MOORLACH UPDATE — Presenting SB 689 Plus a Dozen More — April 17, 2019

Next week I will be presenting 13 bills. Here’s a rundown:

Monday –
Senate Housing — SB 754

Tuesday –
Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments — SB 57 (Bates) and SB 359
Senate Natural Resources — SB 584

Senate Governmental Organizations — SB 598
Senate Judiciary — SB 435 and SB 496
Senate Transportation — SB 319, SB 571 and SB 319

Wednesday –
Senate Environmental Quality — SB 535
Senate Health — SB 689
Senate Governance and Finance — SB 241

For more details, go to

The OC Register, East Bay Times, and San Jose Mercury News cover SB 689 in the piece below (see MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 689 – Needle Exchange — March 1, 2019, MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 319 and SB 689 — March 3, 2019 and MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 319 and SB 689 Debate — March 12, 2019).

This year, Sacramento is focused on a number of bills that takes away local control from city councils to build more affordable housing. SB 689 is trying to return local control for needle exchange programs. Why should cities have to rake up parks first thing each morning to protect small children? Whom do the parents go to when they wish to complain? They usually go to the city council. So, my bill should reduce legal fees and encourage collaboration between cities and the state. But, since Sacramento is so much smarter than local government (not), it may be reluctant to relinquish an inch in this regard.

25th Anniversary Look Back

One of the unexpected side stories during my 1994 campaign was the city of Tustin pulling its funds out of the Orange County Investment Pool (OCIP). Kevin Johnson of the LA Times thought it was newsworthy. His April 14th piece was titled, “Tustin Pulls Its Money Out of County Portfolio — Finances: City cites what it calls risky investment strategies — Treasurer Robert L. Citron thinks bid to unseat him is motive.” It started an interesting story line about one of the 187 OCIP participants.

When you have a beat reporter covering an unrelated business/investment activity, you find an opening line like this: “In a move shrouded in politics, the city of Tustin has withdrawn about $4 million from Orange County’s investment pool since last month, citing overly risky investment strategies used by longtime county Treasurer-Tax Collector Robert L. Citron.” But, it was prescient and the city would not suffer investment losses or the long struggle endured by the litigation that followed to retrieve lost funds.

Tustin City Councilman Jeffrey Thomas was very clear: “I think the city will come out smelling like a rose because of it.”

About the investment strategy, I was quoted as saying, “I’m nervous. You better believe I’m nervous. I’m praying that the county money is OK. Everyone should be concerned, because this is public money.”

Ricky Young of the OC Register also covered the story the next day. His April 15 piece was titled “Tustin withdraws from O.C. investment pool — Politics: The city removes $4 million from the fund, but Mayor Jim Potts criticizes the action.”

Jeff Thomas would take a serious amount of grief from the media during the campaign. There were days when I wondered how someone other than the candidate could be the recipient of so much abuse. But, it seems to come back to beat reporters covering topics outside of their areas of expertise and only addressing surface issues without digging deeper. The question should have been, “With more than $20 billion under management, why are we crying about a $4 million withdrawal?” Or, “If the fund is having trouble, then why is Tustin getting its entire deposit back, instead of a reduced amount at a lower net asset value (like mutual funds are valued)?”

The City Council would recognize its audit committee after the county filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy. Tustin had dodged the bullet. But, I would hold one of its audit committee members to a higher account for not being brave enough to criticize one of his fellow California county investment colleagues. He would later become a wonderful mentor of mine in my new role as the Orange County Treasurer-Tax Collector (see MOORLACH UPDATE — OC Register — February 10, 2010).

I would later praise Jeff Thomas for his leadership when he was mentioned as a potential candidate for higher office (see MOORLACH UPDATE — OC Register — February 25, 2010).

For the last 25th Anniversary episode, go to MOORLACH UPDATE — Senate Bills 511, 584, 598, 496 and 640 — April 15, 2019 .

Proposed bill would allow cities to veto needle exchange programs

State Sen. Moorlach says his legislation offers appropriate local control, but program advocates fear worse outcomes including disease and deaths


Regardless of whether a court allows an Orange County nonprofit to run a mobile syringe exchange, the program’s organizers could find themselves barred under proposed legislation from working in the cities they hoped to serve.

State Sen. John Moorlach is behind a bill that would require city or county officials to sign off before a needle exchange could operate in their jurisdiction. Current law says programs can be authorized by either local authorities or the state Department of Public Health.

The Orange County Needle Exchange Program is proposing to provide free clean needles through a mobile exchange program, but the state’s approval has been opposed in court by officials in the county and cities where the group hoped to operate.

Moorlach said his goal is not to take sides, but to give local officials an equal say in what takes place in their community.

“All I’m saying is, you know, convince your city council,” he said. “I don’t feel comfortable with Sacramento saying, ‘We’re smarter than you and we’re going to do whatever we want.’”

But public health advocates of programs such as free, clean needles for injection drug users say Moorlach’s proposal would be a setback they fear could lead to increased transmission of HIV and Hepatitis C and even overdose deaths – syringe exchanges often also distribute naloxone, which can counteract an overdose.

Los Angeles Community Health Project Executive Director Michael Marquesen worried it will turn back the clock to before state health officials had authority to approve needle exchanges.

“It really put a damper on intervention in so many places when it was left up to the local authorities,” he said.

Needle exchanges offer clean syringes and collect used ones for proper disposal, and they typically also offer people other health-related information and referrals, such as to substance abuse treatment.

A previous program in Orange County was one of 45 syringe exchanges around California, according to state health officials. Such programs sprang up in the 1990s to stem the spread of HIV, though Orange County’s was only created in 2016.

It operated in Santa Ana’s Civic Center once a week, but in early 2018 city officials denied organizers a permit to continue after complaints about discarded needles on the ground and in public buildings and workers being pricked by them.

While some local governments sanction and even fund syringe exchange in their communities, others have been resistant. State law was changed in 2011 so the Department of Public Health could approve programs directly.

“Up until then, an individual’s access to syringe programs was determined by where they lived, not how much need there was in a community,” said Laura Thomas, deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit focused on drug policy reform.

When the local program lost its Civic Center permit, organizers proposed a mobile program stopping in Anaheim, Costa Mesa, Orange and Santa Ana and got the state’s approval. But the county and three of the cities – citing public health concerns about stray needles and risk to recovering addicts – successfully sued to block the program before it began.

Moorlach said the needle exchange organizers surprised the cities where they hoped to operate rather than reaching out to them first, and his bill would ensure that doesn’t happen again.

Based on the Orange County Needle Exchange Program’s reported problems in the Civic Center, Costa Mesa Councilman John Stephens said he and his colleagues “did not think that their program was well thought out.”

And that is why a city should have some power to evaluate programs and regulate them in its own jurisdiction, he said.

Orange County Needle Exchange Program officials couldn’t be reached for comment, but in a March 10 op-ed in The Orange County Register they argued that Moorlach failed to propose anything that could help win acceptance for the programs and cautioned, “Local control would serve as a barrier to syringe exchange programs and not a promise to help reform and improve them.”

Meanwhile, other groups have tried to fill the service gap, including Marquesen, who said he’s seen plenty of recent clients at his Los Angeles clinics who came from Orange County because there’s no local needle exchange program.

Volunteers with the Solace Foundation, which had partnered with the Orange County Needle Exchange Program to give out naloxone, have added kits to sterilize syringes and sharps containers for disposal to the supplies they hand out on the street, the group’s founder wrote in a December op-ed.

Moorlach’s bill is scheduled for a Senate Health Committee hearing April 24.


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