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Redwood City Residents Protest ‘Toxic’ Jail on Earth Day

Protesters say the new jail project at 70 Chemical Way is “environmentally and socially toxic.”

In white haz-mat outfits and yellow cleaning gloves, Redwood City residents protested a new jail project Monday, saying there are too many unanswered questions about how the chemicals in the soil will impact future inmates. 

“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,” said James Lee, co organizer of the event.

“We’re protesting mainly to bring attention to the fact that the people who will be housed here are low income, people of color,” Lee told Patch.

Redwood City officials broke ground on the new jail on July 13, 2012. The project, which was relocated from downtown to the outskirts of town, is expected to cost more than $500 million. 

About 20 people from the Occupy Redwood City social movement gathered at 70 Chemical Way at 11 a.m. on Earth Day. Some held up a signs that declared their disapproval of the project. 

“Jail are environmentally and socially toxic,” read one sign. Another sign, held up by an individual in a charcoal-colored gas mask, reads, “Build Strong Communities, Not Jails.”  Large construction vehicles dotted the dusty site behind them. 

Some members of Occupy Redwood City say they protested today because City Council of Redwood City colluded with the county to make money off the project at the expense of human lives.

"Not only did the City Council make it clear that they were willing to welcome a new jail so long as it wasn't in downtown, we also have heard from our local contacts who have been following the issue since before ORWC's inception that the mayor at the time, Jeff Ira, worked to make sure that friends of the council who owned land on Chemical Way received millions of dollars during the city's purchase of properties this toxic site,” said Jess Hansen, Occupy Redwood City member.

At the groundbreaking ceremony in July, Redwood City Mayor Alicia Aguirre told the crowd that she was pleased that the city and county could agree on the jail’s new location. 

Patch could not reach Mayor Aguirre for comment by publication time; we welcome her perspective on the matter.  

Councilmembers Rosanne Foust and Barbara Pierce were also present at the groundbreaking ceremony, as were as all five members of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors at the time. Undersheriff Carlos Bolanos, Assembly member Jerry Hill, Redwood City Mayor Alicia Aguirre and California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) Secretary Matt Cate were also there.          

That day, Sheriff Greg Munks called the new jail a “place a hope” which will have more inmate programming like culinary training, a dog training program and de-centralized computer labs to reduce recidivism and reintegrate former inmates back into society

Today, James Lee said that while he is glad that Redwood City cares about the state of downtown and making it a positive, welcoming place, he wishes that they would care equally as much about sustainable building.  

“We hope that they will in the future show the courageous leadership needed and stop making these environmentally poor decisions that only entrench racial and class disparities in our community,” Lee said. 

"This Earth Day, we hope people ask the City of Redwood City why they are content to approve and facilitate the building of jails that will continue to drive their own working-class and minority communities out of the very city's heart that they are trying to promote, and into toxic sites tucked away from the wider public's scrutiny."


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