WatchSonoma Watch

New courthouse in Santa Rosa clears key hurdle


Construction of a new $174 million courthouse in Santa Rosa received a huge boost Friday from state court officials, who also blessed plans for new facilities in Lake and Mendocino counties.

Members of the state Judicial Council meeting Friday in San Francisco approved construction plans for the three facilities, which have been delayed for years because of the state’s budget crisis.

“This is a historic moment for us,” Jose Guillen, the executive officer of Sonoma County courts, said Friday.

The courthouse plans for Santa Rosa call for a six-story, 169,342-square foot facility at the county administration complex near the current Hall of Justice. It would replace a 48-year-old facility officials say is outdated, undersized and unable to be fixed.

Sonoma County courthouse.

Sonoma County courthouse.

The new facility will feature modern security that allows for the safe transport of inmates through a tunnel connecting the courthouse and jail, as well as a larger jury assembly area and deliberation rooms, a children’s waiting room and an in-custody holding area. It also is designed to be earthquake-safe.

“We in Sonoma County can certainly use a new courthouse. The security measures in place are woefully inadequate,” District Attorney Jill Ravitch said Friday.

Gov. Jerry Brown could still thwart the plans, depending on whether he can resist raiding a $290 million statewide construction fund as he has done in the past to balance the budget.

Court officials said it’s a positive sign that Brown’s preliminary budget, released Thursday, left the fund intact. A total of 15 projects are dependent on the money.

“It’s promising that the governor did not propose this time, for the first time in a few years, using money for those 15 projects,” said Teresa Ruano, a spokeswoman for the state courts.

The projects are funded through 2008 legislation that increased fines and fees to support $5 billion in bonds to build or renovate 41 courthouses in 34 counties.

That same year, a state feasibility report described the Hall of Justice in north Santa Rosa, which opened in 1966, as overcrowded and unsafe, and recommended replacing it.

The county administration complex site was selected with little public input over another proposal to put it in downtown Santa Rosa at the site of the main post office on Second and E streets. Advocates said the latter would have given courthouse visitors access to more amenities, while critics raised security concerns with transporting inmates across town.

Construction on the administration complex site was supposed to start in 2012 and be completed two years later. The start of construction is now slated for December 2016, with completion in March 2019, assuming all goes according to plan.

The state purchased the 6.8-acre property from the county in 2012 for $5.2 million. The purchase included the former jail site and two sites to be used for parking, the 3-acre county Fleet Building site on Ventura Avenue and a 1.3-acre parking lot on Russell Avenue.

Local officials scaled down the project’s size in an effort to appeal to members of the Judicial Council subcommittee tasked Friday with identifying further cost reductions to projects in the construction pipeline.

The building’s size was reduced by more than 4,000 square feet and the number of parking spaces reduced by 44 to 406. The number of holding cells for inmates awaiting court appearances also was reduced from 30 to 10.

The plans still call for 15 courtrooms and a jury assembly room that can accommodate up to 300 people. The facility would consolidate criminal, traffic, juvenile dependency and probate proceedings.

The project architect is New York-based Richard Meier & Partners, the firm that designed the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, among other notable structures.

The actual construction costs of $148 million are roughly $9 million more than originally budgeted. Guillen blamed that on delays with the project.

Ken Gnoss, presiding judge of Sonoma County courts, said Friday the new design is something county residents “can be proud of.”

Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Rene Chouteau presented the final plans Friday in San Francisco, along with a project manager and planner from state courts.

State officials Friday also cleared the way for a $121 million courthouse planned for downtown Ukiah and a $55 million facility planned for Lakeport.

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @deadlinederek.

14 Responses to “New courthouse in Santa Rosa clears key hurdle”

  1. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Please be aware that this is not county money this is state money. It will bring jobs to the county which is a good thing. The money is designated to build courthouses and the county will not get it to use for any other purpose even if that purpose is badly needed.

    It’s an all or nothing thing, take it or leave it offer. So we should take it and put the trades to work. That’s an economy stimulator.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  2. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    I was initially against having a new courthouse but I’ve changed my mind. We need jobs in this county and the courthouse will be built by local union people. I say hurray! and hurry! Too made trade’s people out of work right now because of the Republicans shutdown of the government last year that delayed construction on a lot of projects.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  3. James Bennett says:

    You would think “the key hurdle” an expenditure like would require is the approval of the people.

    Afterall, they are our employees, that work for us.

    Sorry…crazy talk…I don’t know where I came up with that…civic’s class?

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  4. Coral says:

    Prison Nation; Google this and get a different perspective…..

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  5. Coral says:

    I have passed through many small cities in Ca. and have seen many new justice complexes which seem way to large and magnificent for the small communities…

    Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  6. Steveguy says:

    Some math from the article. $350 Million for 3 Courthouses locally. That is a lot of money, a ton of money. $55 Million for Lakeport ?

    Then there is the discrepancy between the $174 M and the $148 M ” actual construction costs”. That is $26 Million, where does that go ?

    Did we vote the $5 Billion in bond legislation that increased the ” Fees ” charged to ‘offenders’ ?

    Grapevines said it best. They are building edifices for themselves with ” free money ” extracted by the Police State. And thanks for the portcullis mention.

    This is sick, sick and twisted. It’s over.

    Thumb up 12 Thumb down 2

  7. Grapevines says:

    Well it certainly shows where the concentrated efforts of our local judicial system are centered.

    174 million dollars for “transport of inmates through a tunnel connecting the courthouse and jail,(maybe they will relocate the defunct train from Howarth Park so they get a thrill as well), as well as a larger jury assembly area and deliberation rooms, a children’s waiting room and an in-custody holding area.

    What we really mean is that District Attorney Jill Ravitch and company get fancy new offices and softer chairs to cushion their already overly fat from the public dole bottoms.

    And what do we, the tax payer for this get? Better control of gangs and crime that continue to plague our neighborhoods? Not a chance! Stricter sentencing of offenders to reduce the urge to recommit crimes against the public? Yea when pigs fly. How about just requiring those convicted to serve the time sentenced? Nope gotta let them out early so they can go commit again and keep the lawyers employed.

    Lets just call this what it is. Some over compensated bureaucrats who besides wanting to suspend constitutional rights about meeting and protesting conditions on the courthouse steps, now what to build a palace to what they think is their greater glory.

    They could care less about the crumbling infrastructure surrounding themselves and probably would equip it with a moat and portcullis if they thought we’d allow it.

    Who votes these jerks in??

    Thumb up 18 Thumb down 3

  8. Jim says:

    Glad to see the economic recovery has filled the pockets of the government to the point they can waste $170+ million. At least well know that the project will be only that since the government never goes over budget on projects or underestimates.

    @ The Hammer….
    I think the plan is to let the roads fall apart to the point where they can’t be driven on so everyone has to take the train. That’s the only way anyone will ride the thing.

    Thumb up 15 Thumb down 3

  9. Papa ESoCo says:

    “The project architect is New York-based Richard Meier & Partners, the firm that designed the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, among other notable structures.”
    Gee, couldn’t they find a more expensive firm? Will we be getting the Taj Mahal of Courthouses?
    Oh, Steveguy; more like a $150.00 ticket ending up costing $450.00. Oh, watch those ticket rates rise exponentially to pay for the new “digs”.
    Will the Judges still be trying to keep us from exercising our Freedom of Speech on the Courthouse steps?

    Thumb up 14 Thumb down 3

  10. Q213 says:

    Why is everybody getting so upset? Haven’t you heard that the Govertment knows what is best for you? Haven’t you heard that we should spend more now and cut back later? Start getting use to this folks because its only getting worse from here unless people start confronting their reps.

    Thumb up 15 Thumb down 3

  11. Steveguy says:

    Can anybody charge them with taxpayer rape ?

    Thumb up 22 Thumb down 3

  12. Steveguy says:

    A $174 MILLION remodel ? That is why a $20 ticket turns into $120 real quick.

    They they are always crying for no money to actually run the courts ! I sure would like the fancy hardwood and polished brass contracts. This is a prime example of the over-reaching Judicial Industrial Complex. Literally.

    Thumb up 16 Thumb down 3

  13. James Bennett says:

    You don’t need a master’s degree in finance to understand that this a bad fiscal decision at this time. This is a want, not a need.

    Sprinkling gas on the fiscal fuse.

    There’s space for modular office space, they could annex the Marie Callender’s site at Chanate and Mendocino (they’ve been jacking potential business applications at the site anyway).

    All roads lead to financial collapse anyway, is this just sealing the deal?

    Again, the part that folks much smarter than me don’t get is this:

    The Agenda is about deliberately crashing us.

    Because their global construction plans aren’t about remodeling America.

    Their plan is about building a whole new structure.

    So, there’s demolition to do.

    That’s what we are witnessing.

    The carefully orchestrated, socially engineered demolition of America.

    Our ‘public servants’ were identified and installed based on their willingness to go with the program.

    With a promise that their future in the new government will be assured.

    A narrow, selfish decision that will too prove…


    Thumb up 22 Thumb down 5

  14. The Hammer says:

    This should be the last place monies are spent. Fix the damn roads first. What’s wrong with these officials. Have they forgotten what they were elected to do? $174 million will go a long ways to help the community.

    Thumb up 21 Thumb down 4

Leave a Reply