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$27M Placer Tahoe courthouse plans could be mothballed “indefinitely”

Panel recommends seven courthouse project delays, including Tahoe City’s
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - Plans for a new $27 million courthouse in Tahoe City by 2015 are on track to be mothballed indefinitely. After a series of public meetings, a committee on court facilities is recommending to the Judicial Council of California that the Tahoe court project be “indefinitely delayed.” The Tahoe project, first announced in mid-2010, was to have opened in 2015. At the time, it was ranked as “an immediate need” by the judicial council. The council is composed of judges, attorneys selected by the state bar association and legislative representatives. The Tahoe City courthouse project, along with others in Los Angeles, Glendale, Santa Clarita, Delano, Mohave, Monterey and Plumas County, will be considered for postponement at the statewide panel’s Oct. 26 meeting in San Francisco. Jack Chatters, Placer Superior Court CEO, said Thursday that Placer County’s justice system wants to move forward on the new courthouse. It would replace a 2,000-square-foot building that has been characterized as severely undersized and deficient in some security areas. “While we’re disappointed in the recommendation by the working group, we remain hopeful that the judicial council will reconsider the project and allow us to look at cost-effective solutions,” Chatters said. “We do believe that it can be built for a lower cost. And the need for an improved facility is very clear.” Another 17 courthouse projects – a list that includes eight in construction and nine in working drawings through different funding sources – will be moving forward under a bill passed by the state Legislature in 2008 that provides up to $5 billion in funding for new and renovated court facilities. Funds come from court user fees rather than the state’s general fund. Justice Brad Hill, chairman of the Court Facilities Working Group that made the recommendation earlier this month, blamed deep cuts to the judicial branch budget. “Our working group was left with the deeply difficult and disappointing task of delaying necessary court construction projects that would have gone ahead under a better fiscal environment,” Hill said. Hill said he could still commend courts that had made deep cuts to their own project budgets and other courts that have pledged to make significant additional cuts. Placer County Superior Court has instituted reduced operating hours and limited service days over the past four years expected to save the court between $700,000 and $750,000 during the current year. In Placer County’s latest cost-cutting measure, announced in August, it will close public filing windows two hours earlier on Fridays, starting Oct. 5. The new 1 p.m. closures will be at the Santucci Justice Center in Roseville, the Tahoe City Courthouse and the Juvenile Courthouse. Hill did hold out hope that projects like Placer’s could go ahead in future years. “Since funding for court construction comes out of court user fees, we hope that next year the branch’s funds won’t be swept as they have been over the last two years, and that all courthouse projects, including those that have been delayed, will be able to move forward immediately and become a reality for the communities that so desperately need them,” Hill stated. The delay could give time for discussion with Placer County on a building that would also house a Sheriff’s Office and jail facility. Placer County Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery, whose District 5 includes the Tahoe area, said Thursday that the county CEO’s office, the Placer Sheriff’s Office and the Board of Supervisors would prefer to keep the court and law-enforcement facilities combined. “I know that Sheriff (Ed) Bonner has sent a letter to the Court Facilities Working Group in support of funding the Tahoe Court,” Montgomery said. “The CEO’s office and I are working on additional letters of support to go in to the working group Friday. I very much want to see a grand jury report next year that states the county and the courts are working collaboratively toward a new combined facility in the Tahoe Basin that safely serves the needs of Eastern Placer County residents.”