Friday, March 7, 2003
Superior Court Targets More Courthouses for Savings
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The 10-month-old, $96 million Chatsworth Courthouse could be scaled back and three of the Los Angeles Superior Court’s smallest courthouses could close in an effort to save nearly $2 million, court officials said yesterday.
Closure is just one possible scenario under discussion for the Monrovia, Culver City and Redondo Beach courthouses, which could instead be converted to customer service centers or overflow courts. The Superior Court said in a statement that final decisions on the fate of the facilities are expected by Sept. 1 but could come as early as next month.
“It’s our intention by conducting this review thoroughly to have as little impact as possible on customer service,” Presiding Judge Robert A. Dukes said. “In fact, we may identify ways to enhanceónot reduceóthat service as this review continues.”
The court began efforts last fall to find $57 million in savings in response to an unprecedented deficit. The budget challenge is expected to get far worse later this year when the Legislature passes a recession-year budget.
The state-of-the-art Chatsworth complex was dedicated May 13, 2002 and opened for business June 3. But in a county where the need for new courtroom space is high, the Chatsworth Courthouse was not considered a top priority for the court and was unpopular with neighbors who worried about the impact of large numbers of criminal defendants entering and leaving the building.
The Superior Court now is considering a swap that would move five civil courtrooms to Chatsworth from nearby San Fernando, which in turn would get Chatsworth’s criminal caseload, which would take up three San Fernando courtrooms. That move would allow the closure of Chatsworth’s lockup and the elimination of security costs for sheriff’s personnel estimated at $1 million a year.
A similar move was announced last month for the San Pedro Courthouse, which by next month is to close its courthouse lockup and send its criminal caseload to Long Beach for an expected savings of $612,000 a year.
Other lockup closures were announced last year for the Hollywood, South Gate and Monrovia courthouses. Unlike in Chatsworth, where the community is expected to greet the closure of the lockup and removal of criminal matters with relief, civic leaders and residents in Hollywood and Monrovia complained that closing their lockups would mean less attention to community crime and hardships for local law enforcement officers who will now be taken off the street for days at a time and will have to travel to distant courthouses to testify in criminal cases.
Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton was expected to discuss the possibility of reopening the Hollywood lockup when he spoke last week to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. But the chief said simply that he was willing to participate in discussions with Councilman Eric Garcetti, one of the principal critics of the closure.
Community leaders in Monrovia, where the tiny courthouse formerly housed the now-defunct Santa Anita Municipal Court, expressed concern last year that closure of their lockup was a prelude to closure of the entire facility.
The court confirmed yesterday that such a move was very much on the table, with cases from the one remaining Monrovia courtroom possibly transferred to Alhambra. Another option would be to keep the building open, but only for walk-in filings, traffic ticket payments and other non-courtroom matters.
A similar fate could await the Culver City Courthouse, former home of the Culver Municipal Court. Cases could be distributed among the other courthouses of the Superior Court’s West District, including Santa Monica, Airport, Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles and Malibu.
Closing the Culver City Courthouse completely could save $317,000 a year, the court said.
Los Angeles County leases the Redondo Beach building for $225,000 a year and currently is paying on a month-to-month basis. The Superior Court is the building’s major occupant.
The county and the court are looking at giving up the Redondo Beach lease and sending the caseload of the three courtrooms there to an annex in Torrance, displacing an office of the county Probation Department.
The court and county are studying whether the cost of converting the Torrance annex to courtroom use would be less than the cost of renewing the Redondo Beach lease.
“This action, if taken, would be budget-neutral from the perspective of the Los Angeles Superior Court,” the court said in a statement. “However, it would permit Los Angeles County to spend available funds on a one-time basis to upgrade a county-owned building as an alternative to continuing rental occupancy.”
Most Los Angeles Superior Court facilities are owned by the county, but legislation signed last year allows the county to be relieved of financial responsibility for the buildings, which will become state property.
The court has a presence or is sole occupant in more than 40 county buildings. The court and the county have begun complex negotiations over the terms of the transfers.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company