Panel pans new Alpine courthouse plan | RecordCourier.com

Panel pans new Alpine courthouse plan

Staff Reports

A California panel is recommending the elimination of a new courthouse for Alpine County.

The working group is recommending that the Judicial Council direct the Administrative Office of the Courts to continue work this year on the current phase of all Senate Bill 1407 projects except the two one-courtroom courthouses for the superior courts of Alpine and Sierra counties.

“Given the urgency of infrastructure needs statewide, the new and very stringent limits to our funding, and the high expense of these projects, the working group believes that their nearly $50 million combined expense cannot be justified in the current environment,” Administrative Presiding Justice Brad R. Hill of the Fifth Appellate District Court of Appeal said of the canceled projects.

The original price tag for the Alpine County project was $26.3 million. The Sierra County project was $23.1 million.

The working group will recommend that the courthouses in Alpine and Sierra counties be given priority for facility modifications that can alleviate problems in their current courthouses as funding becomes available.

“We need to close a significant budget gap in the courthouse construction program for this fiscal year as well as set future direction for the program in light of unprecedented fiscal challenges for the state as a whole and the judicial branch in particular,” Hill said “At the same time, the working group feels strongly that we must maintain our commitment to facilities infrastructure, as improvements are urgently needed statewide. We believe these recommendations achieve that balance.”

The Judicial Council is expected to consider the recommendations in December.

At its meeting last week, the working group also confirmed an accelerated schedule for engaging a consultant to provide ongoing, independent oversight for the entire court construction program. The consultant is expected to be hired in early 2012.

The 25-member working group was appointed by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye in July after more than $500 million in facility funding was swept to the general fund, borrowed, or redirected for court operations this year. The working group solicited written comments from the 34 courts that have projects to be funded by Senate Bill 1407 as well as public comment, receiving hundreds of pages of letters from local officials and members of the public. The first hour of the two-day meeting was also open for public comment.

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.

The working group’s recommendations are expected to be considered by the Judicial Council at its Dec. 13 meeting. The council can accept, modify, or reject the recommendations, which will be posted on the California Courts website at http://www.courts.ca.gov/policyadmin-jc.htm.

The judicial branch facilities program is responsible for providing local communities in California with safe, secure, accessible courthouses. The infrastructure projects are funded by court users statewide, generate jobs, and contribute to local economies and state tax revenues.