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.
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.