Tenderloin court plan hits wall

Startup funding for a new court in the Tenderloin that would deal with the quality-of-life crimes that concentrate in San Francisco’s downtown — a plan championed by Mayor Gavin Newsom — was shot down by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

Newsom’s political opponents on the Board of Supervisors were critical of a $500,000 spending request for court since funding for other long-standing community services is being cut in the mayor’s proposed $6.5 billion budget for next fiscal year.

The board didn’t kill the court plan, but voted 7-3 Tuesday to send the funding request back to the board’s budget committee to be included in overall budget deliberations.

The annual cost to run the court, which is being called a Community Justice Center, is estimated at between $2 million to $2.8 million, according to city officials.

The court would handle offenders in the Civic Center, Tenderloin and South of Market areas charged with misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies, including such offenses as disorderly conduct, drug use and theft.

The new center would combine a courtroom and social services under one roof. Those charged would be given the choice of being enrolled in social services or face the usual legal consequences.

“This is a program that we need to get started,” Supervisor Sean Elsbernd said at Tuesday’s meeting. “Just walk two blocks from City Hall and tell me if the status quo is working.”

Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin said he could not vote for a new project given the current proposed cuts to the existing “social and mental-health safety yet.”

Newsom, however, criticized the board for rejecting the funding request.

“It sounds like they need more time,” he said. “I don’t need more time. I don’t think the public wants to wait another minute. They want to see some change.”

The budget committee has previously rejected the funding request for the Community Justice Center, but Supervisor Bevan Dufty legislatively forced the full board to vote on the proposal.

Dufty had secured five votes on the 11-member board but needed a sixth.

Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval, who is running for superior court judge, was seen as a potential sixth vote, but he recused himself Tuesday, citing “potential for a conflict of interest.”

Supervisors Carmen Chu, Michela Alioto-Pier and Elsbernd voted against sending the funding back to committee.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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