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Site selection, construction of Tahoe City courthouse could be delayed

Old facility not adequate for court’s needs, court executive officer says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Plans for a new courthouse in Tahoe City by 2015 are “up in the air” after a state budget approved by the California Legislature Tuesday. The new building is scheduled to be funded by Senate Bill 1407, which passed in 2008 and authorized the statewide increase in court use fees. The bill approved the issuance of up to $5 billion in lease revenue bonds for 41 courthouse projects throughout the state, including this one. The bonds are expected to be repaid by court fees, penalties and assessments, according to the California Administrative Office of the Courts, which is managing the project. Teresa Ruano, spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of the Courts, said Wednesday the project’s original timeline to pick a site in the next month or so could be delayed until it is understood just how much SB 1407 funding will be impacted by the budget. “This may delay projects,” Ruano said. “We don’t know how much delay will be involved.” Ruano said the Judicial Council of California, which is the policymaking body for the California court system, will meet about the state judicial branch’s budget in mid-July, and after that the AOC might have a better idea of how the courthouse construction will move forward. There is no plan at this point to completely cancel the project, Ruano said. “My understanding is that the only body that would decide to cancel a project is the Judicial Council, and my understanding is they wouldn’t be making those decisions at the meeting in July,” she said. Ruano said the AOC wants to move forward with the project, but may just need to adjust its plans. “I think we really need to wait and see what we have as a plan, and we won’t really know that until the latter part of July,” she said. According to the AOC, the State Public Works Board has approved two potential sites for the building including the Tahoe Tree Company site, which is at West Lake Boulevard and Granlibakken Road in Tahoe City, and the Dollar Hill site at North Lake Boulevard and Lake Forest Road in Tahoe City. The Tahoe Tree Company site is the preferred choice for the building and is a single parcel of privately owned land near other government facilities, according to the AOC. The new courthouse is set to replace the current courthouse in Tahoe City, which also holds space for the Placer County District Attorney’s Office and the Placer County Sheriff’s Office, according to Jake Chatters, court executive officer for the Superior Court of Placer County. The new building is only expected to house the court, Chatters said. The current projected cost of construction, which calls for a 15,000 square foot courthouse, is $27.5 million, according to the AOC. Chatters said there are several reasons why a new courthouse was needed including some Americans with Disabilities Act limitations. “It’s too small,” Chatters said. “It’s an older facility. It doesn’t meet the security standards for a courthouse. Due to its age it’s difficult to both heat and cool. It’s not large enough for us to assemble our juries in that facility.” According to the AOC there is no jury box in the courtroom, and Chatters said when juries are assembled, the court has to lease space to do so. Chatters said the Tahoe court receives about 4,200 new cases a year and there are 6,500 to 8,000 hearings per year at the courthouse. The facility currently has one court commissioner to hear the cases and five staff members as well as one Sheriff’s Office bailiff. “With increased security capabilities we may look at adding additional security staff as well,” Chatters said. The new courthouse wouldn’t hear cases from the Roseville or Auburn courtrooms, because it is set up to serve a particular community, Chatters said. “The intent of the Tahoe courthouse is to serve the residents and citizens of the north-eastern end of the county,” he said. “The intent is to prevent that travel up the mountain and down the mountain.” Presiding Judge Alan Pineschi, of the Placer County Superior Court, said he is grateful to the project advisory group that helped pick out the two potential courthouse sites as well as gathering input from the community about the project. “Their input was invaluable to ensure that we consider not only the needs of the court and legal community but also those of our local citizens, business owners and visitors. While this is only an initial step, we remain excited about the future facility and the improved access it will bring for the residents and visitors of the North Tahoe area.” Placer County Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery, whose district includes Tahoe, said she is “all for” the new facility. “Really the alternative at this point would be to close the existing court,” Montgomery said. “And then we would have to transport people down here to Auburn or to Roseville, and the security implications with that are not even worth thinking about.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com ----------------------------------------------------- New Placer County courthouse in Tahoe City For information and updates about the project, visit courts.ca.gov/5431