Wednesday, 24 April 2024

Lakeport City Council hosts discussion on courthouse plans; supervisor, judge weigh in

LAKEPORT, Calif. – The Lakeport City Council heard from a county supervisor and a superior court judge on Tuesday night as they weighed how to communicate with the state about its plans to build a new courthouse in the city.

The council – with Mayor Suzanne Lyons and Councilman Bob Rumfelt absent – would vote to send the state a letter asking for consideration in preserving the city's views.

The state is planning a $53 million courthouse project at 675 Lakeport Blvd., a project that has been in the planning for several years.

The building's design and location isn't yet set – it's not expected to be completed until 2014 – however, a recent discussion of the project's advisory committee that looked at very preliminary plans raised the concerns of Supervisor Anthony Farrington.

Farrington has criticized what court officials said are very preliminary proposals for the building, including locating it at the north end of the property, which would block part of the view from the Vista Point overlook. He wrote an editorial criticizing the plan and also took to the Board of Supervisors a request to send letters to the state and to the city of Lakeport asking that the building be situated differently on the property.

Based on the supervisors' letter to the city, staff took to the council a recommendation to ask the state Administrative Office of the Courts to consider the Vista Point overlook's significance to the community and the potential impact both to visitors and residents if the new courthouse were to obstruct the view.

Councilman Tom Engstrom wondered if the state would listen to the city's concerns.

Lake County Superior Court Chief Executive Officer Mary Smith, on hand with several local and state court officials, told the council, “Where that building will sit is still very much up for grabs.”

Smith said the state does listen to what the community wants. “They have all along,” she said, adding, “I think they very much want us to be happy with this building.”

In his comments to the council, Farrington faulted the state for just looking at siting the building on the property's north side, which he said would impact Vista Point, “a treasure in this community.”

The city of Lakeport has an easement, called a “cone of vision,” meant to help protect the overlook. However, according to Farrington, the cone of vision is only a small sliver of the overall view. “It does not give us the aesthetic projection that we need.”

He said the “northern scheme” for locating the building will cause the overlook to lose as many as 10 parking spaces, in addition to blocking the view of Clear Lake and Mt. Konocti.

Farrington asked the council for a more strongly worded letter than staff proposed that opposed the northern scheme outright. He said the state didn't consider the southern scheme in its environmental document. “To me that signaled, at the most fundamental level, that their minds were made up.”

He went further, telling the council that in taking action, “This is a rare opportunity for us as leaders, it's a unique opportunity.”

Farrington even asked the council to delay a decision on a memorandum of understanding with the state regarding the project – discussed later in the meeting – until the siting issue was settled.

Lake County Superior Court Judge Richard Martin, another member of the project's advisory committee, also spoke to the council, bringing with him a thick white binder filled with documents on the project.

Lake County's new courthouse, Martin pointed out, was listed by the Administrative Office of the Courts as among the top eight courthouse projects in the state.

Martin, who said he's been in Lake County for more than 30 years, told the council, he was tired of seeing Lake County passed over for projects because of its smaller population. “We end up with what's left over.”

The courthouse project, Martin said, was an instance in which Lake County was getting the money to carry out a project that every county in the state wanted. It will bring to the community $50 million, a lot of which he said will be spent locally.

A new courthouse, Martin emphasized, is badly needed. Referring to the Lake County Superior Court's current facilities on the fourth floor of the Lake County Courthouse on N. Forbes Street in Lakeport, Martin said, “It's crowded, it's a horrible facility, it's an accident waiting to happen.”

The Administrative Office of the Courts, he said, agreed and awarded the county the project. “It's an immediate and urgent need, and that's why we got it.”

He recounted the detailed work that went into sorting through several dozen potential sites – a process he said was aided by Lakeport Community Development and Redevelopment Richard Knoll compiling a comprehensive list of prospective sites.

Eventually the committee narrowed the list down to the top three sites, which included the Vista Point Shopping Center property, located within a block of the 675 Lakeport Blvd. site. While the shopping center was listed as a good site, Martin said the owner wanted eight times the appraised value. That site also would have required demolition and extensive drainage work.

“It's an expensive proposition,” he said, and ultimately the current site was selected.

“Personally, I don't really care where they build the courthouse, I just want a safe, adequate place to work,” he said.

The project's previous architects had proposed a building that was eight feet higher than the current proposal, said Martin, adding, “Maybe some people should have paid more attention.”

He said siting the building on the southern side of the property has major issues, including the easement covering the view and a sharp bend in the road that would make it difficult to get a fire truck or bus into the facility, which he said was a “deal killer.”

Martin assured the council that the project was still in its preliminary stages, and that every one of the decisions so far was voted on by the committee.

He said he had a personal concern that if there is a delay the money for the project won't be there.

Farrington got up to respond to Martin, saying if he hadn't paid attention then others – including Lake County Chamber Chief Executive Officer Melissa Fulton, who was present for the discussion – hadn't either.

“I would rather not have this project if it meant it was going to take away the view from Vista Point,” said Farrington, adding he wouldn't be surprised if most of the contractors and materials came from outside of the community.

Fulton told the council that she preferred to take the positive approach. While she didn't realize the building would be so tall, she said the community needed the courthouse. “We need it for our current needs and our future needs.”

She said the last thing she wanted to do was slow down or lose the building project. Orienting the building on the property's southern side was possible, and wouldn't infringe on the view, while the northern scheme would remove 70 to 80 percent of the view.

“We all know what that means to our community,” she said, pointing out that people visit the overlook “in droves.”

She said the Administrative Office of the Courts has asked the chamber for a list of local resources for the project, which she called a “wonderful benefit” for the community.

While Fulton said most of the advisory group didn't want the northern scheme, she acknowledged, “The drawings we saw were less than preliminary.”

Engstrom said he liked the tone of the staff-proposed language, reading it aloud and moving that the council accept it.

During the council's brief discussion, Councilman Roy Parmentier said he agreed with Farrington. “We're a vacation county. Everyone comes up for the views.”

Looking out at the court officials, Parmentier said, “You want to build a building, do it our way. It's our community.”

The council voted 2-1 to approve the letter to the state, with Parmentier voting no, because he wanted stronger language added.

Also relating to the courthouse, the council voted to direct staff to initiate an amendment to the city general plan's transportation amendment and add it to the 2011 Community Development

Department Work Program.

The council then considered a memorandum of understanding with the Administrative Office of the Courts. The document dealt with issues including a concern about legal access from Lakeport Boulevard due to the fact that the property fronts on a portion of land that once belonged to Caltrans and was relinquished by the state to the city.

While the land was relinquished and used for Lakeport Boulevard, the city didn't officially designate it as street right-of-way, according to a staff report. The Administrative Office of the Court's title company concluded that the situation created a potential legal issue regarding property access.

That led to the state asking for a new memorandum, which would grant it perpetual, nonexclusive use of the access area adjacent to Lakeport Boulevard for ingress and egress to the courthouse property.

The city in turn asked that the Administrative Office of the Court dedicate land for a new street right-of-way, which the state agreed to do “if feasible.”

Parmentier took the “if feasible” to mean, “If they don't feel like doing it, they're not going to do it,” adding that he wanted that language taken out.

“Why would it not be feasible?” asked Engstrom.

Anne Ording, the courthouse project manager, said the language was included because, “No one right now has any information on what the road is going to look like.”

Mayor Pro Tem Stacey Mattina asked if the memorandum of understanding was proposed too soon, but Ording said no, that it was needed now in order to move forward with site acquisition.

Engstrom asked Knoll if he was happy with the language. “We prefer stronger language,” Knoll said, adding the city didn't want to be in the position of holding the project up, and that the city may be taking a leap of faith.

Nonetheless, he said staff was recommending the memorandum of understanding be accepted as written.

The Administrative Office of the Courts “is not making this easy,” said Engstrom, who told state officials, “We're taking out the feasibles.”

The language change was approved 3-0.

In other council action, with no public comment offered, the council quickly voted 3-0 to approve a resolution proposing a temporary moratorium on SmartMeter installations in the city; letters to the state supporting the passage of AB 37, which would give consumers the chance to opt out of having the wireless devices; and a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission opposing Pacific Gas & Electric's opt-out proposal, which would charge customers more to turn off the radios within the devices.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at , on Facebook at and on YouTube at .

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