prison.jpgWhen Michael Hennessey first ran for sheriff of San Francisco and was elected in 1979, he vowed to tear down a dilapidated county jail.

As his last act in office 32 years later, Hennessey finally did it, helping today to take a wrecking ball to County Jail 3, the shuttered San Francisco-owned jail down the Peninsula in San Bruno.

Hennessey announced last February that he would not seek reelection. Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi was elected in November to take over the post.

“It’s very exciting,” Hennessey said of the demolition.

Before the wrecking ball smashed into the building with the help of a large crane, Hennessey christened the wrecking ball with a bottle of sparkling cider.

“The jail served the city well for many years but it was well past its prime,” he said.

The jail opened in 1934, and over the course of the next several decades, it began to deteriorate and was housing more prisoners than it was built to hold.

After San Francisco tried to pass two separate bond measures in 1992 and 1994 to replace the jail but did not receive the necessary two-thirds vote, a federal judge eventually ruled in 1996 that the conditions at County Jail 3 violated prisoners’ constitutional rights against cruel and unusual punishment.

The Board of Supervisors then authorized in 2000 the construction of a new jail on the property, County Jail 5, which opened in 2006.

County Jail 3 finally closed that year and was slated to be demolished in 2008, but is only now finally being razed.

Hennessey said a lack of money was the key reason why it took so long to get rid of the jail.

“Jail construction costs a lot, and frankly, jail destruction costs a lot too,” he said.

Hennessey said he started working at the old jail as a lawyer in 1974 and “it was a crappy jail then.”

He said he remembered crews having to place a net below the ceiling of the jail’s rotunda to catch large pieces of concrete that were falling five stories to the ground below.

Mirkarimi also attended today’s demolition and called it “a perfect segue” between the two administrations.

He blamed the demolition delays on “the red tape that had handcuffed the city … having it take three decades-plus to really get the building demolished is hopefully something of the past, and it doesn’t take me three decades to get my policies implemented.”

Mirkarimi said city officials have yet to decide on what to do with the open space on the property once the jail is razed, and joked that it could be the site of a new 49ers stadium.

“Think about it, it’s in between San Francisco and Santa Clara, and it’s on San Francisco property,” he said. “The possibilities are endless.”

Hennessey’s last day in office will be Sunday, the day of Mirkarimi’s inauguration.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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