Help us make our $25,000 match. Become a member today!

S.F. BOARD WATCH: Supervisors Grapple With Half-Billion Dollar Price of New Jail

Josh Wolf
San Francisco Public Press
 — Oct 23 2013 - 4:24pm

San Francisco supervisors are still debating whether to commit the hundreds of millions of dollars it would take to build a replacement for the jail at 850 Bryant St., despite warnings that it could collapse during the next major earthquake. At least one supervisor, though, has come around to supporting it.

On Tuesday the board authorized a state construction grant application for $80 million, but that would cover only a fraction of the estimated half-billion dollars that the controller’s office estimates as the total cost, including interest payments in future decades.

Supervisor Eric Mar said he previously opposed building the jail, but changed his mind after visiting both the aging facility and the city’s newer jail in San Bruno. He said the new facility would provide more humane conditions with better access to educational programs, areas to exercise and medical treatment.

“This is one of those issues where I think that people who may be on the same side of issues may not necessarily be on the same side of this issue,” Supervisor David Campos said at Tuesday’s board meeting. He said he would rather spend less money on a jail and divert some of the money to “other things that I think are better investments for us as a city.”

“We have many needs in this city, and one of the greatest needs is the lack of affordable housing for many people,” Campos said. “And any time we make an investment where you’re investing hundreds of millions of dollars, you do have a responsibility to make sure that you ask yourself what the priorities are in terms of investments.”

But David Chiu, president of the board, said the need for a new jail was critical, even though the project would decrease by 30 percent the total number of beds in the jail it would replace.

“Some of you may remember Supervisor Chris Daly,” Chiu said. “When he represented District Six, in which the Hall of Justice resides, he actually voted against a bond measure that we had that did not rebuild the jail — because of the fact that we were not rebuilding the jail.”

“I just want to quote what he said at the time: ‘What about the people in the jails? These are San Franciscans. Folks who are disproportionately people of color. Folks who are disproportionately low-income and have been caught in the criminal justice system,’” Chiu said.

“Gestapo” remark ends in handcuffs

Ray Hartz Jr., who identified himself as the director of the San Francisco Open Government Advocacy Coalition, was escorted out of the Board of Supervisors meeting after complaining loudly of heavy-handed and disrespectful treatment of speakers during public comment.

Hartz was in line to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting, following a library activist who spoke to criticize City Librarian Luis Herrera. As the speaker kept talking and used up his two minutes, the clerk cut his microphone.

“Gestapo,” Hartz yelled as he approached the podium.

Board President Chiu called the remark an “outburst” and refused to allow Hartz to speak. But Hartz ignored Chiu’s request and attempted to address the board. As he vociferously denounced the board, Hartz was promptly escorted out by two sheriff’s deputies.

Just before the incident, Hartz said that he resented the way the supervisors were talking among themselves during public comment. Chiu had been in a private conversation with two other supervisors during the previous speaker’s comment.

The supervisors “do not feel any obligation to actually listen,” when the public addresses them, Hartz said after the confrontation. “They always talk this line about how much they appreciate public input, but when members of the public actually get up to give their public input, they do everything but spit in our soup.”

Hartz was escorted out of City Hall and admonished for his behavior, said Susan Fahey, a sheriff’s spokeswoman. Hartz said he planned to file a complaint against Chiu with the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force.

Supervisors swoon for Kiva

Several supervisors expressed excitement about the San Francisco’s new partnership with Kiva Zip, which will allow the city to recommend small businesses to feature on the site.

“We know that our small-business community is the backbone of our local economy and this new partnership will build upon our commitment to work inside and outside of City Hall to provide additional resources for the small-business community,” Supervisor Mark Farrell said. “As many as seven out of 10 entrepreneurs are denied the traditional capital that they need to grow their businesses. We have the opportunity with this partnership to engage and empower our community in new ways, with this partnership being just one of the tools in the toolbox to do so.”

Farrell said he was the first elected official in California to partner with Kiva Zip. The first business Farrell recommended was the Abundant Market, a specialty grocer at the corner of California and Divisadero Streets. Three weeks after Farrell suggested the market to Kiva, the owner had raised the $5,000 he needed to expand into catering in the form of an interest-free loan.

Supervisors London Breed, Norman Yee, David Avalos, David Campos and Eric Mar all said they planned to sign up so that they too could help small businesses in their districts through the program.

Businesses interested in participating will be able to apply through the city’s Office of Small Business.

“What a breath of fresh air,” Mar said. “Utilizing Kickstarter-type technology, sharing economy in our communities and really supporting the smaller businesses that are really struggling right now.”

* * *

UPDATE: The Board of Supervisors denied an appeal that attempted to stop a 77-unit apartment building at 480 Potrero Ave. from moving forward without a full environmental review. Supervisor Malia Cohen said that neighbors objected to the city’s plans to concentrate development in that part of the city, and not to true environmental concerns regarding the project.