Just four months after seven California courthouse projects were indefinitely
delayed, the remaining 23 projects statewide will again be re-evaluated for suspensions in progress, including Nevada County’s proposed courthouse revamp.
“I think my response would just be a sigh,” said Nevada City Councilman Robert Bergman, also an attorney, who has for three years fought the state on the project’s size, scope, location and, most recently, if the courthouse project would happen at all.
In September, Nevada City’s courthouse was not cut from the list of 30 courthouse projects that were all re-evaluated after $50 million was diverted from the courthouse construction fund to the trial courts.
Subsequently, the Administrative Office of the Courts affirmed intentions to study Nevada County’s plans to renovate the existing courthouse sometime over the next six months in documents submitted to the Judicial Council, the policy-making body for the state’s judicial branch.
“I thought there was a fair chance that we would get approval of the project,” Bergman said.
However, Nevada County’s is not the only courthouse project in the state, some of which are nearing completion, such as the Long Beach courthouse, scheduled to open in fall 2013.
Payments for Long Beach’s project were to be appropriated from the state’s general fund as per legislation passed in 2007, with the first bills due in August 2013, according to the Judicial Council.
“All indications are that there will not be general fund dollars available next year to pay for (the Long Beach courthouse),” wrote Appellate Court Justice Brad Hill, who leads the facilities group overseeing courthouse construction, in a Monday email obtained by The Union.
Instead, the necessary $600 million will be paid using the remaining courthouse construction fund that was supposed to fund the 23 statewide courthouse projects, including Nevada County’s.
“The problem here is this is all a bait-and-switch kind of move. It seems to be a common practice now that the governor and the legislature feel absolutely free to hang the rules and deviate from previous commitments whenever they feel like it,” said Sean Metroka, Nevada County Court’s chief executive officer.
Since its 2008 enactment, nearly $1.5 billion of funding from Senate Bill 1407, intended to finance courthouse construction bonds, have instead been borrowed, transferred to the state’s general fund or redirected to court operations, according to the Judicial Council. Now that dwindling pot of funding has an unanticipated $600 million project to fund.
“I’m not so upset because it may mean we get nothing,” Metroka said. “What has me upset is there is an apparent fundamental belief from the state that this is OK. I think this is terrible.”
Hill’s facilities group will meet Dec. 13 to make recommendations on which projects will be prioritized to continue with those recommendations needing subsequent approval by the Judicial Council — the same process that axed seven courthouse projects in September.
“We are, unfortunately, left with only one alternative under this scenario,” Hill wrote. “Until we receive an appropriation to fund Long Beach payments … the branch has a responsibility to move forward with only the projects that we can afford.
“This, I know, is devastating news.”
Added Metroka, “That’s a lot of counties that will continue to have dilapidated and unsafe courthouses.”
In 2009, the AOC determined the Nevada City courthouse is “unsafe, substandard, overcrowded and functionally deficient.” However, plans on how to alleviate that prognosis, which shifted from completely demolishing and replacing the courthouse perhaps elsewhere to simply renovating it, drew the ire of locals.
This fall, Metroka was part of a group of Nevada City and county officials who crafted a compromised renovation plan that was a departure from what was originally budgeted as a $108 million rebuild of the 148-year-old facility that sits overlooking downtown Nevada City. It called for six courtrooms and the support office space in the two existing structures that brought the project down to an estimated $65 million.
Concurrent to the re-evaluations, Metroka said Nevada County’s proposal is proceeding with the Office of Courthouse Construction and Management to analyze the $65 million courthouse.
“Whether we have that money in two years, that is where the prospect gets really dim,” Metroka said. “I can think of other things that will happen to that money before it gets to this county.”
After Hill’s group meets from 9 a.m. to noon Dec. 13 in the Judicial Council Boardroom, located at 455 Golden Gate Ave. in San Francisco, projects recommended to proceed will be posted on the council’s website, Hill stated.
“Some may get put on hold again,” said Teresa Ruano, a Judicial Council spokeswoman.
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4236.
“The problem here is this is all a bait-and-switch kind of move. It seems to be a common practice now.”
— Sean Metroka,
Nevada County Court’s chief executive officer