Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Board Approves Funding for New Glendale Courthouse
McCoy Says Money Would Be Better Spent to Keep Courts Operating
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
Construction of a new Glendale courthouse, along with four other new courthouses across the state financed by Senate Bill 1407, received initial funding authorization yesterday by the State Public Works Board.
A spokesperson for the Administrative Office of the Courts explained that this approval marks the official start of these projects, which include the construction of new courthouses in El Dorado, Kings, Mendocino and Siskiyou counties.
To initiate each project, the AOC must seek funding authorization from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee of the State Legislature as well as the Public Works Board, the spokesperson said, which enables the AOC to proceed with site selection, environmental review and preliminary plans for each project, which are estimated to take five years from start to finish.
The current Glendale courthouse is “significantly undersized and has numerous security problems as well as accessibility deficiencies under the Americans With Disabilities Act,” the AOC spokesperson said.
Due to space limitations, jurors need to assemble at the Burbank courthouse six miles away, and the courthouse does not offer public parking. The courthouse also does not offer a self-help center, and the nearest available resource is more than 15 miles away.
The proposed project would provide a new courthouse for criminal, small claims and limited civil proceedings with eight courtrooms in 99,552 square feet, at an estimated total cost of $123.9 million, the spokesperson said.
Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge Charles W. McCoy yesterday told the MetNews that he was “pleased” that Glendale would be receiving a new courthouse, but asked rhetorically:
“If the court system is going to be rendered dysfunctional by the budget crisis, what good is it going to do any of us to build brand new courthouses?”
McCoy has spent the last month urging the AOC to divert courthouse construction funds to court operating costs, said he was “concerned” that “while I’m calling for a debate on [SB] 1407 as a lifeboat to save the courts operations during the budget crisis, it appears that that money is being committed such that it won’t be available when it is most needed to save the courts.”
In July, the AOC officially began the first 15 projects funded by SB 1407. Another six projects were authorized in November. The AOC spokesperson said the organization plans to request funding authorizations for the 20 remaining SB 1407 projects by May 2010.
SB 1407, authored by Sen. Don Perata, D-Oakland, and signed into law last year, provides a $5 billion lease-revenue bond to help the state upgrade courthouses. The bond measure is financed entirely through increases in court-related fines and fees.
The Judicial Council identified 69 courthouse projects in “immediate and critical need” of completion and voted last October to recommend funding for 41 of those projects through SB 1407.
The AOC spokesperson said that the five projects approved yesterday will provide “valuable economic stimulus in local communities” and that the five projects approved yesterday were expected to create more than 13,000 direct and indirect jobs in the affected local communities.
Expediting construction also enables the AOC to “take advantage of a unique window of opportunity—afforded by the current recession—for reduced pricing on land, design and construction,” the spokesperson said.
According to a “Fact Sheet” from the Administrative Office of the Courts, diverting the funds and delaying the 41 projects slated to receive that money would impair the state’s ability to create 105,000 jobs and cost the state an estimated $300 million in lost buying power for each year of delay.
McCoy, however, suggested that “the damage that will be done to the economy by rendering the courts dysfunctional will dwarf any economic stimulus that will result in Los Angeles from building a new courthouse in Glendale.”
AOC spokesperson Philip Carrizosa said that the AOC “disagree[s] with Judge McCoy,” and insisted that “continuing with courthouse construction and renovation is absolutely vital.”
Diverting funds from court construction “makes no more sense than the state halting all highway maintenance projects during economic downturns or a farmer plowing under his seed corn,” Carrizosa said. “Those are examples given recently by Chief Justice [Ronald M.] George.”
He added that 50 of California’s 58 trial court presiding judges have signaled their support for continuing with the courthouse construction plan, “so they disagree with their brethren in Los Angeles by a wide margin.”
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company