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May 29th
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Home News Latest Supervisors discuss possible county-owned sites for new courthouse

Supervisors discuss possible county-owned sites for new courthouse

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LAKEPORT, Calif. – The Board of Supervisors agreed this week to send the Judicial Council of California a letter weighing in on possible alternative locations for a proposed new courthouse project, and urging that the project be kept within the city of Lakeport.

The effort to build a new courthouse in Lake County has been going on about eight years years, and in recent years has hit snags due to state budgetary shortfalls.

A property search led the state to purchase a property at 675 Lakeport Blvd., next to Vista Point, in Lakeport.

However, the site – requiring extensive engineering and upgrades due to its hillside location – is now being reconsidered, with court officials reporting that the project costs need to be cut by $6.1 million. The project is currently budgeted at $49.9 million.

County Administrative Officer Carol Huchingson told the board on Tuesday that state court officials contacted her last summer to ask about three county-owned sites: one located in Clearlake next to the South Lake Division courthouse, where small claims and other cases are heard; a parcel located behind the Lake County Jail off of Hill Road in north Lakeport; and another on Bevins Court next to the Lake County Health Services Department in Lakeport.

Huchingson said the Clearlake site is being considered for a transit hub for Lake Transit, and so is not available.

She also noted that officials with the city of Lakeport were working to keep the new courthouse within the city limits.

Sheriff Brian Martin said the site next to the jail could help reduce costs to his department, specifically in transportation and vehicle wear incurred by the back and forth travel to the current courthouse in Lakeport, although he said he didn’t expect it to be an extremely significant savings.

That site next to the jail originally was purchased with the idea of expanding the jail in five different phases, he said.

Martin said the jail is now in its third phase. Recent plans for a state-funded jail expansion were abandoned last year by the county due to its inability to pay for the required staffing and other continuing costs, as Lake County News has reported.

He said if a courthouse was built there it would take away one option for a future expansion, although he noted that, if needed, the jail could expand elsewhere on the property, and he was willing to offer up the site if the state wanted it.

Health Services Director Denise Pomeroy said there are many pros and cons for the proposal to take over her agency’s facility on Bevins Court.

Pomeroy said there are concerns about having enough funding to cover a relocation, adding that traffic already is a concern with her 40 to 50 staffers coming and going each day.

She said she would prefer to stay in the current location, noting that a lot of investments have been made in the property.

Supervisor Tina Scott asked Martin if giving up the property slated for jail expansion would leave him with good or bad options in the future. Martin said he wasn’t sure. He also couldn’t give Scott an idea of a future timeline as far as when an expansion might be needed.

Supervisor Rob Brown said he believes video arraignments could be a solution used by the local courts in the future. “We're well into the 21st century, so maybe the system can be, too.”

“The county's not adverse to the city on this, we're just trying to find options,” said Brown, responding to concerns from city of Lakeport officials. “There has to be a new courthouse, there's no question about that.”

Brown said he didn’t agree with the city if it came down to a matter of having the project in Lakeport or not at all.

He said the current facility, built in 1968, was outdated within 10 years. The building can no longer support the justice system that has developed through propositions and other decisions, said Brown.

Brown said the county offices could move out of the courthouse, but then the state would have to spend the same amount of money to refurbish the building as to build a new facility.

Lakeport City Manager Margaret Silveira that the state is “basically looking for free property” to make up for what it has spent on the Lakeport Boulevard site.

Silveira said the city would be devastated if the courthouse moved outside of its limits. “The city is very, very concerned about keeping it in Lakeport.”

She said a lot of infrastructure has been put in place for courts, said a city location offers convenience to jurors, adding there would be an environmental impact for traffic going out of the city.

While she said state officials told her they build courthouses near jails quite often, they don’t take them out of downtowns.

Silveira said it would be helpful for the city if the county took the jail site off the table, arguing that there is enough space at the Bevins Court location for a new courthouse. A city-owned property nearby, purchased with redevelopment funds, also could be donated. Altogether, that would give the state a 2.5-acre site on Bevins.

Scott agreed that keeping the courthouse in the city limits would be beneficial, but added, “I’d hate to pull something off the table and not give them options.”

Huchingson agreed, saying she didn’t want to make a maneuver that would cost the county the project entirely, adding that even a courthouse outside of Lakeport is better than none.

District Attorney Don Anderson said he also opposed any location outside of Lakeport for several reasons, including costs to his office, travel and mileage.

His office currently is behind the courthouse. “If it's moved out there, we've got no place to go,” he said of the new courthouse.

Additionally, he expected impacts on his office’s Victim-Witness Division and the public defenders. Anderson asked the board to consider the Bevins Court location.

Silveira said she doesn’t think the courts will take the human element into account when deciding on a site. “It's huge to our businesses down there,” she said, adding that having the project be moved to the jail location would be a “disaster.”

The board ultimately took Huchingson’s suggestion and directed her to send a letter to the Judicial Council stating a preference for Bevins Court but also making the site next to the jail available.

Huchingson did just that, drafting a letter on Wednesday to the Judicial Council – a copy of which she shared with Lake County News – that also advises that the county prefers the courthouse project remain within the city of Lakeport.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Huchingson also received the board’s permission to make the decision on whether or not to attend a March 17 meeting in San Francisco on the courthouse project. She indicated in her Wednesday letter that she and Martin both plan to attend.

Email Elizabeth Larson at . Follow her on Twitter, @ERLarson, or Lake County News, @LakeCoNews.

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