Thursday, October 3, 2002
Courthouse Legislation Signing Puts Heat Under San Bernardino Project
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The landmark legislation signed Monday by Gov. Gray Davis to shift responsibility for trial court facilities from county governments to the state imposes a Jan. 1 deadline on the San Bernardino Superior Court to put in place a plan for renovating or replacing its earthquake-vulnerable Central Courthouse.
Davis signed Senate Bill 1732, authored by Sen. Martha Escutia (D-Whitter), which establishes a process by which responsibility for state trial court facilities would be turned over to the state.
San Bernardino Superior Court Presiding Judge J. Michael Welch said that under the bill, local courts must have “something in process” before that date in order to earmark for local use revenues generated by an expanded $35 assessment on civil filings. Assembly Bill 2022, authored by Assemblyman John Longville (D-Rialto), expanded the number of civil cases to which the fee could be applied, and was signed last month by Davis. A vote of the Board of Supervisors is required before it can be implemented.
“It’s important we get in place something to take advantage of the Longville $35 assessment,” Welch said. “It must be attached to something in progress; a contract, or a work in process.”
This week’s signing, he added, “puts the impetus on the county to go forward” with plans to retrofit the courthouse, or run the risk of having the state decline to take responsibility for the building.
Under the Escutia bill, counties and the Judicial Council will negotiate the transfer of state court facilities on a “building-by-building basis.” The legislation outlines the circumstances under which the Judicial Council could refuse to take ownership of a building - including the existence of seismic deficiencies.
The Central Courthouse, built in 1926, has been identified as presenting a significant earthquake hazard. A seismic study released in 1996 indicated the building was likely to “pancake” in a major earthquake, similar to the way the Oakland Freeway collapsed in the Loma Prieta quake. The report also highlighted an increased probability of earthquake activity in the region.
In 1999, legislation was approved allowing the county to assess a $35 fee on civil filings where the amount in dispute exceeded $25,000. That assessment generates $900,000 annually, and has raised $1.6 million, so far. Renovations to the building are expected to exceed $11 million.
The Longville bill increases the number of cases subject to the $35 assessment. A legislative analysis of the Longville bill estimated it would affect an additional 31,500 cases annually.
County administrative officials are currently “trying to put together a comprehensive package for the temporary and permanent relocation” of court staff that will be required during a courthouse renovation, Welch said.
The bill signed Monday by Davis was co-sponsored by the Judicial Council and the California State Association of Counties. It stems from the Trial Court Funding Act, which transferred funding of the state’s trial courts from county governments to the state.
The Escutia bill sets forth a detailed process for handling the transfer of court facilities from county governments to the state, and establishes a Court Facilities Dispute Resolution Committee to mediate disputes between county governments and the state in facilities transfer negotiations.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company