The Walnut Creek City Council will explore creating a buffer zone between patients and protesters around Planned Parenthood after hearing at least a half dozen complaints about escalating aggressiveness outside the Oakland Boulevard medical facility.
Though it wasn't on Tuesday's City Council agenda, a number of speakers addressed recent demonstrations, saying anti-abortion activists harassed people trying to enter the building and nearly caused car crashes by occupying sidewalks to the point of pedestrians having to walk in the street.
"Our Planned Parenthood affiliate serves 20 counties throughout Northern California, and Walnut Creek is one of the two worst sites of harassment that we are facing," said Gilda Gonzales, the CEO of Planned Parenthood Northern California.
"Multiple times a week our staff and our patients are under siege by hostile protesters and therefore we strongly support a buffer zone ordinance outside our health center," Gonzales said. "The harassment and obstruction of our driveway is unacceptable. And our staff and patients deserve better. Everyone deserves the right to access reproductive health care service without fear, violence, or intimidation."
Mount Diablo Unified School District governing board trustee Cherise Khaund -- who said she wasn't there representing the district -- talked about using Planned Parenthood services in her 20s as an AmeriCorp worker living on $600 a month.
"I went to the local Planned Parenthood for preventative check-ups, pap smears, and affordable birth control," Khaund said. "Looking back, that was the most compassionate, respectful, welcoming health care that I have ever received in my life. But I don't know if I would've entered through the doors of that building, if there had been protesters on my way.
"I was appalled to find out that protesters here in our city could be so intrusive that volunteers are needed to walk clients safely from their cars to the entrance door," Khaund said.
Leslie Shafton, co-president of Women's March Contra Costa, said one of her daughter's friends, a 15-year-old girl, was "accosted" by protesters while trying to get inside the building.
"When I spoke to this girl about the incident, she basically sad that she wouldn't seek out health care anymore. And I believe that people should have the right, and the access, to have safe and private health care and to make determinations over their own body," Shafton said.
Other Planned Parenthood volunteers described physical confrontations, one involving a protester grabbing a client by the arm, and at least one traffic crash in front of the building when protesters were present.
No one supporting the protesters spoke at the meeting.
After council members expressed a desire to explore creating a buffer zone, city attorney Steven Mattas said, "It is important that when the council considers adopting regulations, that we have a solid basis upon which to identify the need for a regulation, in this instance, because it does impact the constitutional rights (of both sides)."
The council asked staff to research complaints and traffic incidents related to the protests, as well as any existing laws concerning harassment of people entering medical facilities.
Councilmember Cindy Silva said she wanted to make it clear the council wasn't asking for an ordinance, "we're asking for a list of options."
"We're hearing about these incidents more frequently," said Mayor Kevin Wilk. "I did hear about a traffic accident that happened about two months ago, that there was a distraction from one of the protesters, so there does seem to be an uptick in aggression on this."