California overrules Alpine Courthouse plans
December 12, 2011
Despite descriptions of infestation by insects, rodents and bats, and security that couldn’t prevent a break-in by a bear, the state of California’s Judicial Council officially canceled the Alpine County courthouse project on Monday, citing high cost and small caseload.
The cost-cutting will save the state’s court construction fund more than $26 million.
The council has directed its staff to work on a plan to address future needs for the courthouse as a facility modification as money becomes available.
In a letter, Alpine County presiding Judge David DeVore said the courthouse has no holding cell and no storage for records, and no place for attorneys to confer with clients.
“Most of the records are in a rented storage facility in a Nevada town some 25 miles away,” DeVore said. “The upstairs entrance requires navigating two separate sets of steps and an uncovered walkway which is impossible for those with disabilities under any circumstances.”
DeVore called trials “security nightmares,” in his letter.
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“Our building and courtroom do not accommodate the number of jurors we must summon for even modest matters, and the parking is inadequate to handle their cars, which requires us to rent from the county a meeting hall several miles away where we must set up a rough courtroom using folding chairs and tables, and additional security for the remote and vulnerable setting.”
DeVore is concerned the cancellation will prevent the court from even being able to rehabilitate the court’s present building.
“There presently are only two private parcels suitable and potentially available, in addition to the possibility of acquisition and rehabilitation of the existing building,” he wrote. “The latter is the preferable option to our court, the AOC team, our Public Advisory Group. Much work has been done to make to proposed project acceptable to the county, and if not pursued to fruition that option may be lost forever as the county has expressed an interest in rehabilitating and using the building for its own purposes. The private parcels are listed for sale and if both do sell and the county determines to convert the building for its use the prospects for finding a suitable location would be virtually nil.”
The courts sought to reduce costs after the California Legislature redirected $310 million in judicial branch funds set aside for courthouse construction to the general fund. The bill increased fines and fees to help raise money to pay for courthouse construction. Since 2009, more than $1.1 billion in funding originally designated for courthouse construction has been borrowed, swept to the general fund, or redirected to court operations.