UPDATE: The public hearing regarding the potential Planned Parenthood location has been continued to March 7, 7:00pm at the Visalia Convention Center.
After a week of crossed wires and miscommunications between all parties involved in the possible future location of Planned Parenthood, the public hearing concerning the appeal has been continued to a future date according to Patrick Orosco of the Orosco Group.
Orosco is a Co-Managing Partner of the Orosco Group, a real estate development firm hired to redevelop and manage the physical space that Planned Parenthood seeks to occupy at 3221 S. Mooney in Visalia.
Currently, the Visalia City Council is expected to hold a public hearing regarding the potential Planned Parenthood location at its Monday, February 7 meeting.
“We requested a continuance,” said Orosco, “to promote a safe and socially distanced meeting.”
The community’s response to the public hearing was more than the city staff was expecting and he stated the Visalia Convention Center might be a more suitable venue.
He’s speaking now because the Orosco Group and Ave Mooney, LLC, the legal owner of the space, were bound by a confidentiality agreement that did not allow either entity to “comment on prior rumors surrounding the buyer’s identity.”
Planned Parenthood does not currently own the proposed space, but Orosco says Ave Mooney is looking to sell the space to Planned Parenthood as a “commercial condominium.”
Supporters of Tulare Kings Right to Life and Planned Parenthood, as well as developers and concerned citizens are all expected to attend the hearing and make their voices heard. The local Planned Parenthood chapter is also tentatively planning on holding a vigil before the February 7 meeting.
The hearing was originally scheduled for January 18, but developer David Paynter of Paynter Realty and Investments requested it be rescheduled to February 7th as two city council members would be absent on January 18th.
Paynter owns the physical properties surrounding the possible future location of Planned Parenthood, including properties hosting Bed Bath and Beyond, Marshall’s, Hobby Lobby and the remainder of the Sequoia Mall.
Although the city’s planning commission voted to approve a Conditional Use Permit for the location on Mooney, next to Aspen Dental, Paynter filed an appeal, citing concerns over parking space availability.
According to Visalia City Clerk Michelle Nicholson, as of 5:00pm on Thursday, the appeal hearing was still scheduled for February 7, but the agenda had not yet been finalized and Nicholson was aware of the issues.
The final agenda will be posted around 4:00pm Friday after Nicholson consults with the City Manager Leslie Caviglia.
The Valley Voice will update the article at that time.
Orosco Group weighs in
Because of the confidentiality agreement, the Orosco Group could not comment on the Valley Voice’s January 21 article concerning the appeal.
“The intent of the nondisclosure agreement was in part to maintain focus on whether or not the application meets the City’s code, zoning, and general plan, including with respect to required parking. It does.”
“This was confirmed by the Planning Commission and staff with unanimous approval,” he added.
Orosco said Planned Parenthood wants to consolidate their services into one location.
Visalia’s current Planned Parenthood location has only 1500 square feet (sf) and is not in a central location. Their new location on Mooney will be more accessible to the public and have 6526 sf.
Vice President of Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood, Lauren Babb, said that the new location will allow the health clinic to see more patients and be open for more hours.
“It’s what the community has been asking for,” she said. “At the end of the day, Planned Parenthood tries to provide pediatric care and primary care. There is a need for primary care in Tulare County and we fill that gap.”
Babb provided one example: Tulare County has the highest rate of chlamydia in the state, but only has one doctor for every 2000 residents.
“Planned Parenthood has been looking for a location on Mooney for six plus years,” Orosco said. “Mooney has more access to public transportation and the building was available for purchase.”
“As we understand it, the proposed new location will provide the same services that are already offered in their undersized existing facility, including primary care, family care and women’s health care, not surgical abortions,” he added.
Orosco says parking is not the issue
Orosco was certain that parking was not the reason why Paynter appealed the planning commission’s decision to allow Planned Parenthood to open at 3221 Mooney.
“Parking concerns surrounding the proposed development are more than adequately addressed. There is precedent for medical retail locating on Mooney Blvd where regional traffic can conveniently access goods and services during grouped shopping trips.”
Orosco gave examples of Biolife Plasma Services, a dialasis clinic, a 18,300 sf building currently under construction directly in front of Grocery Outlet and United Heath Center primary and urgent care facility located in the former Cost Plus building within the Lowes Shopping Center.
Coincidently, United Health Center was approved on the same evening that the Planning Commission approved Planned Parenthood Conditional Use Permit.
Orosco added that a blood bank sits right in front of a Paynter building, Dick’s Sporting Goods.
“3221 Mooney provides the same number of parking spaces per square foot of building area as United Health Center, and nearly 2x more parking than Biolife Plasma Services. Central California Blood Center is in a similarly sized building (4,760 sq. ft) with zero parking space on it’s parcel.”
“None of these projects were appealed,” said Orosco.
Orosco said that Paynter and his family have had a friendly rivalry over the last 20 years on who is “King of the Hill” on Mooney. The Orosco Group has reached out to Paynter several times to resolved the parking issue but Paynter did not respond, Orosco claimed.
Parking issues can be mitigated through signage and easements, he said, giving one example: the Planned Parenthood staff could be directed to park in the ten designated spaces behind former Ryan’s Place to free up space for clients.
Orosco did not explicitly say in his statement that Hobby Lobby was behind Paynter’s appeal — but one could connect the dots.
“Parking is not the issue here, nor is the presence of medical related services on Mooney Blvd. What is being debated now is something different. We remain of the mind that faith-based ideology does not belong in land use policy,” said Orosco.
Hobby Lobby is one of Paynter’s largest tenants and would be kitty corner to the new Planned Parenthood if the appeal is denied.
The Oklahoma-based craft store is owned by evangelical Christians and known for being anti-abortion and against some forms of birth control. Hobby Lobby’s views were thrust in the public eye in 2014 when the United States Supreme Court ruled that the family-held corporation was exempt from provisions in the Affordable Health Care Act that requires employers pay for contraceptives.
Paynter made mention of Planned Parenthood in his letter of appeal to the Visalia Planning Commission.
“Our concern is that the typical demonstrations which occur outside of Planned Parenthood will be significantly harmful to both Marshalls and Bed Bath and Beyond as well as to the current and future businesses located at the Sequoia Mall.”
When asked if Hobby Lobby contacted him, Paynter said that Jim Sanders, Executive Vice President of Paynter Realty, was the point man on the appeal.
Paynter did add that two of his employees who work at the Sequoia Mall approached the manager at Hobby Lobby to inform the company about the possibility of Planned Parenthood locating next door.
When asked why the employees talked to the manager at Hobby Lobby Paynter said, “We asked them to let them know.”
Or is parking the issue?
Rafael Garcia, Senior Planner for the City of Visalia, said that in fact parking is an issue for the new owner of the former Ryan’s Place.
Garcia said that paperwork is currently being submitted for a Mountain Mike’s Pizza to replace the former restaurant.
“The owner reached out to me about the parking,” said Garcia. “He has submitted comments for the upcoming public hearing that should be part of the agenda package.
Orosco confirmed that the owner of Mountain Mike’s Pizza had expressed concerns about parking. But, Orosco said, that they sold the building to the new owner in 2020 with the condition that an existing cross easement agreement be expanded to include cross parking rights between each property.
Orosco and the owner of pizzeria signed a “cross parking agreement that provided the buyer certain rights to a handful of parking spaces on Ave Mooney’s parcel, and Ave Mooney rights to 10 spaces on his parcel.”
The pizzeria “has 19 more parking spaces than code requires for a restaurant of its size,” said Orosco.
Paynter could not confirm if Orosco had reached out to his company to resolve the parking issue because Sanders is in charge of the appeal.
Sanders was not available for comment.
Planned Parenthood: “we just want peace”
Babb was unaware of the amount of interest generated by the appeal and was waiting for the agenda to be posted before sending a comment to the Visalia City Council, if at all.
“We just want peace,” she said. “We only want to fill a need and are committed to Visalia.”
Orosco was also deferential.
“Even [with this debate], we remain guests of the community. Our role – as we see it – is to leave Mooney Blvd better off than when we found it,” he said. “During the past 23 years, we have developed over 1,000,000 sf of retail along the street beginning with Packwood Creek in 1999.”