|A rendering of the proposed Lakeport courthouse in Lakeport, Calif. Courtesy of the Administrative Office of the Courts.|
LAKE COUNTY, Calif. – As the state’s judicial branch continues to grapple with budget cuts, a working group subcommittee has continued to trim costs on courthouse projects across the state, including the proposed new building for Lake County.
The Administrative Office of the Courts intends to build a 50,000 square foot courthouse at 675 Lakeport Blvd. in Lakeport.
The Lake County Superior Court currently is headquartered on the fourth floor of the Lake County Courthouse at 255 N. Forbes St., where about 15,000 square feet are used by the courts, according to court officials.
The current courthouse building, which dates from the late 1960s, has a number of shortcomings, and the increasingly crowded conditions have made a new Lake County courthouse a state priority.
While a number of projects have been cut or delayed – in late October the Administrative Office of the Courts said it would pause seven courthouse projects, with another four proposed for delay earlier this month – Lake County’s proposed new courthouse has continued to survive rounds of cuts to the courthouse construction program.
The most recent projected cost for Lake County’s new courthouse is $55.9 million, however that number is being reduced.
Earlier this month, the Administrative Office of the Courts’ Court Facilities Working Group subcommittee charged with reducing courthouse construction costs met for two days to consider ways to trim the budget for Lake’s project, as well as three others in Glenn, San Joaquin and Fresno counties.
That subcommittee reported that it has so far been able to identify $45.2 million in budget reductions for more than the dozen projects it has reviewed.
When it met Dec. 13 and 14, the subcommittee found more than $3.1 million in savings for the four projects. The specifics of the cuts for the four projects weren’t stated in the Administrative Office of the Courts’ report on the meeting.
The Administrative Office of the Courts said those savings are expected to increase as each of the projects undergo further review.
“All courts are expected to make cuts to their budgets without compromising safety, security, quality, and the public’s access to justice,” Justice Jeffrey Johnson, chair of the subcommittee and Associate Justice of the Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, in Los Angeles, said in a written statement issued after the meeting. “It’s a difficult process, but the courts have willingly stepped up to the challenge, attending these meetings well-prepared with thoughtful, constructive suggestions on how to responsibly reduce costs.
For Lake’s project, as for others still in the running, the main challenge now is moving on to the next stage in what is a lengthy and complex process.
Lake County’s project is next to move to the working drawings phase, but it must wait until funding is authorized, based on the Court Facilities Working Group’s latest recommendations.
Courthouse construction projects such as Lake County’s are funded by SB 1407, legislation which is meant to collect up to $5 billion in court user fees to fund courthouse projects.
However, in recent years the state has continued to borrow the money for other uses.
The state judicial branch estimates that by the 2013-14 fiscal year, the Legislature will have diverted nearly $1.5 billion in SB 1407 funds to purposes other than courthouse construction.
Those fund diversions, as well as overall cuts to the judicial branch, guarantee continued delays for courthouse projects statewide.
Email Elizabeth Larson at [email protected] . Follow her on Twitter, @ERLarson, or Lake County News, @LakeCoNews.