OAKLAND -- After a fruitless yearlong search for the perfect spot to put a drop-in resource center for people leaving jails and prisons, the Alameda County Probation Department is back to where it started: 400 Broadway.
Instead of emptying out its dreary Oakland headquarters at the gateway to Jack London Square, which would have freed up prime real estate for commercial or residential development, the department plans to keep a presence in the building.
And it will refurbish a rear annex, transforming it into the Alameda County Transition and Day Reporting Center -- a friendlier place for probationers to get their lives in order.
"It will have a variety of social services, employment services there," said Dennis Handis, chief of staff for Alameda County Probation Chief LaDonna Harris. "The intent is to make it a family-focused facility. They won't have to leave their children behind."
The move is a turnaround for Harris, who along with prison reform advocates had talked of keeping the transition center separate from where former inmates check in with their probation officers.
The resource center will still be set apart, with its own entrance along Franklin and Fourth streets, but the two buildings are linked by an enclosed footbridge.
Some administrative work at the probation office will be shifted from Broadway to a building on Jackson and 11th streets, near Oakland Chinatown. The building at 1111 Jackson was also going to accommodate visits by probation clients, but county officials halted that plan after parents at the nearby Lincoln Elementary School and another school said they did not want former criminal offenders loitering outside.
The Alameda County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved up to $6 million for designing and building the new Broadway transition center and renovating the Jackson Street building.
"An extensive site search for the new center over the past year has been unsuccessful," said Aki Nakao, interim director of the Alameda County General Services Agency, in a letter to supervisors explaining the Broadway location.
Handis said creating a comfortable, welcoming center for probationers on Broadway will take significant work. The decades-old complex sits adjacent to Interstate 880.
"It's an old building with asbestos and things in there," Handis said. "It needs a body of work, there's no doubt about it, to make it usable."
Some activists who preferred sites in downtown Oakland were surprised by the change of plans, but several said they have come around to the idea of locating a re-entry center at the longtime probation building.
One benefit is the short walking distance from the North County Jail, said Sheryl Walton, a volunteer for Oakland Community Organizations who has been participating in planning meetings for the new center over the past year.
"It should have a feeling of recovery and it should feel like a new beginning is getting ready to happen, a kind of campus environment where they can move around and feel free as they receive their services," Walton said.
The planned center is the result of a 2011 realignment law that shifted from state prisons to counties the responsibility of handling many low-level offenders. Several counties, including San Francisco, have already opened resource centers to help guide former inmates back to society.
"I think folks are hoping that wherever it is, it provides the right services," said OCO organizer Brandon Sturdivant. "It's about time for the site to be found and get up and running."
Alameda County Supervisor Richard Valle had last year proposed opening a second transition center in the Hayward area because of the large number of probationers there, but he said Friday the cost of fixing up the Oakland building will make a second site unlikely.