OAKLAND -- Alameda County officials want to launch a $3 million state-of-the-art center to guide ex-criminals back on their feet, away from trouble and toward jobs and housing. First, though, they need a place to put it.
A spacious building in a "willing neighborhood" with bus lines and a nearby BART station is the ideal spot for the 24-hour, seven-days-a-week Alameda County Transition/Day Reporting Center, said Probation Chief LaDonna Harris.
While three potential sites -- two near downtown Oakland and one near Fairmont Hospital in San Leandro -- have been identified, county officials see drawbacks to each one. A fourth Oakland site has emerged as another possibility, officials said.
The center's mission will be to counsel recently released jail and prison inmates and re-integrate them into society by providing an array of services -- from computer literacy to driver's licenses and mental health care -- in one friendly spot.
"It's comfortable, it's not stigmatized; they'll know it's a safe and supportive environment," Harris said. "The goal of the transition center is you have to work hard at failing."
Creating such centers is a California trend since a 2011 prison realignment law shifted the responsibility of overseeing thousands of low-level offenders from overcrowded state prisons to county jails and probation officers. Alameda County has taken in more than 1,200 ex-offenders since October 2011 as a result of realignment. More than half landed in Oakland.
People who lived behind bars for years can be overwhelmed by the directions they get from probation officers to seek needed services at various government and nonprofit offices across the 14-city county, Harris said. So placing many of those amenities in one safe spot "makes it that simple for people who have a desire to be successful, to have everything they need to get on the right path," she said.
Day reporting centers recently opened in San Francisco and Modesto. Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties are exploring similar concepts. Alameda County is using state realignment money to secure the property and build the center but will staff it with existing employees from probation, social services and other county agencies. The county is about to begin a search for a community-based organization to run the operation.
While touting the planned one-stop shop as "an enormous benefit to whatever community this lands in," Harris acknowledged that she and other county officials have had challenges finding the right location.
Plans are for a building that can accommodate about 20 clients daily in its first months and eventually as many as 100. Still being debated is whether the center will include overnight beds for a handful of people who need to spend the night.
Three county-owned buildings identified earlier this year all have disadvantages: One, near Fairmont Hospital in the hills above San Leandro, is hard to reach by public transit, especially at night. A second East Oakland property, at 2425 E. 12th St., is a mile northwest of the Fruitvale BART station and also presents access problems.
Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson prefers a third site in the heart of downtown Oakland at 393 13th St., an empty building across from the landmark Tribune Tower.
"It really should be extremely accessible, minimizing excuses," Carson said.
But that site met resistance from other county supervisors who argued a center for recovering inmates didn't fit in with the city's central business and office district.
County officials are now scrutinizing a fourth site, the former Oakland State Garage for towed cars on 27th Street between Broadway and Telegraph Avenue. Once advertised as a prime spot for high-end condominium development at the northern edge of the city's revitalizing Uptown district, the 1950s-era warehouse is nearly 29,000 square feet and sits on major bus lines. Neighbors include a church, the Alameda County Family Justice Center for domestic violence victims and the old Sears Roebuck building where Gov. Jerry Brown lived when he was Oakland's mayor.
Across the street is the Humanist Hall, where members of the 79-year-old progressive haven said this week they welcomed a center for former inmates but wondered how it would affect the wedding receptions they host.
"We're pretty friendly to the working class, the underclass, people trying to get their lives back together," said David Oertel, the church hall's president, but the "yuppie people in the condos" nearby are going to "freak out."
Contact Matt O'Brien at 510-208-6429. Follow him at Twitter.com/Mattoyeah.