FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – Heated messages of disapproval, disgust, and anger from several Fresno city leaders about Fresno County bringing a needle exchange program to Fulton Street in Downtown Fresno.
Monday’s controversy over the proposed needle exchange in Downtown Fresno began at Fresno City Hall when three city council members publicly spoke out against the proposal. During that press conference, Councilmember Miguel Arias called out DA Lisa Smittcamp on the issue of needle exchanges (click here for more information). The entire exchange prompted a critical response from Fresno County that same afternoon, where officials fired back against the city’s claims (click here for more information).
In the Monday morning press conference, Fresno City Councilmembers Garry Bredefeld and Miguel Arias were joined by Mayor Jerry Dyer to emphasize their strong opposition to Fresno County’s decision to bring a Needle Exchange Program onto Fulton Street. They described the decision as destructive and dangerous.
“There’s simply no accountability with this program. Without any accountability or consequences for these destructive behaviors, you get more of the same behavior and it only worsens. This is similar to the crime problem we face in California by weakening all the criminal laws…there is no accountability for crime so it worsens and intensifies and you get more of it,” said Bredefeld.
Bredefeld claims the program will hand out 20,000 taxpayer-funded needles to drug addicts every week within two hours, equaling 80,000 needles every month, and one million needles every year. Bredefeld added that other drug paraphernalia, including straws, cookers, tourniquets, and pipes will be handed out with the needles through the program.
“Does the needle exchange program reduce drug usage? There’s frankly no evidence that it does,” emphasized Bredefeld.
Councilmember Miguel Arias spoke next, sharing Bredefeld’s disgust and anger for the new program.
“If the Board of Supervisors truly believes that free needles and crack pipes to addicts reduce harm, what’s next? Should we expect them to start providing free opioids to kids to reduce the harm of fentanyl? Is that the next logical step for the board of supervisors?” said Arias.
Mayor Dyer agreed with the other council members, saying the decision to bring the needle exchange program to Fulton Street was wrong.
“I understand the importance of getting these needles off the street, however, what I am here to talk about is the wrong decision. It’s wrong for many reasons, It’s wrong because they didn’t consider the impact it would have on the businesses, it was wrong because it didn’t understand the impact that it would have on our school districts, it was wrong because it didn’t understand the impact that it would have on our nearby residences that we have downtown, and it’s wrong because they didn’t understand the impact it might have on our investors that we are trying to lure into downtown for the purpose of building housing, retail, and restaurants, and so the decision is wrong,” said Mayor Dyer.
This all comes after city leaders announced that Fresno is expected to receive a $250 million state fund to upgrade downtown back in June 2023 – the largest single investment in the city’s history.
“Is this the image that we want for Downtown Fresno? Hundreds of addicts lined up on Fulton Mall and believe, there are hundreds, that come to the needle exchange program. Do we want hundreds of these individuals lined up on a Saturday on Fulton Mall while we are in the midst of a festival? Is this the image we want for people who are thinking about relocating to downtown to live? …What impact will this have, I don’t know, but I will tell you, it will have an impact, a negative impact on downtown Fresno,” said Mayor Dyer.
Mayor Dyer added what bothers him is that the Board of Supervisors did not reach out to the businesses and the residents or the downtown partnerships – saying they did not reach out to the city of Fresno or even to the Mayor’s office, and zero input was solicited.
“The economic impact is yet to be known and we know because the image of downtown is one that is very sensitive. I’m trying to protect our downtown and revitalize it. My motives are pure, their motives are pure, it’s because they care about this city and they care about downtown, and so do I,” said Mayor Dyer.