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Wednesday, June 12, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Court Construction Projects Cut Back

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - After canceling construction projects at seven courthouses in California Friday, a Judicial Council committee will be looking this week to make cuts to the remaining work in the hope of saving one of the axed projects.

The decision to cut seven projects from a roster of 31 was made last month by the council's construction committee. After 22 hours of public hearings, the committee approved 23 projects.

Construction was dropped for Kern County, Los Angeles, Monterey, Placer County and Plumas County. Those that survived include a new courthouse in San Diego, and smaller projects in Willows, Inyo, Nevada City, El Centro, Ukiah, Yreka, Los Banos, Red Bluff, Redding, Santa Rosa, Santa Barbara, Modesto and others.

Committee chair Justice Brad Hill remarked Friday that his committee's deliberations had been excruciating. "We've had courts who have worked on these projects for five to ten years, given a lot of themselves and their court's time and effort and the community's time and effort. And yet we had to tell them and are now telling them and other courts that we simply can't proceed given the new fiscal realities."

Hill told the council, "I hope that one time, just once, I can come bearing good news of some type. I've been here about three times over the past year, each and every time delivering news that none of us wanted to deliver, news that really was crippling to the court construction program, and news that was dismaying to all courts around the state who have crumbling facilities, facilities that are unsafe, not secure, not ADA compliant, and seismically, very, very dangerous. But the fiscal realities are such that we have to deliver this news."

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said word of the emotionally charged meetings last month reached the Supreme Court while in the middle of oral argument.

"As much laser focused as we are during oral argument, we couldn't help but hear about the hearings and how they were going," she said. "This was a very difficult process, I know, having to see eye to eye to your peers and question them about their projects. Desperately needed projects, all of them. And then having to make the hard, difficult decision of reduction and prioritizing these needy projects. I knew it was emotional, I knew it was dramatic. I knew all of it. We heard it."

Cantil-Sakauye said that while painful, the cuts are necessary, "It is about branch management and branch overview and the prudent use of public funds, frankly."

While the council voted unanimously to approve the committee's decision, Hill noted that this may not the end of the road for the seven canceled courthouses. "Hope springs eternal," he said. "And we do hope that it will be able to either obtain the funding or find enough in terms of cost savings to be able to move those court projects forward."

A sub-committee headed by Justice Jeffrey Johnson is set to examine the 23 remaining courthouses in a series of closed meetings this week. "We expect to be able to report additional budget reductions for the next set of projects," he told the council.

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