Closeup video, and gives his entire speech next to a sign stating ““To needles in the park, we say no. David White has got to go. Vote Gleam out.” De la torre and Negrete also both speak directly next to this sign. 

“I want it made clear that I have full confidence in our City Manager’s work in guiding our city. I appreciate David White’s leadership of Santa Monica every day,” Brock wrote in a letter to Next. 

Damien Newton
Damien Newton
Damien is the executive director of the Southern California Streets Initiative which publishes Santa Monica Next, Streetsblog Los Angeles, Streetsblog San Francisco, Streetsblog California and Longbeachize.

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