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Escalated harassment of Planned Parenthood patients moves Walnut Creek to weigh buffer zone

The Walnut Creek City Council on Tuesday will again try taking up whether Planned Parenthood needs a buffer zone to protect employees and patients of the service.

Technical difficulties with the council’s Zoom link during the Nov. 16 meeting prevented people from weighing in online. Then-Mayor Kevin Wilk decided to postpone the matter.

Walnut Creek police received 42 calls for service at the Planned Parenthood facility on Oakland Blvd., between Jan. 1, 2020 and Nov. 5, 2021. Complaints included accusations of verbal and physical harassment and intimidation of patients and protestors blocking sidewalks. The city has also received reports of traffic accidents in the area related to distracted driving and pedestrians in the street.

At least four people have been arrested, one for going inside the clinic and threatening people. A security guard for pro-life group 40 Days for Life was arrested for allegedly pepper spraying people during a protest.

Both sides of the contentious issue have complained to the council, blaming the other for trouble at the site. California law guarantees a person’s right to enter a health care facility without obstruction, including for abortions.

A city staff report points out it’s “a crime to use force, threat of force, or physical obstruction to, or attempt to, injure, intimidate or interfere” with those working at a clinic.

Some California cities, such as San Francisco, Oakland, and Napa, have buffer zones further restricting protesters’ proximity to reproductive health care facilities. Some give patients and employees at least eight feet of personal space from protesters.

Other options the council could consider are opting to beef up police patrols in the area, allow construction of a fence and gate to keep protesters away, or add extra private security at the site.

The Walnut Creek City Council meets at 6 p.m. Jan. 18 at the council chamber, 1666 North Main Street, Walnut Creek. The meeting can also be seen on the city’s YouTube channel or at (webinar ID: 845 5261 4447, passcode 107407).

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