Now Playing

Hall of Justice Befouled with Human Filth. Yes, Again.

An apt metaphor for these troubled times of ours as plumbing gives way.

A sign hanging above the door reads, "The Permit Bureau is temporarily closed due to flooding."


Like Mt. Etna, the Hall of Justice erupts, periodically. Because, like Mt. Etna, the Hall of Justice is very, very old. 

Employees within the building, which houses hundreds of city workers and jail inmates, just sent us photos of human waste being vacuumed off the shiny floors of the structure's hallways. Yesterday pipes apparently burst and disgorged their contents of sewage, creating a biohazard situation and blocking access to the fifth-floor auditorium (putting the damper on any ceremonies or gatherings that may have been held there).  

Why is this happening? Because it’s a day that ends in a “y,” apparently. “This kind of thing happens all the time,” assures a city employee ensconsed within the building. 

The crumbling structure houses a county lockup that has been described by incoming Sheriff Vicki Hennessy as "an 18th-century jail built in the 20th century." It's also the site of courtrooms, court offices, a smattering of police officers, and the office of the District Attorney and his many staffers. The San Francisco Police Department Southern Station was, until this year, housed here, as were many high-level members of SFPD brass. They have since decamped to the sparkling new Public Safety Building in Mission Bay. And none too soon: We are told that janitorial crews are mopping up a fetid mess only one yard from Chief Greg Suhr’s old office. It is currently occupied by some manner of police investigations unit which, no doubt, appreciates the strong odor of ammonia pervading the vicinity.

Other frequent occurrences: urine dripping through the ceiling, periodic flooding, and blackouts. The structure is seismically unsound, coated in lead paint, and chock-full of asbestos. There are free-range rodents here, chewing through the legal files and befouling the desks. The elevators are spotty at best; one worker timed his wait for a lift at three minutes, 30 seconds. 

A political battle is waging between those who’d replace the jail within this dump with a $240 million (or more) new facility and those who’d direct those funds elsewhere. But one point is inarguable: This place, and its frequent inundations with waste and filth, won’t be missed. “This building needs to be demolished,” says an employee within. “Nobody disagrees on that.” 

Have feedback? Email us at
Email Joe Eskenazi at
Follow us on Twitter @sanfranmag
Follow Joe Eskenazi on Twitter @EskSF