After uproar, Breed to include San Francisco STD clinic in bond measure

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday May 2, 2024
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Staff from City Clinic, muralists, and others from the Department of Public Health celebrated the dedication of a new mural, "Sanctuary for Health," on the facade of the clinic's building in November 2022. Considered dilapidated by city officials, the health facility could be relocated using funds from a planned bond measure under review. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Staff from City Clinic, muralists, and others from the Department of Public Health celebrated the dedication of a new mural, "Sanctuary for Health," on the facade of the clinic's building in November 2022. Considered dilapidated by city officials, the health facility could be relocated using funds from a planned bond measure under review. Photo: Rick Gerharter

Money to purchase a new home for San Francisco's public health clinic focused on treating and preventing sexually transmitted infections is now set to be included in a bond measure city leaders intend to put before voters on the November 5 ballot.

Initially, San Francisco Mayor London Breed had omitted $28.5 million for relocating the Department of Public Health's City Clinic in the $360 million bond measure she unveiled April 29. It caused an uproar among LGBTQ advocates, as the Bay Area Reporter first reported online April 30.

They pointed to capital planning documents that called the clinic's leased building at 356 7th Street "functionally obsolete" and had said the funds to move it would be included in the 2024 Public Health General Obligation Bond.

A rally calling on Breed to add City Clinic back into the bond measure with the clinic's doctors, nurses, and community leaders is scheduled to take place at the South of Market facility at 5 p.m. Thursday, according to an advisory sent out to media outlets.

As it turns out, the city's controller has determined that the bond measure can total $390 million. The amount is capped at a certain level so should the bond measure pass it replaces retiring bond commitments and doesn't raise property owners' taxes.

In a memo sent May 2 to Breed and members of the Board of Supervisors, the Controller's Office of Public Finance said it was updating the city's estimated general obligation bond capacity from $2.17 billion to $2.20 billion. Thus, an extra $30 million could be included in the bond measure this fall.

"The additional projected capacity does not need to be allocated immediately. If it is not allocated to the November 2024 bond measure, it will be available for policy makers to assign during the FY2024-2025 update to the Capital Plan," noted the controller's office.

Jeff Cretan, a spokesperson for Breed, told the B.A.R. the mayor will designate $27 million of the additional bond funds toward City Clinic. The remaining $3 million has yet to be allocated, he added.

"We will figure something else out with that," said Cretan.

With various competing demands for projects to be included in the bond measure, Cretan told the B.A.R. that Breed's administration had been looking at other options to address the structural issues with City Clinic's site, built in 1912 originally for use as a fire station. Bond money cannot be used on properties leased by the city, he explained, so there had been conversations about the possibility of using other fiscal resources to upgrade the building.

"You don't make improvements to private property with bond funds," said Cretan.

Thus, if the bond receives the two-thirds vote required for it to pass, then the health department will look to buy a building to house City Clinic in, said Cretan.

"Obviously, it is an important public health resource but is in leased space. We were looking at different options for City Clinic and how best to serve patients," said Cretan. "Getting it in the bond is one way to ensure the future of what is a public health resource."

The city's Capital Planning Committee is set to approve the bond measure at its meeting Monday, May 6. It must then secure eights votes from the Board of Supervisors by July 26 in order to make it onto the fall ballot.

The supervisors can amend what is in the bond measure. Board President Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who also sits on the capital committee, had told the B.A.R. earlier this week that he was "100%" certain the supervisors would include City Clinic in it had the mayor not done so.

As of now the bond measure is to fund $167 million in public health infrastructure, including renovating and expanding the Chinatown Health Clinic, Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, and Laguna Honda Hospital. The city's Homelessness Response System would receive $50 million to increase its capacity to house homeless families.

Another $70 million would go toward street safety projects and road repaving. Money would also be allocated toward improving Hallidie Plaza and repairing the elevator at the entrance into the Powell Street subway station.

Also included is $25 million toward the project to reimagine Harvey Milk Plaza above the Castro Muni Station in the city's LGBTQ district. It had appeared that Breed swapped the funds for City Clinic for the plan to reconfigure the public parklet, which angered advocates supportive of it but didn't want it to come at the expense of the health clinic.

Any opposition to the bond measure will undoubtedly cost headaches for Breed and other city officials in securing the support they will need to pass it in November. Jeffrey Kwong, a gay man who is president of the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, had told the B.A.R. the progressive political group would be unlikely to endorse the bond measure without its including City Clinic.

"The Milk club is a coalition member and longtime supporter of the Milk plaza renovation," Kwong had said on Tuesday. "It doesn't mean she gets to cut out City Clinic, which was left out of the last public health general obligation bond."

He told the B.A.R. Thursday afternoon that they would still hold the rally as planned despite the mayor's intention to now include money for City Clinic. Kwong noted her proposal is shy of the full $28.5 million estimated for relocating the facility.

And he pointed to other public health infrastructure needs that are not included in the bond measure proposal that should be prioritized over streetscape improvements. Kwong contended there is not enough money allocated toward the improvements needed at SF General, as one example.

"We parsed the numbers and there is still not enough to rebuild the adult psych ward at SF General Hospital," he said. "It is supposed to be a public health bond, and the mayor should keep it a public health bond."

Breed's office refuted the contention that the public hospital project would be underfunded by the bond measure.

"There is enough money for psychiatric emergency services," Cretan told the B.A.R.

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