San Francisco moved closer to building a new jail Tuesday despite opposition calling for increased investment in social services, not beds behind bars.
The jail project at 850 Bryant St. has remained a point of contention for years. But critics have not been able to convince The City to scrap the idea outright.
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors moved The City closer to building the new jail by rejecting an appeal to have the project undergo an environmental impact review and approving authorization of an application for $80 million in state funding to help pay for the planned $240 million project comprising 384 beds.
The remainder of the cost would be paid through using certificates of participation.
In a 7-3 vote, the appeal was shot down and the funding application was approved. Supervisor Jane Kim, who represents the SoMa neighborhood where the jail is located, voted to support the appeal and reject the funding application along with Supervisors Eric Mar and John Avalos. Supervisor David Campos was absent for the vote.
“The politically easy thing to do is not to support a jail,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener, taking aim at the opponents on the board. Wiener argued that there is a need for the beds to avoid jail overcrowding and the unwarranted release of inmates.
But Kim countered that “jails are the easy answer” and “this is our opportunity to rethink the system we have.” For example, she noted that 11 to 17 percent of the inmates have a serious mental illness and should receive treatment.
“Our jails are increasingly being used as a convenient and easy answer to homelessness, to poverty … to severe mental health issues and to drug rehab,” Kim said. “This is a failure of society.”
Without the new jail, there would be a maximum of 1,230 total beds.
Tuesday’s inmate population was 1,282, down from the 1,976 in 2009. Another option being 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.
The City previously applied for similar funding but in 2014 had lost out to 15 other counties that state officials said were better able to demonstrate they had shovel-ready projects.
Deciding the project wouldn’t have to undergo the environmental review could improve The City’s chances this time around. The appeal was filed by the Californians United for a Responsible Budget, a statewide coalition of groups working to reduce jail population and prisons, arguing there was a need to examine impacts like noise, wind and alternatives.
There is consensus that the existing facilities are in deplorable condition. There are 905 beds at the Hall of Justice known as County Jail No. 3 and No. 4. Currently only No. 4 is able to be used, in which there are about 400 inmates currently.
The new jail would be constructed just east of the existing Hall of Justice, comprising 200,000 square feet and rising 95 feet. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2018 and to be completed in early 2021.
During Tuesday’s meeting, the $310 million housing bond proposed by Mayor Ed Lee was officially placed on the November ballot with a unanimous vote of the board. A third of the funding would go toward rehabilitating and building housing for low-income households, those earning up to 60 percent of the area median income, which for a family of four is about $60,000. The Mission neighborhood would receive $50 million for site purchases for housing developments and $80 million would help speed up rebuilds of the Sunnydale and Potrero public housing sites. Another $80 million will go toward homebuyers’ assistance programs and a middle-income rent subsidy program for families with $20 million funding a new pilot rental-assistance program for middle-income families, which is based on a program in New York.