The Los Angeles-based non-profit AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) is suing the City of San Francisco, as they announced Monday, over what they see as their right to relocate and consolidate their two local pharmacies in the Castro something that the Board of Supervisors has found to be in violation of the neighborhood's formula retail limits.
The AHF currently operates a pharmacy at 4071 18th Street, which it purchased in 2012 it had originally been a locally based HIV/AIDS specialty pharmacy called MOMs — and another at 100 Church Street. They own 34 pharmacies across multiple states, and because of this, the non-profit is considered formula retail. It should also be noted that the Castro already has a glut of pharmacies, with three Walgreens locations, and two CVS locations.
AHF was seeking to move about a block away from its 18th Street operation, to 518 Castro Street, and consolidate both its current locations there, however the process triggered a Zoning review, and then an appeal by some neighborhood people regarding the formula retail use. The AHF appears to have been trying to sidestep the regulations around formula retail by renaming this new location of their pharmacies.
Now this week, the AHF's Chief of Operations, Laura Boudreau, says that the organization's "civil rights infringement claims here arose when, 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. 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."
SFist reached out to Wiener for a reaction, and he tells us, "The lawsuit is baseless." Furthermore, "AHF tried to game our formula retail law by tweaking its name and then claiming it wasn't actually formula retail." His fear is that under such an approach, "any chain store could come into San Francisco, tweak its name, and claim that it isn't formula retail."
City Attorney spokesman Matt Dorsey is similarly dismissive of the lawsuit, to the Examiner. "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."
The AHF has grown into a fairly large and powerful force in the world of HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, not to mention pharmaceutical sales, however they've also rankled many in the gay community and porn industry through their backing of condom-only laws for porn shoots something that Kink.com and many others are threatening to leave the state over should it end up becoming law, the way it already has in L.A. County. Also, AHF president Michael Weinstein made some flippant comments earlier this year denouncing the HIV-prevention drug Truvada, which pissed off legions of sexually active gay men who see the drug as a godsend.
The AHF has also been in a legal dispute with HIV hospice organization Maitri, from whom they've rented retail space for their pharmacy at the Out of the Closet thrift store at Church and Duboce, and have refused to pay rent for that space for the last year. Basically, though their mission to treat and prevent the spread of HIV remains a noble one, they've been exerting their power recently in ways that have angered many, and some have said that they've essentially redefined their mission to suit their desire to grow.
It remains to be seen whether the AHF's suit will go anywhere like if they can somehow succeed in fighting these formula retail limits better than Chipotle could. But Wiener sounds confident that they won't win. "A broad coalition of HIV service providers and neighborhood groups came together to oppose [their desire to move and rename themselves]. 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."