Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

Lawsuit Filed Against Barbara Ferrer, LA County Health Department, and Venice Family Clinic Over Open-Air Needle Distribution Program

Santa Monica is now one of the top three fentanyl overdose sites in Los Angeles County.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

The Santa Monica Coalition announced it has filed a lawsuit against County Health Director Barbara Ferrer, the Los Angeles County Health Department, and the Venice Family Clinic as a real party of interest, in connection with the ongoing Needle Distribution Program which has been conducted for a period of approximately four (4) years at all three parks in Downtown Santa Monica.

The lawsuit is the first of its kind to be filed by a resident and business owners' group that bypasses its own City leadership.

The Santa Monica Coalition alleges two former mayors of Santa Monica, Sue Himmelrich and Gleam Davis (still serving on the City Council), former City Manager Lane Dilg and current City Manager David White, covertly acknowledged and approved the program, and will be served separate lawsuits in Federal Court.

In authorizing the program, the Los Angeles County Health Department failed to comply with Health and Safety Code § 121349, which requires consultation with local law enforcement before the program is authorized, and before the program is reauthorized after an initial two-year period of operation, failed to provide residents the required 45-days for comment, failed to have a plan in place to collect data in order to assess the impact of the program, and failed to conduct or assess the environmental review required by the state with regard to public disposal of needles in the grassy areas of the park and near storm drains.

The Santa Monica Coalition also cites a prior proposed bill authored by State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and vetoed by Governor Gavin Newsom for "unintended consequences", that would have set up a pilot program using public funds for such programs, and notes the program in Santa Monica is the only 'open-air' needle distribution program in the United States.

The Coalition emphasizes it is not addressing the advantages or disadvantages of the needle distribution program, but focusing its efforts solely on moving the program from Santa Monica's parks, public areas, private property without owner permission, and into County or City-owned buildings with direct medical supervision and support services. More than 70% of Santa Monica's residents who live in apartments and condos consider the parks to be their "backyards".

The program was discovered in 2022 when The Santa Monica Coalition co-founder John Alle and a reporter were walking in Reed Park. The park is located directly across from St. Monica's Church and its K-12 school on California Avenue. It is also across from Westminster Towers, a 286-unit Senior Living facility. The needle distribution continues in Reed Park, Palisades Park along Ocean Avenue, and Tongva Park located between City Hall and the Pier.

Barbara Ferrer and Gary Tsai, M.D. who is Director of Substance Abuse Prevention and Control, a division of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, acknowledged that the needle distribution had previously included the public parks along with the 3rd Street Promenade, the California Incline. They also confirmed the program was taking place on privately-owned property at 7-Eleven. It is located on Wilshire Blvd. directly across from Reed Park and Santa Monica's Five Star Proper Hotel. Neither the County, Venice Family Clinic or the City informed the property or business owners of their on-site activity. Assaults, theft, and drug use have soared. Store sales, hotel bookings and restaurant revenues have declined as a result.

Santa Monica is now one of the top three fentanyl overdose sites in Los Angeles County.

Since the inception of the program, there has been a dramatic increase in additional transient addicts visiting the parks and surrounding residential areas. This has led to an increase in overdoses, assaults, and robberies in the three Downtown parks, with 2-3 deaths a day.

Over the last few years, The Santa Monica Coalition has documented discarded needles in all corners of the parks, in or near storm drains, near picnic benches, children's play areas and in grassy areas of the parks. Thousands of images and videos depict criminal behavior, drug sales, drug use, and drug overdoses. On a daily basis, hundreds of individuals are sprawled out in the parks, on street corners, in the alleyways and on the 3rd Street Promenade. Most of these individuals are incoherent, non-responsive or behaving erratically. In addition, the Coalition continues to receive images, videos and statements from locals documenting the negative impacts of the Needle Distribution.

Barbara Ferrer herself has labeled the program "needle distribution" instead of "Harm Reduction" or "Needle Exchange" because turning in used needles to County or Venice Family Clinic employees is not a requirement of the program.

To this day, Barbara Ferrer has only met with The Santa Monica Coalition to discuss the Santa Monica Needle Distribution Program. Neither the former Mayors, current Mayor or the City Manager have been successful in securing a meeting with Ferrer. The Santa Monica Coalition orchestrated a campaign in opposition to the Needle Distribution Program and has currently collected over 17,000 letters.

Following John Alle's discovery of the Needle Distribution in 2022, the City Council passed a resolution asking the LA County Board of Supervisors to move the program out of the parks. Yet on June 7, 2023, City Manager David White signed a Joint Proclamation on behalf of the City of Santa Monica with the Los Angeles Department of Public Health, endorsing the


A year ago today, The Santa Monica City Council declared a Local Emergency on Homelessness. The Needle Distribution Program has not been mentioned or placed on any Council Meeting Agenda since its discovery in 2022, nor has current Mayor Phil Brock agreed to place it on the Council Agenda since assuming the ceremonial role of Mayor in December 2023.


Reader Comments(1)

MarLA writes:

Barbara Ferrer is an uncaring monster who needs to be stripped of her leadership. Everything she touches is designed to be as unhealthy as possible and ultimately destroyed. She is the ultimate, deliberate bad actor, in the role of destroyer, starting with the morale in her own office, which is completely in the dumpster.