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As Hall of Justice decays, SF calls on state to fund new courthouse

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(Jessica Christian/2016 S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco is calling on Gov. Jerry Brown to fund the construction of a new criminal courthouse to replace the decaying Hall of Justice, where analysts say a major earthquake could result in mass casualties.

City leaders including Mayor Mark Farrell and District Attorney George Gascon sent a letter Friday urging the governor to boost state spending on courthouse construction and rebuild the Hall of Justice.

The hub of San Francisco’s criminal justice system, the aging building at 850 Bryant St. is also home to a rodent infestation, asbestos contamination and sewage spills that drip from the ceiling and creep from the closets.

Until recently, the building housed a range of city agencies, from the Medical Examiner’s Office to the San Francisco Police Department headquarters. After the remaining agencies move out in July and inmates are transferred from the courthouse’s top-floor jail, the criminal courts are all that will remain.

“Rebuilding the Hall of Justice is the only way to ensure the safety of court staff, attorneys, jurors, Sheriff’s Deputies and countless others,” the letter reads. “We urge you to take steps to ensure their safety is not further jeopardized in the years to come.”

The letter asks the governor to return $1.6 billion to the state Judicial Council for courthouse construction. The letter says Brown designated up to $5 billion toward rebuilding the state’s courthouses in 2008, under Senate Bill 1407, but has since repurposed a portion of the funding to address a budget shortfall.

H.D. Palmer, a spokesperson for the governor with the California Department of Finance, said Brown included more than $1.3 billion in funding for 10 courthouse construction projects over the next two years in his budget proposal earlier this month. Nine of those projects are for new courthouses in areas including Sacramento and Sonoma counties.

“All of those have gone through the Judicial Council review process,” Palmer said. “The proposal for the City and County of San Francisco has not.”

Bill Barnes, a spokesperson for City Administrator Naomi Kelly, said the state is responsible for proposing a new courthouse, not San Francisco. Kelly was among the city leaders to sign the letter.

“They built the civil courthouse,” Barnes said, referring to the newer McAllister Street courthouse next to City Hall. “But the state needs to come in to figure out what they are going to do with the criminal division.”

In October, the Board of Supervisors approved a series of 15-year leases expected to cost The City $150 million to temporarily move the District Attorney’s Office, Adult Probation and police investigations out of the Hall of Justice.

The San Francisco Examiner previously reported that city officials then plan to demolish sections of the Hall of Justice and wait for the state to rebuild the courts at the same site before moving the agencies back to 850 Bryant St.

A spokesperson for the Judicial Council, which oversees San Francisco Superior Court, did not respond to a request for comment. A San Francisco Superior Court spokesperson declined to comment.

The letter to Brown also included the signatures of state Sen. Scott Wiener, Sheriff Vicki Hennessy, Public Defender Jeff Adachi, SFPD Chief Bill Scott and Adult Probation Chief Karen Fletcher, among others.

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