In a preemptive move, Bellevue City Council members voted unanimously to ban safe injection sites.
“It’s not for us – right now,” Mayor John Stokes said, explaining he does not believe there is enough data on the effectiveness of CHEL sites at this time.
King County wants to create two “Community Health Engagement Locations” or CHELs – one in Seattle and one in another part of the county. The county says they do not have a short list of locations, only that the sites would be in areas where there is a high amount of public drug use.
Mayor Stokes said Bellevue is not being considered for a second CHEL site, but the vote on Monday night was a way to stay off the county’s radar. County councilmembers passed a rule allowing incorporated cities to opt out of consideration, so a CHEL site would not be created in a city that did not want one.
“We cannot delay building these sites because people are dying. Are we going to sit here today? We care more about property values,” Bellevue’s Collin Pucher said during public comment.
Other community members said they supported the ban because it protected children, homes and businesses, and wanted a different approach to solving the heroin epidemic.
“I think if my family members had the opportunity to use sites like these, I don’t think they ever would have gotten off drugs,” said Keith Schipper, campaign manager of Initiative 27. The initiative would ban all safe injection sites from the county.
Some community members brought up East Gate, a neighborhood where a homeless shelter may be built. City leaders say there were fears that a safe injection site would be built next to it and impact the area negatively.
Bellevue is the second city in the area to ban safe injection sites. Auburn City Council voted last month, and Federal Way is poised to take up a resolution on Tuesday.
With cities preemptively banning CHELs, the county does not seem to be worried about finding a site yet.
“Our local Heroin and Opioid Task Force recommended Community Health Engagement Locations as part of a comprehensive harm reduction strategy. King County and the City of Seattle are working to site the first location in Seattle. With a new mayor set to take office in January, we expect the process will go well into 2018 to determine viable locations,” James Apa, Public Health – Seattle & King County communications director, wrote in a statement.
He says there is no timeline for identifying a second site until much later. Several county councilmembers we reached out to were currently on recess and could not be reached.
Bellevue’s resolution goes into effect on August 17. Within 60 days of that date, the city will have to hold a public hearing and draft permanent regulations.