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Opponents of new jail want housing

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The Capital Planning Committee meets Monday in City Hall, where it voted to approve a new jail in San Francisco. The facility now goes to the Board of Supervisors for a vote. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner)
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Critics of building a new $380 million jail couldn’t convince San Francisco’s Capital Planning Committee to put the kibosh on the project Monday, but they are hoping the Board of Supervisors will.

After securing an $80 million grant from the state for the jail last week, The City is moving quickly to approve the project.

The capital planning committee, a group of city department heads which determine the fate of hundreds of millions of dollars spent annually on capital projects, unanimously approved of the jail project Monday.

But a handful of opponents decried the project, as they have in the past, saying affordable housing and community services is a better investment.

Lizzie Buchen, a coordinator with Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), a statewide group opposing jail projects, told the San Francisco Examiner after the vote she was “definitely disappointed.”

The focus now shifts to the Board of Supervisors. A board committee is expected to vote on the proposal 1 p.m. Dec. 23.

“We know that we have four supervisors who are strongly opposed. And there are several who are on the fence. I think we definitely can have the votes,” Buchen said.

Board President London Breed, who sits on the committee, excused herself from Monday’s vote. Conor Johnston, Breed’s legislative aide, said, “It would be premature for the president of the board to take a position prior to the discussion and the debate that is going to happen at the full Board of Supervisors.”

Those opposing the new jail agree the current jail facilities at the Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant St. are deplorable and should be shut down. But opponents believe The City should handle its inmate population with its existing jail beds after the closure, not build the new facility.

Today, the purchase agreement of the land next to the Hall of Justice, where the new jail would be built, and the funding is expected to be introduced to the board. Minus the $80 million grant, the total jail build project is expected to cost The City $307 million with debt interest.

There are 900 beds in the two county jails set to close, with about 400 being used. Without the new jail, there would be a maximum of 1,230 total beds. Another option that had been discussed is upgrading the existing but unused County Jail No. 6 in San Bruno for $80 million to bring the total to 1,500 beds.

An official with the Sheriff’s Department said the jail population Monday was 1,335. It was 1,976 in 2009.

The project drew praise from department heads. Department of Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru called the facility the “right size.” John Rahaim, the planning director, said, it wasn’t a question of whether to build the jail, but what services go into it.

But Kamau Walton, a member of Black Lives Matter Bay Area, emphasized the need to invest in services for people before they end up in jail. “It’s really important that we don’t wait until people are criminalized and put into cages to provide them with the resources that they need,” Walton said.

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