San Mateo County residents protest toxic jail on Earth Day

by Emily Harris, Californians United for a Responsible Budget

Redwood City – In commemoration of Earth Day, community members from around San Mateo County gathered outside of the new jail site and the County Center wearing hazardous materials suits and gas masks to illustrate the toxic nature of the new jail. Carrying a giant banner that read “Jails are Socially and Environmentally Toxic,” they spoke about the ways a new jail will harm communities and the environment as well as draining the county’s budget of desperately needed resources. The new jail project will cost $160 million to build and $30 million each year to operate, and the county has not yet secured the needed construction funds.

CURB-Earth-Day-rally-Hall-of-Justice-Redwood-City-against-toxic-jail-042213, San Mateo County residents protest toxic jail on Earth Day, Local News & Views “This particular jail is being built on a toxic waste site, and it is still unclear what kind of health impacts from remaining toxins might occur for people who are forced to live in this building for 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” says Raphael Sperry, of Architects, Designers and Planners for Social Responsibility. Sperry was the lead author of the “San Mateo Countywide Guide to Sustainable Buildings.”

“What is clear is that we are taking people who could be living safely in their communities – great majority poor people and people of color – and putting them into a situation that is proven to exacerbate mental and medical health problems, break up families, cause financial distress and isolation, and guarantee a future of discrimination in finding jobs and housing. That is entirely unsustainable.”

The site of the proposed new San Mateo County jail was so permeated by volatile compounds that the Department of Toxic Substances Control declared the land too hazardous for residential use, causing the county to engage in a massive and costly cleanup of the site, but a Human Health Risk Assessment of the site has still not been conducted.

“As a resident of this county for 24 years, I am disgusted that the Board of Supervisors is continuing to move forward with this toxic jail project,” says Natalie Fowler, resident of Redwood City. “To this day there hasn’t been an opportunity for meaningful public input on whether this jail should be built, so today we’re giving it anyway: San Mateo doesn’t want, doesn’t need, and can’t afford a new jail.”

Emily Harris, statewide coordinator of Californians United for a Responsible Budget, can be reached at