Friday, February 11, 2011
Ventura Lawmaker Introduces Bill on Court Construction
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A state legislator from Ventura County has brought forward legislation to subject the State Court Facilities Construction Fund to the Public Contract Code.
Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, introduced AB 314 on Wednesday.
“The Administrative Office of the Courts is currently not subject to the same laws, processes and oversight as other state agencies,” the lawmaker said in a statement. “Now is the time to increase accountability by all public agencies. I am determined to protect taxpayers by introducing legislation to make the AOC subject to the California Contracting Code and all of the safeguards and transparency requirements therein.”
Gorell said the Legislature appropriates about $80 million annually to the State Court Facilities Construction Fund, which is managed by the Administrative Office of the Courts.
The fund, he explained, was exempted from the code in 2003 with the condition that the Judicial Council would adopt internal contracting policies and procedures. While the Judicial Council did consider a contracting policy back in 2007, it was never formally adopted, Gorell said.
A spokesperson for the Judicial Council disputed that assertion, citing minutes of the council’s December 2007 meeting.
The minutes show that the council adopted the Court Facilities Contracting Policies and Procedures recommended by the AOC.
“These policies guide the AOC in a qualifications-based selection process for providing the judicial branch with the best value in products and services during the acquisition and development of court facilities, including design and construction,” according to the minutes. “By soliciting and evaluating products and services using predetermined selection criteria, the AOC seeks to contract for the best value for the judicial branch. The council must act on this proposal because it is required to adopt policies and procedures on such matters under Government Code section 70374(b)(2).”
The spokesperson declined to discuss the merits of AB 314, saying such comment would have to come from AOC lobbyist Curtis Child. Child was not available yesterday afternoon.
Gorell said in his statement that bringing the fund under the code would make courthouse construction and renovation subject to the same rules as other government projects regarding “competitive bidding, alternates, extras, performance bonds, payment bonds, prequalifications, value engineering, design-build, and prompt payment.”
He cited plans for a new courthouse in Alpine County that show the AOC planning to pay over $26 million for a brand new courthouse designed to serve a county of about 1,200 people.
The Alpine Superior Court website says the current courthouse—a one-story building that the court shares with the sheriff and the probation department—is 83 years old, and lacks jury facilities or a waiting room. Although the county’s population has been stable, the court says, the workload of the two-judge court has increased because of greater traffic along three state highways.
A spokesperson for Gorell said the assemblyman was not taking aim at the Markleeville, or any other specific, project but was saying that all public buildings should be built according to the same rules.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charles Horan, a director of the Alliance for California Judges, said the dissident group is concerned with courthouse construction issues but has not taken a position on AB 314.
As a general rule, his group believes that courts should not be exempt “from rules designed to improve quality and reduce cost,” Horan said. But as far as specifics are concerned, he explained, “the devil’s in the details” and the ACJ would have to study AB 314, or any other legislation on the subject, before taking sides.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company