By ANRICA DEB
Commissioners called Alternative to Meds Center’s request “problematic” and “disturbing” during a Thursday planning commission meeting and refused to give the business a permit for its Guerrero Street facility.
The facility’s owner, Lyle Earl Murphy, who trained as a chiropractor, formed the company at the end of 2007 and moved it to a large Victorian at 827 Guerrero St. in July 2008. His clients pay around $16,000 for their first month’s stay and less for subsequent months.
In exchange, Murphy and his associates help them “taper” off their drug dependencies using nontraditional detox services.
Murphy said the center offers “ortho-molecular medicine,” which he added is not medicine, “it is nutritional.” He explained that he provides supplements of amino acids, mineral water and vitamins, in addition to visits to the doctor and sauna.
With this program, Murphy said he has helped patients stop using anti-psychotics, anti-depressants, opiates, and anti-anxiety medication.
Dozens of Mission residents came to city hall to stop the self-described “health rehabilitation center”’ from getting a permit to board its clients.
Neighbors complained of Alternative to Meds Center’s changing stories and asked the city’s planning commission to deny a request for a conditional-use permit under a code that covers group housing and boarding facilities. The code does not apply to medical facilities, which have more stringent requirements.
Murphy fared poorly under scrutiny from the commissioners, who were annoyed with the center’s behavior during the application process.
Commissioners were irritated that Alternative to Meds Center had used copyrighted architects’ plans—drawn for a previous owner—to submit their request.
“What’s even more disturbing is a second set of plans with changed dates,” added Commissioner William Lee about the re-use of plans. “That doesn’t settle well with me.”
Neighbors like Elizabeth Zitrin said they were most concerned about the safety of those accessing Murphy’s services.
“To have unregulated, unaudited and unmonitored treatment of people who are being withdrawn from psychoactive treatment is dangerous,” Zitrin said. “It’s dangerous to the public as consumers of these services.”
At least one client has hurt himself. Neighbors said there were at least three attempted suicides at the center, but Murphy said there has been just one, when a man cut up his arms with a razor.
Murphy noted that this client had not yet been tapered off his medication and that the reaction had nothing to do with his nutritional regimen.
The nutritional programs given to patients are designed by Murphy, his nutritionist Genita Petralli, and a local but not on-site doctor, Joel Lopez. While Murphy trained as a chiropractor, he is not licensed.
When commissioners asked if Genita Petralli was a licensed nutritionist, Murphy awkwardly responded affirmatively. On Friday he acknowledged that he assumed Petralli was licensed, and pointed to the list of letters behind her name as evidence.
Furthermore, commissioners said the facility does not benefit San Francisco since its clients are from outside the city. Commissioner Christina Olague said it was unfortunate “in a city where there’s a deep need for treatment facilities,” noting that the $16,000 per month cost was “excessive.”
The center’s application said nine staff members would be present on the premises and that clients would be allowed outdoors only under supervision.
Opponents argue that any facility that provides counseling or drug rehabilitation is required to be licensed under state law. The on-site staff is not licensed to provide counseling or medical care, and the city permit would only allow the center to maintain up to 20 beds.
Gillean Gillette works on a project planting drought-tolerant landscaping along Guerrero Street. She said Alternative to Meds Center lied about donating $5,000 to this project. Murphy later responded by saying that the property owner Travis Svensson had mistakenly said he donated this money, and Murphy apologized that the center had taken credit for any such action.
Other issues that arose included the center’s use of unlicensed care.
“We are now aware we can no longer do acupuncture at the facility,” Murphy said to the commission. He insists that now that acupuncture has ceased, the facility does not need licensing to maintain its current client load of roughly seven and no more than 10 clients.
Murphy seemed positive that the California Alcohol and Drug Programs Department would find that he can continue operation as a detox service. “We do not need a license,” Murphy said repeatedly.
Despite his optimism, commissioners were quite stern and voted unanimously against the center’s request to provide housing.
“You’re not ready for prime time,” said Commissioner Kathrin Moore.