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Napa council votes for 30-foot buffer at Planned Parenthood center after years of abortion demonstrations
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An ordinance passed by the Napa City Council will prohibit people near the city’s Planned Parenthood center from using amplified sound, shouting, obstructing passage, or following visitors against their will near the building’s entrance – a move embraced by supporters as valuable protection against harassment from anti-abortion protesters, but condemned by local abortion opponents as crimping their free-speech rights.

The ordinance, which sets a buffer within 30 feet of the clinic entrance at 1735 Jefferson St., was supported by all five council members in the first of its two required votes. It would take effect 30 days after passing a second vote expected on April 20.

The decision came eight months after staff and volunteers with the local branch of Planned Parenthood Northern California urged the council to support a protective zone near the building, where the nearby sidewalk has for more than a decade been the site of demonstrations calling for an end to abortion, including a local branch of the nationwide, twice-yearly 40 Days for Life campaign.

Opponents have kept up a daily presence outside the clinic for the 40-day periods each spring and fall, although the Napa branch does not list surgical abortions among the services provided. (RU-486 abortion pills and “morning-after” contraception are offered in Napa, according to the Planned Parenthood website.)

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While the ordinance would not ban protests or vigils inside the 30-foot buffer, it would block protesters from “harassment” within the area from one hour before a reproductive health clinic’s opening to one hour after it closes.

Harassment would be defined as moving closer than 8 feet to a person who states he or she does not want to be approached; following a person in a way causing “a reasonable person to fear bodily harm” to oneself, another person or to property; shouting at a person; intentionally touching a person without permission; making violent or threatening gestures; or blocking the safe passage of pedestrians or vehicles.

The ordinance also prohibits shouting and amplified sound up to 50 feet from a reproductive clinic’s property line.

To create such a buffer, a clinic would send a written request to Napa Police, and the city would measure the zone and post boundary signs within 14 days. The city ordinance provides for a range of enforcement measures, ranging from a police dispersal order to civil action by a clinic to a misdemeanor charge.

About a dozen people telephoned the council and more than 130 people weighed in by email in support of either Planned Parenthood or abortion opponents before the council vote, drawing sharply different pictures about the nature of the protests outside the clinic.

Planned Parenthood volunteers, clients and allies called the step necessary to protect against harassment by demonstrators, while 40 Days for Life participants denied any misconduct and said they limit their actions to prayer, polite greetings and passing out literature opposing abortion and urging pregnant women to find other options.

Vigil organizers deny harassment

Several vigil organizers and members called the reported number of police department calls to the Jefferson Street clinic – about 90 since 2016, according to Napa Police – irrelevant, saying none has resulted in criminal convictions for abortion opponents.

Others cited former Napa Police Chief Robert Plummer’s statement in August that existing laws – such as a city ordinance against placing objects to obstruct sidewalk access, and a state law forbidding interference with someone entering a reproductive health center – can govern the actions of protesters.

“Every time I’ve been at Planned Parenthood, when police respond to a call they assess the situation, and they’ve found none of us in violation of any law,” said Dominic Figueroa, a local 40 Days for Life organizer. “This ordinance is making its case from the number of police calls when in reality there have been no actual violations of the law as written. It’s because we haven’t been violating the law, and we’re committed to being a peaceful presence at the clinic.”

Most of the police calls involving the Napa Planned Parenthood building have involved complaints of people blocking the clinic entrance and sidewalk as well as allegations of verbal harassment and threats, City Manager Steve Potter, a former Napa Police chief, wrote last week.

The council received emails urging the creation of the safe zone, saying protests disturb not only women seeking reproductive health services but others – including lower-income residents with few options – arriving for cancer screenings and other procedures unrelated to pregnancy.

Napa resident Carol Barge described escorting patients into the Napa center past abortion opponents insistently pushing brochures toward her, while Carol Whichard suggested expanding the buffer around clinic entrances further, to 50 feet.

“People are shouting ‘How far along is your pregnancy?’ when they’re coming in for a cancer screening,” said Cheryl Fiedler, who called the protests a hindrance to those seeking a range of medical services.

“It’s nobody’s business why a patient is there, except for the patient and the clinician. … Planned Parenthood does so much more for the community than the one issue the protesters focus on.”

Councilmembers comment

Before voting in favor of the ordinance, Vice Mayor Liz Alessio recounted a 40-minute visit on Monday to the Planned Parenthood building to meet the clinic director. During a five-minute period, she said, abortion opponents contacted a young couple and two individuals, one of whom put her head down and extended an arm to avoid contact with a demonstrator. A woman wearing medical scrubs also attempted to pass pamphlets to the couple before they finally entered the clinic, she added.

“I let the couple in and asked how it made them feel,” said Alessio. “The woman said, ‘I didn’t know what she was talking about, but I just wanted to get in and go.’ She felt intimidated.”

“I learned we need to do more,” Alessio said of the visit. “Somebody called and asked me why we need to do this; that 40-minute experience gave me a lot of reasons to do it. Clearly, there is intimidation, confusion, manipulation, blocking, and frightening people. There’s a lot of direct and passive-aggressiveness in terms of blocking people from health services, which is just not right.”

Demonstrators who describe themselves as non-threatening to clinic visitors must learn to see their encounters from the visitors’ point of view, according to Councilmember Beth Painter, who has previously served on Napa Planned Parenthood’s board of advocates.

“We’ve learned a lot this year about perspectives and discrimination,” she said. “Someone may not feel they’re shaming an individual, when in fact they really are. You have to look at life through the lens of another individual; to shame someone who’s just trying to access a health care facility is just wrong.”

Responding to 40 Days participants criticizing a buffer as undermining their rights to free speech and assembly, councilmembers framed the rule as a way to protect public safety.

“Everyone has the right to peacefully assemble and this law does not prohibit that,” said Luros. “Protesters say their intent is not to harass or intimidate, try to be as peaceful as possible. We don’t say you can’t give info or peacefully pray. We just ask you take a few steps back and not harass or yell at people.”

“… It’s not enough just for protesters to be respectful; this has become a safety issue. It’s simply not OK to interfere with access to health care.”

“To me, this is a public safety issue, which is within the city’s constitutional authority to address,” said Bernie Narvaez, who described himself as personally knowing “people on both sides of the issue.” “I’m concerned for both sides, to prevent people not just from being intimidated, but from being physically hurt.”

“I think this is a great compromise, a great solution to let the party that’s protesting to continue to protest, but to do it at a safe distance,” said Mayor Scott Sedgley. “It’s the right thing to do.”



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$2 million ‘luxury lofts’ planned for downtown Napa
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A trio of “luxury lofts” — homes that could sell for as much as $2 million each — have been proposed for a downtown Napa block.

Property owner Jim Keller has asked the city for permission to build three residential condos on the second floor of the Young Building at the corner of Coombs and Third streets, opposite the Historic Napa County Courthouse.

“I’m envisioning an urban New York City, San Francisco-style loft with open kitchen and living room” floor plans, said Keller during a phone interview on Tuesday. “We’re looking at doing these nice.”

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“With this huge residential boom, and strong demand for housing in Napa, “it was pretty logical to repurpose the upstairs 7,000 square feet into residential,” he said.

He thinks there’s enough demand to sell three condos in the $2 million range — higher than any other such downtown condo property.

“I don’t think there’s anything like it downtown,” Keller said of his proposed luxury lofts. Until now, “There haven’t ever been any flat-like units this large and this private” and at this level of quality located in the city center, he said.

The closest comparable could be a 2,180-square-foot, two-story condo built in 2009 at Napa’s Riverfront complex. Located at 588 Main St., #313, it reportedly sold for $1.605 million in December.

It’s only three homes, said Keller. “If there’s not a lot of demand for three units, I’d be surprised.”

Where else can you find this size of a condo in downtown? Keller asked.

“Everything else is in the more 1,000 to 1,500 square-foot range. This gives a few select people an option for a little more space.”

Likely buyers could be Upvalley residents looking to move south, he proposed. “Or we also have a big influx of San Francisco and Bay Area people looking for nicer options or larger options than what’s been available in downtown.”

“Downtown is such a great spot,” he pointed out. “All the amenities are right there.”

Each unit has the ability to include up to three bedrooms, with the eventual floor plan to be determined later, wrote Keller in his application to the city for a use permit. Access to the units is provided via the existing elevator and/or stairway located in the eastern portion of the building at 801 Coombs and a second stairway located on the western side of the building.

Current zoning of the Young Building block includes residential uses, said Keller. For more 30 years portions of the building were occupied by the law offices of Dickenson, Peatman & Fogarty, which moved out in 2012.

According to the application, the majority of building improvement will be interior modifications, with the only proposed exterior change being an installation of the second-floor windows to residential custodial casement style windows.

Of course, parking is always a subject. Keller’s application requests approval of a use permit to authorize the use of six on-street parking spaces to serve the three residential units.

“The abundant parking in the vicinity of the Young Building will not be impacted by conversion of these units from office to residential – the conversion will actually have a net positive effect on supply,” he wrote.

Realtor Teresa Davis with Compass was the listing agent for the Riverfront condo that sold for $1.6 million in December.

“It was a premium unit, very opulent,” said Davis of the Riverfront condo.

The condo was designed by Thomas Bartlett and featured elaborate finishes including two-story floor-to-ceiling draperies.

She believes it could be the most expensive condo sold to date in downtown Napa.

Davis said there very well could be a market for more such luxury condos in downtown Napa. “I think a San Francisco buyer” or someone from the tech industry, perhaps younger, is most likely.

“We all know that some people value proximity to the restaurants and the bars and those amenities in downtown Napa,” she said.

At the same time, 801 Coombs St. is an older building, Davis said. “Can they transition that into something high end? Can any of these older buildings in downtown be modernized to where they have those kinds of values?”

Longtime Napans may recall that for many years the brick Young Building was home to the Dickenson Peatman & Fogarty law firm, and later county offices. Today, the second floor has been gutted, said Keller.

Current first-floor tenants include BottleRock producer Latitude 38 Entertainment, the Dailey Method studio and USPS annex in the back. Miminashi, a former restaurant tenant, closed in November.

Keller and associates bought the 25,000-square-foot property in 2013 for $3.1 million, Keller said.

Built sometime around 1920, the building’s namesake is a bit of an unknown, Keller said in an interview at that time.

At various years it has been home to a diner, and possibly an auto dealership. A Napa Historical Society photo shows Hagstrom Grocery on the ground floor. City phone and street directories from 1958 and 1963 list Herritt’s Floral & Gift shop as a tenant at 801 Coombs St. A business named Poor Man’s Art Gallery was a tenant in the 1970s.


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Biden to unveil actions on guns
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will unveil a series of executive actions aimed at addressing gun violence on Thursday, according to a person familiar with the plans, delivering his first major action on gun control since taking office.

He's also expected to nominate David Chipman, a former federal agent and adviser at the gun control group Giffords, to be director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Two people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press that Chipman's nomination is expected to be announced Thursday. The people could not discuss the matter publicly ahead of an official announcement and spoke to The AP on condition of anonymity. If confirmed, Chipman would be the agency's first permanent director since 2015.

Biden has faced increasing pressure to act on gun control after a spate of mass shootings across the U.S. in recent weeks, but the White House has repeatedly emphasized the need for legislative action on guns. While the House passed a background check bill last month, gun control measures face slim prospects in an evenly divided Senate, where Republicans remain near-unified against most proposals.

Biden is expected to announce tighter regulations requiring buyers of so-called ghost guns to undergo background checks. The homemade firearms — often assembled from parts and milled with a metal-cutting machine — often lack serial numbers used to trace them. It's legal to build a gun in a home or a workshop and there is no federal requirement for a background check.

The president's plans were previewed by a person familiar with the expected actions who was not authorized to publicly discuss them. Biden will be joined by Attorney General Merrick Garland at the event.

Senior administration officials confirmed that the Justice Department would issue a new proposed rule aimed at reining in ghost guns within 30 days, but offered no details on the content of the rule.

The Justice Department will also issue a proposed rule within 60 days tightening regulations on pistol-stabilizing braces, like the one used by the Boulder, Colorado, shooter in a massacre last month that left 10 dead. The rule would designate pistols used with stabilizing braces as short-barreled rifles, which, under the National Firearms Act, require a federal license to own and are subject to a more thorough application process and a $200 tax.

The Justice Department will also publish model red flag legislation within 60 days, which the administration says will make it easier for states to adopt their own red flag laws. Such laws allow for individuals to petition a court to allow the police to confiscate weapons from a person deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.

It will begin to provide more data on firearms trafficking, starting with a new comprehensive report on the issue, which the Biden administration says it hasn’t done in over two decades.

The president will also announce investments in community violence intervention programs, which are aimed at reducing gun violence in urban communities, across five federal agencies.

Administration officials hinted there may be more to come from the administration on guns, calling the round of executive actions “initial steps” that were completed under Garland’s purview within the first few weeks of his tenure.

The ATF is currently run by Acting Director Regina Lombardo. Gun-control advocates have emphasized the significance of the ATF director in enforcing the nation's gun laws, and Chipman is certain to win praise from them. During his time as a senior policy adviser with Giffords, he spent considerable effort pushing for greater regulation and enforcement on "ghost guns," reforms of the background check system and measures to reduce the trafficking of illegal firearms.

Prior to that, Chipman spent 25 years as an agent at the ATF, where he worked on stopping a trafficking ring that sent illegal firearms from Virginia to New York, and served on the ATF's SWAT team. Chipman is a gun owner himself.

Chipman and a White House spokesman both declined to comment.

During his campaign, Biden promised to prioritize new gun control measures as president, including enacting universal background check legislation, banning online sales of firearms and the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. But gun-control advocates have said that while they were heartened by signs from the White House that they took the issue seriously, they've been disappointed by the lack of early action.

Biden himself expressed uncertainty late last month when asked if he had the political capital to pass new gun control proposals, telling reporters, "I haven't done any counting yet."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last month, however, that executive actions on guns were coming as well, calling them "one of the levers that we can use" to address gun violence.