Tenderloin residents and activists fight against a prison facility in the Tenderloin. They claim that the prison violates zoning of residential housing in the area, and that the facility is incompatible with the Tenderloin.
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Residents Protest Tenderloin Prison Facility
SAN FRANCISCO — Banners and placards at the ready, about 20 Tenderloin residents and merchants turned out Thursday to protest the placement of a detention center in their midst.
Organized by the North of Market Planning Coalition, demonstrators said their goals were to get rid of the facility and to express anger about not having been consulted before the prisoners arrived.
“I’m against dumping in the Tenderloin, and this is just one more instance,” said businessman Leroy Looper, owner of the Cadillac Hotel. “What’s really bad is that no one asked us first.”
Eclectic Communications Inc. operates the sheriff’s 24-hour curfew program at 111 Taylor St., which is also the site of a furlough program for federal prisoners and is still home to about 20 residents.
The Sheriff’s Department’s alternative custody program permits some pretrial and sentenced prisoners to live in community residential programs.
At the Taylor Street facility, opened in March and intended primarily for court appearances and only under the escort of program staff.
Only five pretrial detainees are at the facility currently, according to program staff members. Ten additional residents have been sentenced and are awaiting transfer to other community programs.
“We’re trying to get them to close it down because it violates the residential nature of the neighborhood and the zoning,” said Steve Collier, vice president of the North of Market Planning Coalition and attorney for the Tenderloin Housing Clinic.
Collier said the program does nothing to help the Tenderloin community.
“These aren’t tenants who patronize the local businesses,” he said. Housing prisoners there also removes rooms from the Tenderloin’s stock of affordable housing for low-income residents.
It’s still up in the air, Collier said, whether the program can remain in the building. Tenants protested the program at a Planning Commission meeting two months ago, and Zoning Administrator Robert Passmore is now considering an appeal, by the North of Market Planning Coalition, that alleges the facility is not allowed under residential-commercial zoning laws.
“We think he’ll rule in our favor,” Collier said. “If not, we’ll go to the Borad of Permit Appeals.
The building may also become home to a new sunstation for the San Francisco Police Department, which is reportedly in the final stages of negotiations with Eclectic Communications Inc. to lease part of the first floor.
Tenant Mary Ann Herer, a resident at 111 Taylor St. for two years, said the presence of prisoners has detracted from the atmosphere for the other tenants.
“When they bring prisoners down, we have to clear the lobby and the hallways,” Herer said. Tenants with children are particularly uncomfortable. A teen-age daughter of one resident, she said, rarely comes home, preferring to stay with a friend.
“I want the jail out of here,” Herer said. “We didn’t have any problems until these people moved in. Sometimes I feel safe,sometimes I feel unsafe. It depends. I don’t know what kind of criminals we live with.”
Herer complained that none of the tenants was notified in advance about the new neighbors. She said she learned of the situation only after seeing 20 handcuffed men being led down the hallway.
Kelly Cullen, executive director of the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corp., said eliminating housing drives rents up for other Tenderloin residents.
“We need a playground, schools, a children’s center,” Cullen said. “We need housing families can afford. We don’t need a jail. This is not going to help make the Tenderloin better. We need community development, and we need it now.”
One Tenderloin resident said she was forced to move out of 111 Taylor St. last year, when it was still a residential hotel, after the rent was raised from $350 to $450.
“It’s $1,300 a month now,” said another Tenderloin resident, Robin McMurray.
McMurray said the jail makes her fearful when she walks through the neighborhood.
“You’ve got rapists and murderers and all kinds of people in there,” she said.
Not so, according to Richard Frank, vice president of Eclectic Communications, who was watching the protest from inside the locked facility.
“We have no violent offenders and no sex offenders here,” Frank said. “There are no rapists or murderers.” Inmates in the program have been accused of either drug possession or prostitution.
Frank also disputed charges that rents had skyrocketed to $1,300 a month. Rooms are being rented for $360 to $440, he said, depending on size.
But Frank acknowledged his company hadn’t consulted with the community about the new facility, which he said was approved after Eclectic Communications met with city planners.
“We didn’t talk to the community first,” he said. “We could have been more communicative with the North of Market Planning Coalition.”
Since the jail opened in March, he said, company officials have met with coalition leaders several times and asked whether anything could be done. As a result, he said, they are considering getting rid of a check-cashing business in the building and negotiating with the Police Department to take over one corner.
“A (police) substation should enhance the neighborhood,” Frank said.
(Picture) Demonstrators marched outside the facility, which they say is incompatible with the neighborhood.