San Francisco eyes site for future jail

Mike Koozmin/Special to The SF ExaminerThe City is looking to purchase the entire block where the Hall of Justice currently sits to build a bigger jail.

Mike Koozmin/Special to The SF ExaminerThe City is looking to purchase the entire block where the Hall of Justice currently sits to build a bigger jail.

Prisoners would be housed where a McDonald’s and other businesses and privately owned homes currently stand under a plan to replace the crumbling Hall of Justice.

The Sheriff’s Department houses prisoners in San Bruno and at a jail at the Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant St., which has the capacity for about 900 prisoners, department spokeswoman Susan Fahey said.

Built in the 1950s, the Hall of Justice is unlikely to survive a major earthquake, which has The City scouting sites for a new jail. A plan is in the initial stages to purchase the entire block where the Hall of Justice is located and build a new jail there, according to a Department of Public Works report.

Should an earthquake render the Hall of Justice unusable, there is a “contingency plan” in place to house prisoners elsewhere, said Fahey, who did not divulge details.

The County Jail system’s total capacity is 2,360, with room for about 1,100 prisoners in San Bruno and 464 on Seventh Street. There are currently 1,632 prisoners in custody, said Fahey, who added that the jail tries to stay at 80 percent of capacity for safety reasons.

Once vacant, the existing Hall of Justice would be demolished to make way for a new Superior Court building, said DPW spokeswoman Mindy Linetzky, adding that the plan is still in “preliminary stages.”

The City would need to pay between $7.7 million and $9.4 million to buy the block, the report said. The properties there are currently assessed at a total value of $4.4 million, according to records on file at the Assessor-Recorder’s Office, but some of the properties have not changed hands for decades and are assessed well below their market value.

The total cost of purchasing the land and building the new jail is in excess of $425 million, according to DPW. The Board of Supervisors could be asked to approve a site for the new jail as soon as this year. The land would be purchased in 2015 and construction could begin in 2018, with a new jail operating by 2019.

Two vacant lots, the San Francisco Police Officers Credit Union, an apartment building and a McDonald’s are currently on the block.

The City has yet to approach any of the landowners with offers. When contacted by The San Francisco Examiner, one owner, who asked not to be identified, expressed surprise at the idea and questioned the wisdom of purchasing expensive property for a jail.

“Why build a jail on such precious land?” the owner, an East Bay resident, said, adding that she had “no idea” of the current fair market value.

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