PLANNING COMMISSION PUBLIC HEARING
Around 200 people showed up for the public hearing on Thursday evening at the MSB with nearly 100 wanting to speak on the issue of Planned Parenthood’s application to open a medical clinic on Grand Avenue. (Staff Reports Available HERE) Public comments lasted for nearly two hours and seemed to be pretty equal as to those in support of, or in opposition to, the passage of this project. Many were not accustomed to speaking in front of large crowds and the passion for their message was clearly heard no matter which side they were addressing.
Some comments gave credit to Planned Parenthood for services they had received and the need for these services here locally while others stated their disagreement because of services offered by the organization which include abortion at other locations. Some spoke that this was a land use issue and that is what must be considered. And others threatened continued street protesting no matter the impact on local businesses or passerby’s, including children attending local schools or public buildings i.e., Library. Catholics spoke against Planned Parenthood while an Episcopalian Deacon and a letter signed by several Rabbi’s weighed in the conscious of individuals with the right for education. Principals of Catholic and Public Schools spoke at different ends of the debate. Some said they were not South City residents and it seemed equal as to which side they represented. For those that have the time and interest, the video is on the city’s website and can be accessed HERE. It’s good to have a better understanding of how our neighbor’s think, and why, even if we do not agree with them. With understanding comes tolerance.
The proposed medical clinic is protested by pro-life supporters, many being organized by San Mateo resident Jessica Mumm as she has gathered support from our local Catholic community in attempts to block Planned Parenthood from setting up a clinic in South San Francisco.
The Catholic group opposes Planned Parenthood because of their outreach offering family planning including abortion. Prolife groups state that the majority of Planned Parenthood funding is from performing abortions and often site Arizona Senator Kyl’s statement that “well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does is abortion” FactCheck.org states abortion services only make up 3% of the total business done by Planned Parenthood. Either way, surgical procedures such as abortions would not be done at this facility and it is not zoned for those uses.
Because abortion is performed in local hospitals and contraception is available in local drug stores, many remain puzzled; why do pro-lifer’s continue to focus their protest only on Planned Parenthood? Why do they not recognize all of the general medical care offered to the community? And as one pro-choice person asked, “Now that the federal government has given the OK for the morning after pill to be sold over the counter to those 15 and older, how can pro-lifer’s remain so rigid in their beliefs?” To date this question does not seem to have been answered directly.
Catholic pro-lifer’s opposition comes from their deep seated belief that abortion is the intentional and direct killing of an innocent human being, and therefore it is a form of homicide. Abortion is the first of the Catholic FIVE NON-NEGOTIATES, followed by Euthanasia, Embryonic Stem Cell Research, Human Cloning, and Homosexual Marriage.
THE COMMISSION DISCUSSES
After hearing nearly two hours of public comments, Planning Commissioner Chairman Ochsenhirt explained the issues before them; was this project in line with the land use of this area. The commissioners spent an hour of in-depth questioning and conversation to work up towards their vote.
Commissioner Carlos Martin spent a good deal of time questioning other issues not related to land use and opined it had been the failure of the applicant not supplying additional information he deemed necessary. His line of questioning was curious and confusing to the audience. The applicant continued to share the podium with many from their organization as they attempted to answer his changing line of questions. His first question was asking what their outreach would be here in South City and quickly moved to how the organization was funded and asking if they accept donations and what they do for fundraising. In a split moment Martin continued with “Can you tell me how you verify patient charts?” and appeared to clarify “How do you verify the accuracy of a patient’s chart?” and followed up by “And you have medical practitioners who go over patient charts, is that correct?” The applicant(s) responded that the charts are reviewed by a medical physician and that the health clinics and affiliates go through accreditation. It was explained that this process is very thorough with all files, lab work, and everything that is related to a medical center, are reviewed. This accreditation process is the same for every medical clinic and hospital and one which Planned Parenthood recently passed.
Martin cut short the answers with more questions “Did you submit documentation describing the accreditation process to the Planning Commission?” When the applicant acknowledged they did not do so as it wasn’t required, Martin went on to ask “Tell me what is the process to approve your expenditures? In spending money, tell me what are your approval processes in spending money.”
The applicant continued to bring board and staff members up to address each question as it related to their positions. They explained they do have a board of directors as the board chair came up to address the next issue brought up by Martin’s request “Speak to the process of how you process in approving expenditures.” The board chair went on to explain the multi-levels of necessary authorizations within the $100M organization starting with the $500 level of checks and balances for expenditures. She further went on to discuss the required annual audits done by external agencies noting that their CPA agency was the Herrington Group.
When Martin’s line of questioning continued with “Speak about the organizations management executive staff, board of directors” Chairman Ochsenhirt asked Martin “Where are you going with this questioning? Where is the relevance, where are we going with these questions for the land use questions before us?”
Martin attempted to explain that health & welfare were also issues before them and he wanted to be reassured there would be no consumer fraud. The City Attorney interjected the issue was land use and if the organization had passed accreditation it would have addressed fraud issues. Martin continued his line of questioning even though the applicants had repeatedly responded they had provided all that was required to which Martin then stated that staff had made the error in not requiring this information, to which the applicant stated that would be an issue between him and staff and not Planned Parenthood to which Martin agreed. Chairman Ochsenhirt injected that the applicant had answered the questions to which Martin said “no they had not answered the question they are refusing to” Again Chairman Ochsenhirt stated yes they had answered the question they are willing to show the audits that nothing illegal or anything had been falsified…..”
There was much frustration as the line of questioning continued even though the applicant had stated they would be willing to submit additional information that they had not been required to provide including audited financial reports. Martin went on to say that this information should have been included and fell to the applicant to have provided it no matter if it was required or not. Many felt the line of questioning was interrogation and not required for other businesses that come before the Planning Commission.
Commissioner Alex Khalfin was the next to speak and he asked the staff if financials were required to make a decision on land use to which Chief Planner Kalkin replied “To the best of my knowledge we never have required submittal of financial records.”
Khalfin then turned his attention to the police asking if there would an impact on police services if the proposed plan went through or if it would put a strain on our resources. Sergeant Campbell said he had done research and believed it would not put a strain since the area is a main thorough fair patrolled regularly in addition to the bike patrol.
Commissioner Eugene Simm acknowledged a great observation of the community involvement. He was satisfied with the building code information given by Fire Marshall Da Silva and that due diligence had been fulfilled. Simm’s questioning of how the area was chosen and how it fit into Planned Parenthood’s master plan and he seemed satisfied with the answers given. Lastly Commission Simm was concerned that the façade of the building be consistent with the vision held for Grand Avenue and was assured the set back and landscaping were appropriate.
Commissioner Alan Wong inquired about the entrance on Grand Avenue and how would discretion be handled. The applicant(s) said that patient confidentiality was very important and that they have had patients call in advance and arrangements can be made for them to be escorted through the back entrance if that was their choice. Wong next spoke to the number of clinics on the block and the long term vision for Grand Avenue while realizing this medical clinic was different than chiropractors or dentists that may be on the block. He wanted this noted with fellow commissioners for future land use.
Commissioner Mary Guisti asked about the back door entrance and how the patients would be made aware of this alternative and was satisfied that the outreach would be done. Her vote was in favor on land use issues.
Commissioner William Zembke had a question on the location of security and the project architect Jeff Cecil explained that the security was within the office starting at the foyer, not outside, and further the current gate would not remain.
Chairperson Ochsenhirt stated his questions and concerns were solely on the land use; not on the applicant, or proposed use, or a moral or belief issue. He then put the question to fellow commissioners.
Commissioner Martin said he would explain his previous questioning in his comments and continued to speak enthusiastically for 10 minutes about his vision for the downtown area. Martin’s prior extensive questioning, followed by this nearly 10 minute speech did not seem to address the concerns of those who had attended the 3.5 hour meeting. The continued questioning of staff related to items that should have been addressed prior to the meeting, which would have allowed Martin to have all information he believed he needed to make an informed decision. Later it was said Martin may be running for city council during November elections and ‘was playing to an audience’. Because of the length of time Martin took in this meeting it seems newsworthy especially as the public was limited to 2 minutes to state their opinions on the proposed project before the commission.
The commissioners then set about voting on the proposed project with all agreeing with staff recommendations, 6-1 with Martin the lone dissenter. After the meeting was adjourned Martin was overheard saying, “Well someone has to do the work.”
Previously the Parking Place Commission approved this project for 435 Grand Avenue and has found the parking issues are addressed appropriately. City staff has done extensive research of this project and their recommendation has stated the plans submitted by the applicant are in line with the intent for the area zoned. SSFPD have stated they have worked with the applicant and are prepared for any need for services and it would not impact the current staff. The Fire Marshal has stated the building is in compliance with all ordinances and laws. The Planning Chief formally approved of the staff report and recommendations that the applicant receive the commission’s acceptance. An appeal can be filed within the next 15 day period.
San Mateo resident and pro-life advocate Jessica Mumm has reported there is a newly-forming local pro-life group to respond to the ‘threat of the invasion by Planned Parenthood’. It has only had one meeting so far and is being chaired by Tess Valido and co-chaired by bi-lingual English/Spanish speaker Rosa Gonzalez. ‘The group is endorsed by All Souls pastor Fr. Agnel. Prolife members of Mater Dolorosa, St Augustine and St Veronica and others dedicated to preventing Planned Parenthood from setting up in South City are encouraged to attend the second meeting slated for Sunday May 5 at 7pm at All Souls Church in the Youth Room.’ She said they would appeal the Planning Commission’s decision. All Souls facebook page status had been updated on Saturday May 4, 2013 “Abortion Clinic gets approved by SSF Planning Commission. Shame on them…This clinic is opposite the library where our children will be exposed to future protests.” Comments posted were immediately deleted.
Knowing an appeal would most likely occur, South City resident and St. Ignatius Graduate Kylie Hicks, plans to continue her outreach informing others of the benefits of having such a medical clinic in our community. “I plan to volunteer to help ensure patients can have safe access to this clinic. As a newly married woman I understand the need for family planning.” Hicks’ online petition in support of Planned Parenthood can be accessed at Change.org HERE
So while many may think this issue is now a done deal, an appeal will be filed and this issue will continue. Since this is such a heavily passionate debate, neighbors will need to find additional avenues to strengthen community ties where this issue may surface on some local levels; our places of worship, schools, businesses, and public places.