Two Courthouses Axed to Save Dough

California Supreme Court Building
California Supreme Court

The more than 500 courthouses and offices in California’s judicial system have fallen victim to the state’s budget crisis, with the state pulling back $310 million intended for courthouse construction.  To adjust to the new tighter belt realities, the state’s Judicial Council canceled courthouse building projects in two of the state’s tiniest counties but allowed 33 other projects to go ahead, the Judicial Council announced Monday.

Among the 33 projects proceeding are five new courthouses in Los Angeles County, all were approved for purchase of building sites.

The Judicial Council approved recommendations to cancel courthouse building projects in Alpine and Sierra Counties because of their small caseloads and the relatively high cost of the projects, according to the statement.  By killing off the projects the Council saves $50 million.

In addition, all remaining projects were cut 4 percent for $160 million in savings.  Half of that saving comes through a program of self-insurance.

Basic repairs needed on any of the 500 buildings managed by the state judiciary may be delayed.  The repair funds were cut 40 percent this fiscal year, to $30 million, which must pay for any repairs among the millions of square feet of courts and offices.

The state took over control of the county court facilities from local county governments, which had frequently deferred maintenance or repairs before the transfer to the state, according to Judges David E. Power and William F. Highberger, who lead a court committee which over sees repair funding.

 Justice Brad R. Hill, an appeals court judge in charge of a 25-member Facilities Working Group announced the formation of a cost reduction subcommittee to look for ways to save more money on construction and repair projects.  It was Hill’s committee that recommended canceling the courthouses in Apline and Sierra counties along with the other cuts.

“I’m pleased with the Judicial Council’s endorsement of our recommendations,” Hill said in a prepared statement.   

The council is also hoping to win more flexibility from the Legislature to reallocate funds among various facilities needs, such as pulling money from construction savings in one part of the state to be used on overdue repairs in another.

“As it stands today, even as we identify cost reductions in courthouse construction, we have no ability to reallocate those dollars to urgently needed repair projects,” said Judge Highberger.

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