Tenderloin court funding locked up

Mayor Gavin Newsom’s plan to put a new kind of court in the crime- and drug-plagued Tenderloin neighborhood is in jeopardy after a Board of Supervisors committee Wednesday refused to approve a $500,000 allocation for the project.

The so-called Community Justice Center would be used for people in the Civic Center, Tenderloin and South of Market areas charged with misdemeanors and such nonviolent felonies as drug use and theft.

The new center would have a courtroom and social services under one roof, and those charged would be given the choice of being enrolled into social services or face the usual legal consequences.

On Wednesday, before the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Harold Kahn advocated for the new type of court, noting that, “criminal justice in San Francisco doesn’t work very well.”

The committee, however, voted 3-2 to not release $500,000 to fund the construction of two holding cells at the proposed court location at 555-575 Polk St.

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, who supported the release of funding along with Supervisor Carmen Chu, said the decision puts in jeopardy a $1 million federal grant to help pay for the court’s costs.

The center could cost up to $2.8 million annually, according to a City Controller’s report. The report also said that while the court could meet the needs of a population not benefiting from the current court structure, it might also duplicate existing programs.

Supervisor Chris Daly said he would not support the spending in light of service cuts The City is facing as a result of a projected $305 million budget deficit. Supervisors Jake McGoldrick and Ross Mirkarimi also voted in opposition.

Mayorial spokesman Nathan Ballard said the supervisors “should be ashamed of themselves for trying to kill” a court that “has the capacity to transform lives.”

Ballard said the mayor would find a way to proceed nonetheless, adding that voters would “overwhelmingly support” the court.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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