Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Three Courthouse Construction Projects Receive Funding
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Three more courthouse construction projects financed by Senate Bill 1407 received initial funding authorization yesterday by the State Public Works Board.
The board’s approval marks the official start of the projects to build a new Santa Barbara criminal courthouse, renovate 25 courtrooms in Fresno County, and expand and renovate the Willows courthouse in Glenn County.
Authored by Sen. Don Perata, D-Oakland, and signed into law in 2008, SB 1407 is supposed to provide a $5 billion lease-revenue bond financed entirely through increases in court-related fines and fees for 41 projects identified by the Judicial Council as being in “immediate and critical need” of completion, making them among the highest priority capital-outlay projects for California’s judicial branch, a spokesperson for the Administrative Office of the Courts explained.
Construction on the first 15 projects began last July and another 11 projects were authorized in December. The spokesperson said the AOC plans to request funding for the remaining SB 1407 projects by this summer.
Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge Charles “Tim” McCoy has repeatedly called on the AOC to divert funding from SB 1407 in order to preserve court operations.
Faced with a $79.3 million deficit for the fiscal year that began last July that is expected to grow to $140 million for the next fiscal year and remain at that level for the foreseeable future, the Superior Court is preparing to lay off 329 employees on April 1 and shutter several courtrooms.
However Chief Justice Ronald M. George issued a statement supporting the continued courthouse construction yesterday, in which he called courthouses “as vital a part of California’s infrastructure as bridges, highways, and water systems,” and insisted that “[i]t is time to adequately fund this fundamental component of the infrastructure of our democracy” since “[p]ublic safety and the interests of 38 million Californians require it.”
The AOC spokesperson also stated that the projects “offer valuable economic stimulus in local communities” with the three most recently approved projects creating more than 6,000 direct and indirect jobs as they progress through design, construction and completion.
Expediting the courthouse 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,” she added.
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. This first authorization enables the AOC to proceed with site selection and acquisition, environmental review and preliminary plans.
Courthouse construction projects typically take approximately five years from start to finish, the spokesperson said.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company