The San Francisco planning department is recommending that the AIDS Healthcare Foundation be granted a permit to relocate its pharmacy in the city’s gay Castro district.
In a report made public today (Friday, January 8), planner Veronica Flores recommended that the city’s planning commission – at its meeting next Thursday, January 14 – approve the Los Angeles-based AIDS agency’s request to move the pharmacy it owns on 18th Street into the street-facing portion of 518 Castro Street.
It relocated its health clinic into the rear of the space in the fall of 2014.
“The business is currently operating at 4071 18th Street around the corner from the subject property and is therefore desirable for, and compatible with the surrounding neighborhood,” she wrote.
Flores noted in the report that “the project promotes the continued operation of an established business, and contributes to the viability of the overall Castro Street NCD” or neighborhood commercial district.
And the project, she added, “would not displace an existing retail tenant providing convenience goods and services to the neighborhood, and would not result in a net increase in the number of pharmacies in the area.”
AHF and city officials have sparred over the question on if the permit is needed or not. The agency was initially granted the permit in 2014 without any public review but then city planners reversed course.
They determined that AHF’s pharmacy fell under the rules governing chain stores, even if it changed the name from AHF Pharmacy to Castro Pharmacy, and would need to secure a conditional use permit in order to relocate it.
AHF appealed that decision to the city’s Board of Appeals, which last March ruled against it. And the Board of Supervisors has enacted interim legislation to close the naming loophole AHF had attempted to use in order to avoid seeking a permit.
Now, as the Bay Area Reporter noted in a story in its January 7 issue, the permit request has turned into a proxy fight over AHF’s stances regarding HIV prevention and AIDS funding. The agency has faced derision in San Francisco for its opposition to widespread usage of PrEP as an HIV prevention tool.
It has also come under attack for pushing for the use of condoms on all adult film sets in California and for its trying to block high-rise developments in downtown Los Angeles. The agency has also been accused by former staffers of bilking Medicare and Medicaid nearly $20 million.
Others opposed to the agency have pointed to its refusal in 2013 to pay rent to local hospice Maitri, its landlord at its former space on Church Street. The dispute resulted in a lawsuit brought by Maitri that the two agencies agreed to settle.
“This neighborhood is well served by many pharmacies, so this business is not needed,” wrote Castro resident Jim Manning in a letter to the planning department. “The current AHF Pharmacy at 4071 18th Street is an empty void in our vibrant neighborhood. AHF has done NOTHING to activate this space. Therefore allowing this move is not desirable.”
Others have countered that AHF supports other local nonprofits and that it is merely moving its pharmacy from one location to another. They also argue that it will be better for AHF’s clients to have the pharmacy collocated with the health care clinic.
“I believe health access needs to be dependent upon the individual and their personal provider and insurance. I see there to be no problem with have access easier under one roof for those present and future who utilize the facilities of AHF,” wrote Tyler Deutscher, general manager of clothing stores Outfit Castro and Knobs Retail. “This helps those who are in a hurry, have limited ability and all who would use the facility.”
AHF officials have argued that its permit request should be judged solely on if it adheres to the city’s zoning rules. Any other issues, they contend, are immaterial.
“To be candid, it does not matter if the AHF Pharmacy is around the corner or miles away, the fact that patients need to make one more stop, or take one more step (especially for those whose infection is disabling), is sometimes enough to delay action on any given day and any delay can mean the difference between being healthy or not and, to us, that is unacceptable,” wrote Dale Gluth, AHF’s Bay Area regional director, in a letter to planning commissioners.
The planning commission meeting begins at noon Thursday in Room 400 at City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place.