In its brief existence, the Community Justice Center — a Tenderloin courthouse created by Mayor Gavin Newsom (despite opposition from legislators and voters) — has had no shortage of controversy.
However, the CJC could become a casualty of the city’s budget crisis.
Progressive supervisors expressed support Thursday for removing $514,000 from the Sheriffs’ Department budget — funding that pays for deputies to provide security at the CJC. With no security, the court cannot function, meaning that if the money goes, so does the court.
The court deals with petty crimes, aka “quality of life issues” such as sleeping on streets, petty thefts and other minor crimes. Instead of fines or jail time, defendants in the court are connected with mental health care, food stamps and other services (and are represented by $200,000-a-year Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who’s staffed the court himself since it opened in March).
A status report on the court was released last week, and can be seen here.
Progressive supervisors have opposed the court since it was suggested. Supervisors David Campos, John Avalos and Ross Mirkarimi, the progressive members of the Board of Supervisors Budget Committee, backed de-funding the court in committee.
Moderate board members Carmen Chu and Bevan Dufty strongly opposed the move. Chu pointed out that the city has a $225,000 a year lease on the court’s Polk Street property; Dufty suggested that the de-funding is political payback aimed at Newsom.
“It’s a real mistake to derail this court and not allow the opportunity for it to make a significant contribution,” Dufty said. “A vote to close the court is a vote for the system as it is now, and I don’t think anyone on this board who is a progressive thinks the system works the way it is.”
“It doesn’t matter if it was Gavin Newsom or Ben Franklin who (opened the court),” he added. “I will not vote for the status quo.”
A spokesman for Mayor Gavin Newsom said the Mayor is “optimistic” that the full Board will continue to fund the court, “a smart alternative” to the Hall of Justice, and that a vote to close the center would not result in political backlash.
“That’s not the way we operate,” Newsom spokesman Nathan Ballard wrote in an e-mail. “We fund programs based on merit alone.”
The court was supposed to handle 45 cases a day, according to a 2008 report; in its first three months it has seen eight or nine cases per day, according to the Budget Analyst.
“We have very hard decisions to make (in budget season),” Avalos said. “This decision is part and parcel of that.”
The full Board will vote on the de-funding motion next week.