Budget sparks life in court construction, not in Nevada County | TheUnion.com

Budget sparks life in court construction, not in Nevada County

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed the state’s next fiscal-year budget, leading to the release of funds for downtown San Diego’s new $516 million courthouse. But other delayed courthouses are a long way from garnering funding, including Nevada County’s long-awaited project.

Part of that budget for the coming year restores $63 million to the state court system, which judicial officials hailed as a good start but not enough.

“Even with this augmentation, after successive years of budget reductions and actions by the Judicial Council and the courts to offset those cuts, the overall net reduction in branch operational funding since 2008–2009 now stands at $472 million,” reads a statement chronicling the Friday meeting of the Judicial Council, the policy-making body for the California courts system.

“The legislature determines how the budget will be used and how it will all be used for (courts) operations, not facilities,” said Judicial Council spokeswoman Teresa Ruano in a mid-June phone interview with The Union.

The $63 million includes $60 million designated for the trial courts and $3 million in total for the Supreme Court, the Courts of Appeal and the Habeas Corpus Resource Center.

“We are encouraged that the governor and Legislature recognize how years of budget cutbacks have adversely affected the third branch of government and the public it serves,” said Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye in a statement about the then-proposed budget in a June statement.

“… (The) budget is an initial step forward in restoring the cuts absorbed by the branch. We hope that as the state’s economy improves, the branch’s budget will improve so that we can rebuild the kind of access to justice the public deserves,” Cantil-Sakauye said. “After the budget is adopted, the Judicial Council and the newly created Trial Court Budget Advisory Committee will begin to work on the allocation of funds to the trial and appellate courts.”

The Budget Act included the appropriation for construction and authorized a construction budget of $516 million for the San Diego courthouse, the state’s largest court construction project.

The Department of Finance has signed off on the San Diego project to proceed to bidding by construction manager at risk Rudolph and Sletten, which expects to begin subcontractor bidding in mid-July. The lease-revenue bond sale that will finance the project’s construction is expected in the fall.

The new 71-courtroom San Diego Courthouse is badly needed because of serious seismic and security issues and other significant functional problems in the old downtown courthouse. Groundbreaking is scheduled for December 2013, and the Superior Court of San Diego County is scheduled to occupy the building by mid-2016. After that, the downtown Hall of Justice will also undergo remodeling as a part of the overall project. 

San Diego is the state’s largest court construction project, received final approval to proceed to construction.

Nevada County’s courthouse plan is on a much smaller scale. The plans have changed since the Administrative Office of the Courts first determined Nevada City’s courthouse is “unsafe, substandard, overcrowded and functionally deficient” in 2009 and outlined a $108 million budget to either rebuild the 148-year-old facility overlooking downtown Nevada City or possibly move it, a prospect that the town’s municipal leaders have said would destroy its downtown economy.

But as the state’s courts dealt with the loss of more than $5 billion in funding originally planned for statewide courthouse construction projects, the list of court construction projects was whittled down, and Nevada City’s project was indefinitely delayed in January.

In response, Nevada City’s elected officials directed municipal staff in May to pursue an estimated $94,000 feasibility and cost engineering study to kick-start a renovation of the Nevada County Courthouse.

City leaders have contended that any upgrade would benefit all of Nevada County, including the county government, which owns 49 percent of the building; the remainder is owned by the state.

Nevada City has pitched in $30,000 toward the study and tapped Michael Ross and Associates to conduct the study because the firm has performed work for the Administrative Office of the Courts on numerous construction projects. The AOC has said that if Ross completes the study, it will consider his work as its own.

While Nevada City has approached the county’s Economic Resource Council about the importance of the study, no other area agencies have announced allocations.

The Associated Press’ Judy Lin contributed to this report. To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email crosacker@theunion.com or call 530-477-4236. 

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