AHF files suit in federal court, claiming its civil rights have been violated — and once again taxpayers must foot the bill
On Friday, August 1, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the controversial AIDS nonprofit that currently runs a pharmacy at the Out of the Closet on Church St., and took over operations at Mom’s Pharmacy on 18th Street in 2012, filed suit against the City of San Francisco, the county Board of Supervisors, and Supervisor Scott Wiener in U.S. District Court on the grounds that they have discriminated against the organization by preventing it from opening a third location, in the Castro.
AHF, which operates 34 other locations throughout the U.S., applied for city permits, then tried to circumvent the formula retail rules set by the Planning Commission. Those rules state that any business which operates 11 or more locations in the U.S. is considered ‘formula retail’ and must apply for a conditional use permit for consideration by the Planning Department and community members.
As Roy McKenzie notes at The Castro Biscuit:
So, AHF simply changed the name of the business, dropping ‘AHF’ from the name, and believed that was enough to consider them a wholly different business. It would be akin to Taco Bell opening a location in the Castro under the name “Taco Time” avoiding a conditional use authorization and also avoiding the community-based planning process.
AHF has also been delinquent on paying the rent at its Church Street location.
San Francisco City Attorney spokesman Matt Dorsey called the civil rights violation charge “absurd.”
“AHF is asking the court to find a constitutional right to build whatever it wants wherever it wants, and that’s just not something courts have allowed,” Dorsey said.
AHF’s permits were suspended earlier this year, after neighbors and AIDS activists came out against the foundation’s actions to circumvent the law. There was also concern that a large chain would put other established pharmacies in the Castro out of business.
Race Bannon, an HIV activist who opposed the move, said … the “Walmart of HIV pharmacies,” as Bannon dubbed AHF, was challenged for being a predatory operation that would put established HIV pharmacies out of business, he claimed.
Activists and members of the community of HIV nonprofits have long viewed AHF as “the Walmart of ASOs” – in that Weinstein’s political machinations, outrageous behavior and lawsuits often resulted in AHF securing funds that might have otherwise gone to smaller, community-based AIDS service organizations.
Many in the Bay Area have also been
concerned deeply offended over AHF’s position against using Truvada as a preexposure prophylactic (PrEP) for HIV prevention. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and others have advocated for the HIV treatment drug as a preventative tool, but AHF president Michael Weinstein has come out against Truvada, calling it a “party drug.”
In response to AHF’s actions vis-a-vis the third pharmacy, the Castro’s Supervisor Scott Wiener, along with Supervisors David Campos and Eric Mar, put forth and passed legislation closing the renaming loophole.
AHF now charges that its civil rights were violated in that it was targeted in a discriminatory manner.
“At the behest of San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener, The City rammed through, at lightning speed, an interim zoning law specifically targeting AIDS Healthcare Foundation,” claimed Laura Boudreau, chief of operations for AHF. “The clear and sole purpose of that action was to discourage the organization from relocating and opening a nonprofit safety-net clinic and pharmacy in the Castro.”
Boudreau claims the motivation for The City’s actions lie in the foundation’s position on PrEP.
If this tune sounds familiar, it may be because AHF sued LA County and members of its Board of Supervisors in 2012, claiming that the County had retaliated against AHF for its years-long criticism of the County, its Public Health Department and several key health and elected officials. Different town, same M.O.
Supervisor Wiener released a statement saying the lawsuit has no merit suggesting it will fail:
“The lawsuit is baseless. AHF tried to game our formula retail law by tweaking its name and then claiming it wasn’t actually formula retail. Under AHF’s approach, any chain store could come into San Francisco, tweak its name, and claim that it isn’t formula retail. A broad coalition of HIV service providers and neighborhood groups came together to oppose this tactic. I then co-sponsored legislation with my colleagues Supervisors David Campos and Eric Mar to close this loophole, and the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed the legislation. I stand by that action to preserve the integrity of our neighborhood-based planning process.”
Read AHF’s complaint: