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State money grab could delay new courthouse

By PAUL PAYNE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Gov. Jerry Brown’s raid on courthouse construction funds to balance the state budget means Sonoma County will likely wait another year before its aging facility is replaced.

Before the state fund paid by court security fees and fines was depleted of $310 million, officials estimated the new, six-story courthouse near the county jail would be completed by late 2015.

Now, with financial uncertainty, the opening probably will be delayed.

“Realistically, we’re looking at 2016,” said Jose Guillen, the superior court’s executive officer.

And there’s a chance construction could be put off even longer.

When the Judicial Council meets July 22, chief among the topics for discussion will be whether the governing body should backfill construction funds and which of the 41 courthouse projects statewide should go forward.

Guillen said there may be $60million to $90 million available to pay for initial planning phases. Bonds would be issued to cover actual construction costs, he said.

Sonoma County’s Hall of Justice, built in the 1970s, has been deemed too small and unsafe because it lacks a secure way of transporting inmates from the jail to the courtroom.

Criminal defendants are paraded through crowded corridors, often handcuffed together, and sometimes must be walked through internal offices in close range of judges and court employees, Guillen said.

The facility is ranked as an “immediate need” on the Judicial Council’s list of capital outlay projects.

“Our courthouse is one of the worst in the state,” Guillen said. “It’s a time bomb waiting to go off.”

The new courthouse, planned for a newly vacant lot near the jail, will have 15 courtrooms covering a total of 173,000 square feet and cost about $206million, Guillen said.

It will be built on the site of the old county jail, which was razed last year. This fall, county and state officials are expected to sign off on the transfer of the property in a deal that will put about $3.5 million in county coffers.

“We’re on the cusp,” Guillen said. “We need to keep this as our No. 1 priority.”

The construction funds were authorized in Senate Bill 1407, enacted in 2008 to provide up to $5 billion for 41 new and renovated courthouses using court fees, penalties and assessments.

But this year’s budget contained significant cuts that could cause construction delays but are not expected to postpone site acquisition, said Teresa Ruano, a Judicial Council spokeswoman.





5 Responses to “State money grab could delay new courthouse”

  1. Josh M. says:

    Its perfectly fine for its purpose, although not brand new and not shiny as the public employees would want.

    Too bad. We don’t need a new court house. Its just another example of greedy government. That one is only about 40 years old.

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  2. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    The new courthouse is a waste of money. There aren’t enough employees left to man it anyway, as the county has been busy laying off frontline employees. 5 stories, ridiculous.

    Take the money and retrofit our schools and other government buildings if we’re looking at producing jobs.

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  3. Pearl Alquileres says:

    The State giveth & the State taketh away!

    “Government big enough to supply everything you need is big enough to take everything you have. The course of history shows us that as a government grows, liberty decreases.”
    -Thomas Jefferson
    Some things NEVER “change”!

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  4. Pearl Alquileres says:

    @Common Sense
    Correction… it’s like “remodeling your kitchen” on your neighbor’s stolen credit card!

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  5. Common Sense says:

    “Immediate need” Is only important if you are not almost bankrupted! The State and County do not seem to realize that you have to live within your budget! This is like remodeling your kitchen when you are on unemployment.

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

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