Alpine seeks support for reduced courthouse project
October 13, 2011
The article that appeared in The Record-Courier on Oct. 7 was not, unfortunately, completely accurate even though it was sent out by the Judicial Council. Following is a notice sent out to residents of Alpine County by me, with approval from the presiding superior court judge, after the article first appeared.
First, if you have questions about this project you are encouraged to visit this web site http://www.courts.ca.gov/ facilities-alpine.htm
Note that the information on this site is not entirely current. (More current and relevant information can be found in the FAQ portion of the website.)
First of all, the scope of the project has been significantly reduced – we are now looking at 10,000 square feet for the new or renovated project which dramatically reduces the cost of the project. This reduction in scope has the complete support of the local Project Advisory Group. Secondly, the state is now working with the county to come up with a project which would renovate the existing courthouse, bringing it up to modern standards and requirements. Included in the current thinking would be for the State to buy the courthouse and possibly the property between the administration building and the post office (that property would be used for parking by both the county and the court). The state would then renovate and expand the building, bringing it up to current seismic, accessibility, and security standards. and, possibly, include office space for the district attorney, the probation office, and the sheriff’s office as well as the court. It would be a very good thing to have all these offices in the same building. This project concept has the complete support of the PAG and the judges.
Everyone has been under the impression that the funding for this would come from court fines and fees money, not from the State General Fund, that this money had been set aside exactly for this purpose and could not be touched for other purposes. But now it appears, as one person put it, that “what the Legislature giveth the Legislature can taketh away,” and many of the courthouse projects, including Alpine’s, may lose their funding. All projects are under review, and comments from interested citizens are being sought.
The existing courthouse has 2,500 square feet and is utterly inadequate from several standpoints. Lack of security is the primary problem. Security for court personnel, for citizens, for victims, for witnesses. That is the main issue, and regardless of caseload, security for employees and the public is vitally important. There is no secure place to hold in-custody people. Victims and witnesses are often in too close proximity to bad people. There is no ADA compliance. Access, especially for older people and especially in winter, can be an issue. Electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems are all obsolete and inadequate. This building was built in 1928. It is not built to current seismic safety requirements.
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Although jury trials are infrequent in Alpine County, when they are held there is utterly inadequate parking and room in the building to serve all the potential jurors who are called. Recently the jury screening has had to be held at Turtle Rock Park. Recently a Cal-OSHA order forced most of the Sheriff’s Office to vacate their basement offices and move to Turtle Rock Park at least temporarily. The reasons: health and safety issues.
If the state pulls the funding for this project probably nothing will change. The county doesn’t have the money to retrofit the building.
Please send your comments. There is a place on the web site to do this. Please emphasize the large geographical size of the county, the small population (1,000), the fact that 96 percent of the county is government-owned thus leaving a very small base on which to build an economy. We truly are unique, and while in many ways this is something we love about Alpine County, when it comes to a project like this it leaves us at a serious disadvantage compared to other California counties.
Nancy Thornburg is a longtime Markleeville resident.