It was like a city meeting in that it was held in City Hall. It was like a city meeting in that numerous civic leaders and activists were present. And it was like a city meeting in that there were stickers.

It was unlike a city meeting in that it started on time, ended on time, and featured exactly none of the performance art-level craziness that is usually in evidence in public meetings. It especially featured none of the vigor in evidence in any meeting that touches on California Pacific Medical Center’s (CPMC’s) development plans for St. Luke’s Hospital. In the past, those meetings have lasted for hours, attracted hundreds of speakers, and generally invited controversy, ever since CPMC first introduced its plans to the public in March of last year.

But the meeting held this past Tuesday wasn’t public — at least not in the way that city meetings are public. Anyone could attend, but not anyone could speak. The meeting was organized by a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit called Jobs with Justice, which established a San Francisco chapter a year ago. Gordon Mar, chairman of the chapter, organized the meeting to get those opposed to CPMC’s redevelopment plans in front of “respected community leaders who hadn’t taken a public opinion.”

Also, he said, this was partly a press event and a coalition like the one organized against CPMC (nurses, Tenderloin community activists, multiple ethnicities) was “straight out of central casting.” Was the press what he’d hoped for? Not quite: The coming holidays, the talk on congestion pricing for downtown San Francisco at the Board of Supervisors meeting, plus speculation over the interim mayor had all pulled the press in too many directions.

The meeting went something like this: Opponents of the medical center’s development plans spoke in front of a panel of local civic leaders like California assembly member Tom Ammiano, SFUSD Comissioner Sandra Lee Fewer, former Sierra Club chair John Rizzio, and Democratic Party leader Jane Morrison. These people sat at the table and listened politely.

Those in favor of the development plans in San Francisco watched the proceedings gloomily. They were not invited to speak in front of the panel because it was Jobs With Justice’s party — Jobs With Justice had rented out the North Light Court, and Jobs With Justice was going to choose the speakers.

Martha Dominguez Blumes, a dialysis patient, spoke about her objection to CPMC’s plans to contract out its dialysis services to a for-profit company named Davida. For-profit dialysis providers have a higher rate of patient deaths than nonprofit ones, she said.

A representative of the California Nurse’s Association (CNA) talked about the group’s legendary struggles with CPMC over its plans for St. Luke’s Hospital in the Mission, and over what she described as unfair treatment of unionized nurses. “We will not allow [CPMC] to break our union!” she said, and a wave of women in sensible clogs stood up and clapped loudly. One put two fingers to her mouth and whistled like a referee.

Other topics covered included: accusations that CPMC had strategically refused to hire Filipino nurses for jobs at St. Luke’s, had tried to stop the nurses from recruiting new members at St. Luke’s and the medical center’s California campus, and that its plans for building a hospital in the Tenderloin would have devastating effects on both traffic patterns and the current residents.

The panelists all, to the last one, came down on the side of CPMC’s opposition. “When you’re messing with nurses, you’re messing with me. And my whole family,” said Ammiano. “My late lover got great care at St. Luke’s. No judgement.” He promised to do what he could on the state level.

“They need to make profits secondary and work with us to solve these problems,” said John Rizzio. “I have a kid with asthma. I remember rushing across the city. How I wished I had a local hospital then. Hospitals are a part of our community.”

CPMC’s representatives paced the edges of the room, keeping an eye out for reporters or other unaffiliated members to pull aside and make their case to (the new hospitals will be nice, the CNA is power-mad and wants to force every nurse at California Pacific to join their union).

“If we ever throw something like this, there will be cookies,” said Kevin McCormack, media relations manager for CPMC. He and a consultant from Barbary Coast Consulting were still going through the 2,000 public comments submitted at the environmental impact review for the medical center’s development.

This would all be finished in a year, someone said. Then they could proceed with construction. McCormack looked back at them, dubiously.

Heather Smith

Heather Smith covers a beat that spans health, food, and the environment, as well as shootings, stabbings, various small fires, and shouting matches at public meetings. She is a 2007 Middlebury Fellow...

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