City confident new County Jail project can proceed; budget committee to vote on emergency response bond measure 

click to enlarge Station 55
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • A bond proposed for the June ballot would send $72 million for city fire station upgrades, including Station 55 at 2501 25th Street.
San Francisco has failed to secure $80 million in state funding for construction of a proposed new jail, losing out to 15 other counties that state officials say were better able to demonstrate they had shovel-ready projects.

But city officials say the missed opportunity doesn’t jeopardize plans to close down the decrepit 828-bed County Jails 3 and 4 at the Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant St. to build a new $300 million jail on private property next door. The project cost doubles once debt financing is factored in.

However, the jail project is far from a done deal. A debate continues over its need, size and location. On Thursday, a Board of Supervisors committee will hold a hearing where new analysis is expected on total jail beds needed. The most recent plan was for a 626-bed replacement jail.

While the jail project is part of The City’s overall public-safety capital plan, it’s not included in a $400 million Earthquake Safety and Emergency Response General Obligation bond proposed for the June ballot. The board’s budget committee will vote today on the bond, which is financed by property taxes and would allow landlords to pass 50 percent of costs on to tenants.

Excluding the jail project from the bond is seemingly for a strategic reason. Getting voters to approve funding for jails is a daunting, if not highly unlikely, task, political analysts say. It was attempted twice in the 1990s to help pay for a new San Bruno jail, and both times voters rejected the measures. Instead, The City argues that certificates of participation could be used to fund the project.

The bond includes $65 million to relocate the Medical Examiner’s Office, also currently housed in the Hall of Justice, to a city-owned building at 1 Newhall St. and $165 million to consolidate the Police Department’s traffic and forensics services in one building at 1995 Evans St. Additionally, $70 million would help upgrade the San Francisco Public Utilities Auxiliary Water Supply system, and $72 million would be used for fire station upgrades. The measure builds on the work funded by a $412 million bond for emergency facilities from June 2010. A third bond for addressing public-safety infrastructure is scheduled for 2021.

The City faces staunch anti-jail advocates in the jail proposal who argue the money is better spent on rehabilitation programs.

Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi said he welcomes the debate, but supports a replacement facility near the courthouse and countered critics who have suggested the San Bruno jail can absorb the demand.

“The net effect of not having a smaller replacement facility in San Francisco means housing 90 percent of our jail population in the suburbs. As it relates to rehabilitation and family connectivity, this is bad policy,” he said.

Brian Strong, director of Capital Planning, took the grant denial in stride: “The City is committed to figuring out how we are going to do the jail project.”

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