Further environmental study not required for new SF jail

San Francisco County Jail (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner, 2013)

San Francisco’s new county jail that will replace the facilities at the aging Hall of Justice will not require a full environmental impact report, despite pleas from various community groups to further study potential effects of building the jail at the same South of Market site.

The Planning Commission on Thursday voted unanimously to deny an appeal of The City’s preliminary mitigated negative declaration that was published last month, acknowledging concerns from the community about possible impacts of the project but ultimately deciding that the environmental studies already conducted by city planners provide enough information.

“The document is very adequate,” Commissioner Michael Antonini said of the preliminary mitigated negative declaration. “It talks about all the different issues for building something that is significantly smaller than what is there now.”

The new jail is part of a larger, years-long effort to relocate city agencies from the seismically deficient Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant St. The proposed project includes 384 beds and would replace The City’s jail facilities on the sixth and seventh floors of the Hall, which today accommodates more than 900 beds.

Construction of the 200,000 square-foot, 110-foot-tall jail includes the demolition of several commercial buildings on Sixth Street, as well as a McDonald’s restaurant at 820 Bryant St.

The appeal was filed June 3 by Californians United for a Responsible Budget, a coalition of more than 65 organizations that seek to reduce the number of prisoners and prisons in the state.

On Thursday, San Francisco-based architect Raphael Sperry told commissioners that the coalition does not oppose replacing the Hall of Justice, but rather worries that construction of the new jail will trigger air, noise, parking and wind impacts. There were also concerns about a lack of community input.

“When the project was proposed 10 years ago it actually seemed like a reasonable project…things have changed in San Francisco,” Sperry said.

Commissioners said there will be more opportunities for public input throughout the planning process, which will next include the Board of Supervisors for approval of the preliminary mitigated negative declaration.

Upholding the preliminary mitigated negative declaration, which helps ensure the environmental review process is completed by July, increases The City’s chances for up to $80 million in state funding for the project from Senate Bill 863 that was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year.

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