Liberty Hill Neighborhood Association members review a mural and rendering of what a Sutter affiliate health campus would look like at the ground floor of V20 on Valencia and 20th streets.

The appropriateness of Sutter Health’s plan to open an affiliate medical center on the corner of 20th and Valencia streets was the subject of a lengthy and at times tense meeting on Monday night.

The talk, hosted by the Liberty Hill Neighborhood Association, brought together 25 concerned Mission District residents and three employees of Sutter Health’s Pacific Medical Foundation, which seeks to locate its latest facility on the ground floor of the new V20 condo complex. Neighbors questioned everything from the center’s attractiveness to its size and location.

“You don’t go get a coffee and then decide you’re sick,” said a neighbor.

“I think primary care in the community, where people live and work is the right place,” countered William Black, the chief medical officer of Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation.

“Do you need another artisanal—I don’t know?” asked Toni Brayer, the foundation’s CEO. Also present was Vahram Massehian, the center’s senior project manager of enterprise development.

No, said neighbors, but they did need answers about traffic and parking, storefront attractiveness and patient privacy.

Lisa Fromer, president of the neighborhood association, said she learned of Sutter’s move less than two weeks ago when a member emailed her about it. Once word spread, so did objections.  Already the Valencia Corridor Merchants Association has opposed the 7,100 square foot center unless it downsizes. 

Residents expressed outrage that the medical center did not consult Valencia Street neighbors before petitioning the planning commission for a conditional use permit to occupy the new 7,100 square foot space, which is zoned for retail. Many affirmed that zoning, saying the Valencia Street corner is “the wrong place” for a medical facility.

The medical center would have four to six physicians and see about 18 patients per hour, Black estimated. He said it would be comparable to retail traffic. Having a large ground floor corner unit is important for accessibility, the representatives said. There would be a mural and a small retail component, a store by the Institute for Health and Healing.

But the center’s focus would be primary care, plus “diagnostic services we know people need and use on a regular basis,” like radiology, mammography and perhaps pediatrics, according to Black.

Finally, the center would offer extended hours to serve the community in the evenings and on weekends. “We’ll have eyes on the street because we’ll have a receptionist there greeting patients,” said Brayer.

One resident was disappointed there are no plans for a pharmacy. Another liked the idea of the center being open until 9 p.m. “The kids finally notice their ears hurt around dinnertime,” she said.

“I don’t want to burst the balloon of the nice stuff,” yet another resident interjected, “but — for my neighbors — I want to go back to the Mormons,” the resident added in reference to Sutter being connected to Mormons.

“If there’s a rumor out there, this needs to be put to rest,” said Brayer. “Sutter Health is not Mormon.”

While the Sutter representatives insisted the Valencia location is their only real option to open a center in the Mission, neighbors were skeptical.

“How much does Sutter’s interest in this location have to do with this being a snazzy up-and-coming neighborhood?” asked a resident.

“If we could have found a cheaper 7,000 square foot location, we would have,” said Black. He said owner Tim Brown preferred renting to a medical center rather than small retailers that might fail and leave spaces empty for awhile.

“We had a realtor for the better part of last year looking at sites,” said Brayer. She said the 20th and Valencia location had been on their list for at least six months. If conditional use is approved, it would be at least eight to 12 months before the medical center moves in.

When asked the monthly rent, Brayer said the V20 ground floor costs about $90 a square foot. “It’s more expensive than downtown San Francisco,” she said.

Neighbors called out alternative lots in the Mission, but each one had a con.

“We looked at another one, on Mission, and it was just too big for our needs,” said Brayer.

“Vida?” asked the audience.

“Yes, Vida,” said Brayer.

The new medical center will be in the Mission, the panel said, because the neighborhood was identified as one of 19 “medically underserved areas” in the city’s 2013 health care services master plan. Black said there need to be more doctors in the neighborhood to support St. Luke’s Hospital.

“We want St. Luke’s to be vibrant and we also want this community to be served,” said Brayer.

“I think the entire premise is flawed,” said a neighbor, arguing that people prefer to research the best place to get care rather than simply visiting the medical campus nearest to them.

“Doesn’t your gut tell you it’s the wrong place?” a neighbor asked the Sutter Health reps. “Radiology on Valencia Street?”

But traffic congestion and parking remained the biggest objections to the project. Of V20’s 18 parking spaces, 14 will be assigned to residents, the panel said. “Everyone’s going to be circling around looking for parking,” said Lisa Fromer, the neighborhood association president. “Our parking is limited. It doesn’t stop people from trying to park in spaces that are too small or blocking driveways.”

The panel failed to offer any parking solutions. But they did say they welcomed community input on the curb appeal of the medical center. “So, there’s fabulous artwork on the walls in the visible area, but the patient traffic is centralized (for privacy),” said Brayer.

“And no corporate posters?” a resident asked.

“No corporate posters!” said Brayer.

In the end, Fromer was disappointed by the Sutter representatives’ response to concerns about parking. “They’re just throwing their hands up,” she said.

Could the corner of Valencia and 20th streets be the site of the Mission’s newest medical center?

Sutter Health’s Pacific Medical Center conditional use permit application goes before the Planning Commission at City Hall, Room 400, on Thursday, May 21 at 12 p.m.

J.J. Barrow

J.J. Barrow began reporting for Mission Local in 2010. She once rode the 49 Van Ness-Mission for six hours straight while the rest of the city tuned in to the World Series — until revelry ended the...

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23 Comments

  1. It is unfortunate when a community needs accessible health care, that opposition turns on parking and Mormonism.

    Toby Levine

  2. What a shame! I see that space purveying something noble, like framed, mounted sea-urchins in life-like poses. Maybe some murky coffee…

  3. It’s sad that nothing seems to be good enough for the most vocal locals who show up to meetings like this. Did they prefer the shuttered gas station occupying that corner for years, opposite the closed-for-years La Rondalla? It sounds like a lot of prejudice was thrown at the Sutter people in that meeting, and to what end? Somebody wants a pharmacy but doesn’t seem to know about the locally-owned one around the block on Mission or the two Walgreens within blocks.

    The not-enough-parking complaints are embarrassing. Demanding more parking (1) drives up the costs of new developments, (2) encourages car-based transportation and development, and (3) highlights people’s sense of entitlement to limited free public parking.

    Not everybody gets veto power over everything in the neighborhood. Yes it’s “our” neighborhood in that we live in the Mission, but it’s not “ours” to control. Sutter should be able to serve people who live within *walking* distance of 20th and Valencia.

  4. I don’t agree at all with the Liberty Hill Neighborhood Association objections to the medical care facility. I’d also like to know more about the fact finding that determined that the area is under served and I’d like to know more about the facility itself. What services would be offered? Losing parking spots is not a good reason to oppose a medical center, though. And the idea that Increasing access to health care services could be “inappropriate” seems odd to me.

  5. Don’t think traffic’s an issue? Ask the neighbors of California Pacific Medical Center at 2100 Webster. Non-stop congestion all day long.

    1. Cara, this is probably the most pertinent question on this comments board. To allay any fears, you should know that California Building Code regulations and OSHPD (office of statewide health planning and development) approvals require a number of safety parameters around construction and licensing of facilities with radiology services. Sutter will of course need to adhere to these standards to meet Joint Commission, CMS and OSHA licensing requirements.

      Sutter Health is a large system that is accepting of a range of insurance plans, including some Covered California options. Sutter, as most large health systems is currently faced with a conundrum in the healthcare world: downsizing of resources due to an uptick in procedures becoming outpatient care. Almost every major healthcare system is exploring options for creating more community presence by strategically placing clinics in communities that require services that are now considered outpatient procedures. What Sutter is proposing is happening all over San Francisco at a phenomenal rate (take a look around and you will see retail medical clinics in almost every neighborhood from West Portal and the Outer Richmond to the Financial District, SOMA and the Bayview.)

      I think that the Liberty Heights Association is obviously frustrated at the insane amount of construction that is happening in the area, and Sutter is a respectable and easy target that is willing to listen to fears and issues, but they would be foolish to drive them out. This is a respectable and stable business model that will be supplying eyes and ears for the community.

      1. Thank you, Rachel. If everything is to code and safe, I see nothing wrong with having a medical center here. And I imagine the employees of the center will at the very least occasionally want to shop and eat at the local businesses near their work.

  6. 2100 Webster is part of a medical complex and hospital that covers covers nearly two full city blocks. The proposed office on Valencia is just the first floor of a building that is a small fraction of that size.

  7. I’m confused. If there’s more retail in this space, that will affect parking too. I live a couple blocks from 20th and Valencia and would consider using this space for my medical needs. A high proportion of people who live in the area can walk to this location. I’m assuming the medical center is for mission residents. I actually think having some diversity of businesses along Valencia, instead of the same upscale restaurants and chotchke shops, is a good idea in terms of longevity for the area.

  8. When Sutter Medical talks about serving the underserved does that mean they will accept Medical patients?
    My guess is is that their target is the Valencia Corridor Gentry but perhaps I’m wrong?,,,
    Sutter please enlighten us.

  9. Let’s find a place for Sutter to situate itself on the 2nd/3rd/4th floor of a building, not on a prime retail plot. This is a great place for anything from a restaurant to a shop, but not for a business that is of very limited

    Let’s have a little creativity here!

    Here are a dozen better ideas for the ground floor retail spots. Note that none of them is a messenger bag gallery, optometry shop, or $9 juice bar. I use the names of some existing businesses, some of them small chains, for comparison purposes.

    1. Mixt Greens
    2. Acme Bread
    3. Cole Hardware
    4. Rainbow Grocery
    5. Butcher Shop
    6. Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant
    7. Berkeley Bowl
    8. Pharmacy of some kind (in addition to 1-2 other shops, no hospital)
    9. Dumpling Kitchen, Koi Palace, or some kind of decent Chinese food for the Mission
    10. Fish / Seafood Shop
    11. Noodle Bar
    12. Books, Inc (dreaming now…)

    Apologies for the yuppieness, but I think we can handle it. Let’s keep medical offices off the ground floor retail strip.

      1. There is nothing wrong with a medical facility. But let’s not put it at ground level. Let’s use the zoning code as it was intended. If we end up with a bit of a glut of retail shops, that will ease the commercial rents and may help keep a lot of our favorite places alive.

        Before anyone gets too excited about a medical facility, ask yourself if your doctor will be one of the maybe 10 doctors at this facility, out of 1000 in SF. And if you believe that you would be that lucky, how many times will you go to see this doctor? Compare that to places the could be frequented every few weeks and you get why this street is zoned for retail use.

        1. If there’s nothing wrong with a medical facility, then why are you opposed to it?
          And which favorite places are you referring to? My favorite places are safe from rent increases. Luccas owns their building (thank the lord) Same with the Marsh.

  10. I agree with wurple above. Retail and especially all the restaurants bring in tons of traffic. Yet I don’t see the Liberty Hill folks arguing to stop any more of those businesses coming into the neighborhood. And I also live very near this facility and would love to be able to use it vs. taking buses across town (I do not own a car) to visit my doctors! I tried to see what this association has done to help neighborhood, their site is having issues today, but I found mostly announcements about meetings and parties, nothing showing accomplishments.

  11. This seems like a reasonable use of the space, and will be a nice contribution to services in the area. Some crabby neighbors would complain about anything.

  12. San Francisco has always had NIBMY neighbors like Liberty Hill association. People speaking up for where they live is important. If your choice is a community where the neighbors have nearly no voice, there are cities like that in Texas.

    But have some respect, don’t be just coming off the plane, and tell San Francisco that your convenience is paramount.

  13. There are people born and raised here that don’t complain and protest. I would say most of the complainers aren’t originally from here.

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