Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner

Vote on controversial new jail comes earlier than expected

Earlier than expected, a vote on whether to build a new $380 million jail in San Francisco comes before a Board of Supervisors committee Wednesday.

If approved, the full board would vote on the project Dec. 8.

Initially, a board committee was expected to vote on the proposal in late December, but board President London Breed has waived the board rule requiring legislation sit for at least 30-days before acted upon, after Mayor Ed Lee made the waiver request when the proposal was introduced Nov. 17.

Opponents, who have allies with the board’s more left-leaning faction, have fought the new jail for years, arguing the funding should instead go toward below-market-rate housing and social services. The $380 million jail, which includes debt service and a recently awarded $80 million state grant, would replace the Hall of Justice county jails 3 and 4 on property next door. The City plans to purchase the property for about $14.5 million.

Concerns over the jail and the speed in which it is heading toward approval, now that The City received the state grant, were expressed Nov. 16 during a capital planning committee by members of such groups as Black Lives Matter and Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), a statewide group opposing jail projects.

The Youth Commission, which has a mission to advise the board on youth-related issues, expressed concerns in a Nov. 23 memo to the board about the sped-up timeline since it prevents the body from weighing in, as is customary.

Youth Commission Director Adele Carpenter noted in the memo that commissioners “have invested significant effort in working to improve policies and services for children and youth with incarcerated parents,” estimated at nearly 18,000 youth.

Carpenter requested that the board committee hearing be held during “a youth-friendly after-school hour” (4:00 pm or later) in order to accommodate the youth. But the board’s Budget and Finance Committee meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Breed said Friday she waived the 30-day rule in this case to ensure The City meets deadlines related to the grant if the board chooses to approve the project. “I’ve waived the 30-day rule for so many things,” Breed said. “It’s not uncommon to do.” As for the jail project, Breed said, “It’s not a done deal, just to be clear.” Breed said she remains “undecided.”

The timeline, Breed said, was not driven by the fact that the board makeup could soon change when Aaron Peskin is sworn into his seat, after beating current District 3 seat holder Julie Christensen in the November election. Peskin, who would create a progressive majority on the board, is expected to assume his seat sometime next month, possibly for the Dec. 15 meeting. That depends on when the mayor signs the certification of the election results, following expected board approval of it Tuesday. The mayor could take 10 days.

Brian Strong, a capital planner director with the Department of Public Works, said in an email Friday that the waiver request was driven by deadlines. “The state grant requires that we purchase property for replacement jail within 90-days of the notice of the award (this is an incredibly tight timeline) and we have to have 10 percent of total project funds within 30-days notice of the award. We received notice of the award on Nov 12.”

A City Controller’s jail bed need analysis estimated with the closure of the county jails 3 and 4 there would be a need for between 120 to 393 beds.

Critics suggest a better alternative is the rehabilitation the existing unused San Bruno County Jail No. 6. During a July board hearing, a DPW official said it would cost $80.9 million to rehab the existing County Jail No. 6 to achieve 256 jail beds, bringing the total needs in the system to about 1,500. Strong said in a Nov. 18 email that that cost didn’t include other expenses, such as “project management, permits, etc.,” which would bring the total cost to $125 million. With debt service, Strong said, the cost would total $221 million.

As for the future of the Hall of Justice, “The plan calls for demolishing the west wing and making the land available for the state to replace the courts building; courts then can move out of the east wing to the new building,” said Department of Public Works spokeswoman Rachel Gordon. “The east wing would then be demolished. There’s not been a determination on what the east wing site would be used for.”

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