Tony Hall: We Must Rebuild

Juvenile Halls supervisor, I try to use this monthly column to discuss issues of importance to the residents on the west side of the City. The reconstruction of Laguna Honda Hospital and other west side construction projects are matters of importance for the entire City, but are of special concern for residents in the immediate area.

This month, therefore, I would like to provide you with some information on another large project set to begin and perhaps answer some of the questions that may be out there. That project is the replacement of Juvenile Hall at the Youth Guidance Center.

San Francisco's Juvenile Hall is one of the oldest in California. The 132-bed building became operational in 1950. Never intended to last 50 years, the building's design is now considered to be 30 years out of date. In the last 15 years, numerous studies and at least one lawsuit have documented its deteriorated conditions.

As a result, I think that nearly everyone would agree the current situation at Juvenile Hall is unacceptable and something dramatic must be done, and must be done now. Reconstruction is badly needed and long overdue.

In order to accomplish this task I worked closely with Gregg Lowder and Monique Moyer of the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice as well as the staff at Juvenile Hall, led by Chief Jessie Williams. Additionally, I received significant and important input from the Volunteer Auxiliary of the Youth Guidance Center led by Kathleen Kelly, president of the group.

As a result of this united effort, I am pleased to report that the Board of Supervisor's Finance Committee recently approved legislation I introduced and will be passing it on to the full board.

Here are some of the details:

The total cost of the project is approximately $47.5 million, which, in the past would have been borne entirely by the citizens of San Francisco. However, in 1998, as a result of deteriorating conditions in juvenile halls throughout the state, the governor declared "exigent circumstances," giving impetus to this project.

The governor's action led the federal government as well as the state of California to provide millions of dollars to assist California counties in the rebuilding of their juvenile halls.

The federal legislation that followed (based on deteriorating facilities as well as overcrowding) imposed one condition on receiving its funding - any new facility must increase its bed count.

By simply agreeing to increase our bed capacity by a mere 18 beds, the City is able to accept approximately $15 million in federal funds. By comparison, in order to receive the federal grant funds, Los Angeles increased its facility by 341 beds, and Alameda County initially proposed an increase of 250 beds.

The proposed plan will create a modern facility that is humane and secure. Not only will it be a dramatic structural improvement; it will also provide dramatic improvements in the services offered to youth in the facility. These expanded services will include educational and recreational facilities, as well as mental health and substance abuse services and peer outreach.

Construction projects in the west side of San Francisco will pose many challenges and I recognize the burden that this will place on some residents. Be assured that I am committed to working with the neighborhoods most affected by the construction. Through frequent updates, I hope (as much as possible) to mitigate any problems that may arise.

If you have any questions or concerns about the Juvenile Hall issue, or any other issue, please do not hesitate to contact me by phone at (415) 554-6516 or e-mail at Tony_Hall@sfgov.org.

Tony Hall is a San Francisco supervisor representing District 7.