After years of controversy surrounding the syringe exchange program operated by Humboldt Center for Harm Reduction (HACHR), the City of Eureka and HACHR have proposed a compromise that will require the nonprofit switch to a mobile-only syringe exchange and cease operation of the service at its Third Street facility.
During tonight’s meeting the Eureka City Council will review a mediation settlement agreement proposal signed by HACHR Executive Director Lasara Firefox Allen and Interim City Manager Miles Slattery. The council requested that city staff and HACHR attend mediation after the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) granted a two-year reauthorization for the syringe exchange program, but excluded the City of Eureka from the reauthorization.
Over the last several years the relationship between HACHR and the City has been rocky, with some community members complaining about the syringe exchange program and the activity it drew to the Third Street site. In August the tension came to a head when the Eureka Police Department released the results of a months-long investigation, which allegedly found HACHR staff was allowing drug use and sales to occur at the Third Street facility. Though HACHR denied the allegations, the Eureka City Council opted to send a letter to the CDPH opposing the reauthorization of HACHR’s syringe exchange.
Though HACHR has always held that it wants to cooperate with the City, in the past the organization was authorized by the state and not necessarily bound by city regulations. By not reauthorizing the program in Eureka, the CDPH effectively gave the City more control, requiring HACHR to adhere to Eureka’s regulations to continue operating the syringe exchange within city limits.
In addition to requiring that HACHR move to a mobile-only exchange, the agreement proposal also asks that HACHR install a fence around the Third Street building and hire someone to monitor and “deter inappropriate activities” at the center and the surrounding area.
Slattery told the Outpost that the city will work with HACHR to secure grant funding to cover the cost of the vehicle for the mobile exchange and to determine where the service can operate. Slattery said that the city is working on an agreement with Open Door Health Services to cover the cost of the fence around HACHR’s Third Street site.
Once approved by the council, the plan will have to go through California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review, before the changes can take place. The city will then need to adopt another ordinance to make the agreement official.
Slattery said that the discussions with HACHR have been amicable and he feels confident that the proposed changes will address the needs of the Third Street neighborhood, while still allowing HACHR to operate the syringe exchange, something the City needs to help prevent the spread of blood-borne illness.
“It was great working with them,” Slattery told the Outpost. “We hope this is something we continue to collaborate on.”
In other business, the council will vote on the adoption of two ordinances that will change the zoning of the Crowley Site — which is adjacent to the Hikshari Trail — to allow for the development of Betty Chinn’s trailer housing project to finally move forward.
Chinn proposes to turn 11 trailers — donated to the Betty Kwan Chinn Foundation by PG&E over two years ago — into a transitional housing project for the homeless, providing the occupants with an affordable place to live and support services to help keep them off of the streets.
But developing the trailers into a permanent housing site has been a complicated process. Not only have there been issues with some neighbors, but also the site sits in the Coastal Zone and housing was not one of the permitted uses. The Coastal Commission approved changing the zoning to allow for multiple uses, including housing, but asked the city to make some amendments to the land use plan. The council will now vote to adopt those amendments, allowing for a housing development on the site.
Slattery told the Outpost that the city now needs to apply for a coastal development permit, which will then need to go before the planning commission and then the city council for approval. Mercer Fraser has agreed to help with the water, sewer and paving on the site and a private donor has helped fund the necessary improvements to the trailers. If all goes to plan, Slattery said, the city is hoping that the project will be up and running by March 2021.
Chinn told the Outpost that she was really happy to see things falling into place for this thanked the City and the County for all their support with this project. “I’m really in a good place,” Chinn said. “I’m really looking forward to moving forward.”
The council will also vote on the adoption of a replacement camping ordinance, that will prohibit “involuntary camping” in city parks, near trails and in several business districts.
The Eureka City Council meets online via Zoom tonight at 6 p.m. You can view the full agenda and directions on how to participate here.