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Roseville leaders stop short of needle exchange ban, pass ordinance to regulate programs instead

Controversial needle exchange programs again topic of debate in Placer County
Controversial needle exchange programs again topic of debate in Placer County 02:40

ROSEVILLE -- Controversial clean drug needle exchange programs are once again a topic of debate in Placer County. Wednesday night, the city of Roseville took center stage.

The agenda item comes on the heels of Placer County's Board of Supervisors announcing a ban on needle exchange programs this month.

Other cities within the county followed suit in enacting bans including Loomis, Rocklin and Auburn. Roseville's City Council took a different approach Wednesday.

Instead of voting to ban needle exchange programs, the council voted unanimously to adopt a new city ordinance that outlines strict rules for any needle exchange program if the state were to force the city to launch it.

Still, every Roseville city leader at the meeting said they were against needle exchange programs outright.    

"We are not going to allow any needle exchange programs except those that we legally cannot stop," said Councilmember Scott Alvord.  

Roseville's city attorney Travis Cochran told the council Wednesday that bans on the programs are not enforceable.

Instead, he and Police Chief Troy Bergstrom presented to the board that it would be wiser to have city law to fall back on in case the state pushes the program through against the city's will. 

"By having an ordinance that we can fall back on, we can say this is our city ordinance that prevents the program from coming if you don't meet all of our rules," said Chief Bergstrom.   

Bergstrom said he has written a letter to the California Department of Public Health in opposition to the program's launch in Roseville. 

"What's before us tonight at least gives us our control. It puts us in control of our destiny," said Councilmember Tracy Mendonsa of the proposed ordinance. 

In public comment, several Roseville residents said they wanted to see their city council reconsider the ban.

"We are saying, 'We don't want you to be here.' But open the door, come on in. I say we keep the door locked for a little bit," said public commenter Chris. 

"We should not be forced into anything like this," said another woman in public comment.

The nonprofit needle exchange program Safe Alternatives through Networking and Education (SANE) operates a location on Sacramento's Del Paso Boulevard.

Now, it has applied with the California Department of Public Health to open a needle delivery and pick-up service in Placer County with plans to deliver 200,000 needles a year.

"One of my bigger concerns was lack of what appeared to be any accountability in how this program would work. On how they would manage it, account for what they are picking up, what they are delivering, where they are delivering it," said Chief Bergstrom.

So, what does the newly passed ordinance do?

It lays out clear rules for any needle exchange program including that, if launched in Roseville, it must be approved by the California Department of Public Health.

The ordinance sets strict limits on how and where needles can be distributed and disposed of.

Needle exchange programs will be prohibited from operating within 600 feet of schools, daycares, parks, community centers or libraries unless the distribution is on private property. 

Program operators also must give participants a sharps disposal container or make sure they have access to one.

The program will not be permitted to provide clean syringes to people who are known to have improperly used or disposed of syringes before.

Under the ordinance, syringes also must be immediately disposed of after first use and any used syringes cannot be left in a place or manner where they could come in contact with someone else. 

Chief Bergstrom says he will continue to fight this at the state level.

"I don't want this program in our city. I don't think it benefits us and there are significant concerns with it," said Bergstrom. 

The unanimous vote to pass the ordinance Wednesday night was in a way, rushed, for a reason. 

Public comment to the California Department of Public Health on this program ends Thursday night. 

City leaders agreed they wanted this ordinance to be in place before the State had a chance to push the needle program through. 

The Placer County Sheriff has called needle exchanges an acceptance of illicit drugs. However, the state of California says they reduce harm and credits them for limiting the spread of HIV.

The state already licenses 65 needle exchange programs in 30 counties. If adopted, any needle exchange in Placer County, or its cities, would be a first. 

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