SF’s Hall of Justice exit plan to cost $135M over first 10 years

San Francisco’s plan to remove city departments from the seismically unsound Hall of Justice advanced toward approval Thursday despite concerns over costly leases.

The City would relocate those working in the Hall of Justice into three newly leased spaces that are estimated to cost $135 million in the next 10 years alone.

To relocate the District Attorney’s Office and the Police Department’s Investigations Unit from the Hall of Justice, The City would sign a lease for 125,122 square feet at 350 Rhode Island St., where the base rent is $51 per square foot. The lease term is for 15 years, from July 1, 2018, through June 30, 2033, and will cost $90 million over the next decade and $149 million over the next 15 years.

There is no purchase option or ability to terminate early, but the space could subleased.

Supervisor Ahsha Safai raised concerns about the costs and said it was a better deal to taxpayers to purchase space.

Real estate director John Updike said officials examined 20 sites and determined leasing space was the best option.

Supervisor Katy Tang defended the exit plan. “I understand the hesitations about purchase versus lease, but I would also hesitate to purchase a building or several of them if our plan is to eventually not be in these spaces and to actually move back to 850 Bryant [St.].”

Once 850 Bryant St. is emptied out, The City would demolish the Bryant Street wing, leaving the Superior Court. Then, The City would wait for the state of California to rebuild Superior Court on a vacated portion of the Hall of Justice site.

The City envisions rebuilding new office space on the former court site, where Adult Probation, some Police Department functions and the District Attorney’s Office would be moved.

The Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee approved the 350 Rhode Island St. lease Thursday and authorized finalizing negotiations on the two other leases, which would have to come back to the board for approval. The full board will vote next week on the proposal, which was introduced last week by Mayor Ed Lee.

One of those leases would be for 27,154 square feet at 777 Brannan St. for the Police Department’s evidence storage. The lease is for 10 years, from July 1, 2018, through June 30, 2028, with two five-year options to extend to June 2038. The initial rent is $37 per square feet.

The third lease is 41,744 square feet at 945 Bryant St. for the San Francisco Adult Probation Office, which begins at $64 per square foot.

The leases don’t address the closure of Hall of Justice’s County Jail No. 4, which houses about 300 prisoners. In 2015, The City defeated a new jail project next door to the Hall of Justice and instead called for a reduction in the overall jail population to be able to close the jail without adding new beds.

But that plan doesn’t appear to be on track.

Sheriff Vicki Hennessy said in a letter she doesn’t expect the jail population will decline sufficiently enough and intends to reopen County Jail No. 6.

“Recent spikes in violent crime and property crime, and calls by members of the Board of Supervisors and others to address·this, will lead to more arrests and a higher jail population,” Hennessy wrote in an Oct. 16 letter to the board.

She said the current daily jail population ranges between 1,250 and 1,300 prisoners. “Another 1,100-plus individuals are awaiting trial on pretrial release and more than 50 are serving sentences in jail alternative programs,” she wrote.

Hennessy continued, “In the near future, I will be seeking your approval for the issuance of certificates of participation to fund improvements to County Jail No. 2 necessary to sever its dependence on the Hall of Justice, and to renovate County Jail No. 6 to safely and humanely house prisoners once the Hall of Justice is closed.”

Labor unions have pressured The City to come up with the exit plan, and not wait any longer.

“It is an embarrassment for The City to have this many employees and members of the public entering into a city facility that is in the condition of this building,” Bob Muscat, executive director of the labor union Local 21, Professional & Technical Engineers, told the committee.

Sewage floods and broken elevators are some of the building’s recurring problems.

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