Sheriff’s Department officials are talking about moving inmates from the Hall of Justice to a shuttered facility in San Bruno, above. (Mike Koozmin/2014 S.F. Examiner)

Roadmap surfaces for moving most city functions out of Hall of Justice — including jail

San Francisco may have a plan to quickly get most city services out of the rodent-filled, sewage-spilling and seismically unsafe building that is the Hall of Justice.

That plan, released in a May 31 draft Budget and Legislative Analyst’s Office report on the costs and challenges of an expedited departure from 850 Bryant St., sets out to lease sites soon for The City departments for the next 10 years and could save millions over that time, and get civilians out of the Hall of Justice faster.

What remains unresolved is where the money, and savings, for permanent facilities will come from in ten years and how much refurbishing an existing jail facility would cost.

Under current plans, the Administrator’s Office has called for the Hall of Justice to be vacated by 2019, which would stick city departments in offices across town until permanent facilities are completed. But building new permanent facilities would not begin until 2024.

“It [the Hall of Justice] presents a real threat to human life if we keep people there,” said Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, who requested the report after labor groups sent a letter about conditions in the building. “I’m committed to closing the Hall of Justice. Here’s the plan. Let’s move forward.”

Waiting 10 years to borrow money for the new facilities would save funds in the long run, the report states.

The report also touches on the controversial future of County Jail 4, located at the Hall of Justice. Its replacement was shot down in December 2015 by the Board of Supervisors along with state funding for the project.

While the Sheriff’s Department hopes to reduce the inmate population so low it can close the jail on the seventh floor of the Hall of Justice, until now there has not been a concrete idea of what to do with those inmates if the population doesn’t drop.

Now the department is looking into a plan that would put the roughly 300 inmates in the Hall of Justice into a long-shuttered facility in San Bruno, if their numbers are not reduced by jail diversion and other alternatives such as expanding ankle bracelet and pretrial diversion programs. San Francisco’s main county jail is already in San Bruno.

“The Sheriff’s Department is looking into the possibility of re-opening County Jail No. 6, located in San Bruno in San Mateo County, to house inmates currently housed in County Jail No. 4,” reads the report. “This would require a number of upgrades to County Jail No. 6’s security capacity and infrastructure, and estimates of the cost for these upgrades are not yet available.”

If Sheriff Vicki Hennessy finds that County Jail No. 6 is suitable to reopen, Mayor Ed Lee will support such a move, his office said. Lee also backs the expedited move out of the Hall of Justice.

The City Administrator’s Office, meanwhile, is actively looking for leasing space.

Department by Department

The report notes that the District Attorney’ Office could be relocated into nearby leased offices, which would save $31 million over the next 10 years in funds that would have been spent on building a new facility. But those monies would eventually have to be spent on such a building.

The Adult Probation Department would also be moved to other facilities that would be leased and would save The City $11.8 million that would have been spent on debt service for a new building.

Most of the San Francisco Police Department operations that are still located in the Hall of Justice would also be housed in leased facilities off-site and could save The City $52 million.

The sheriff’s plan does not have any cost estimates yet, according to the report. But Eileen Hirst, the sheriff’s chief of staff, said that is because it is still in it’s infancy.

“There aren’t numbers yet. This is an idea. This is not a contingency plan,” she said of reopening County Jail 6.

The jail in question, which was opened in 1989 to house federal inmates during the peak of jail overcrowding, was closed in 2010. It consists of six separate open-floor planned rooms with one central
control room. It can house 372 inmates.

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to hear from the Working Group to Re-Envision the Jail Replacement Project on June 13, and would have to do so before addressing any plans to reopen County Jail No. 6.

But No New SF Jail Coalition’s Lily Fahsi-Haskell said the plan looks a lot like a new jail, despite such an idea’s defeat by the Board of Supervisors.

“What we’re seeing right now is the sheriff continue to advance proposals for jail construction,” she said, noting that alternatives have not been backed in a way that will make them successful. “Reopening a closed unit or a closed jail is adding capacity.”

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