‘Hangtown’ Objects to $76 Million Courthouse

      SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Plans for a $76 million courthouse in California’s gold country were approved despite a faulty environmental impact report, a historic preservation league claims in court.
     The Judicial Council of California completed the project’s EIR on June 10 without exploring the harm the new courthouse could do to Placerville’s economy and the environment, the Placerville Historic Preservation League claims in Superior Court.
     “The EIR failed to adequately, disclose, analyze and/or mitigate the project’s economic impacts to the businesses in historic Placerville on Main Street that will lead to urban decay and blight,” according to the July 10 complaint.
     The 88,000-square-foot building would replace El Dorado County Courthouse in old Placerville and could result in several businesses leaving the historic downtown area, the group says. It claims that staff and visitors to the old courthouse account for 5 to 20 percent of the business on Main Street.
     Aside from failing to assess economic impacts, the EIR provides no mitigation for the impact on bird species and rare plants and violates the California Environmental Quality Act, the preservation league says. It also claims the new courthouse could clog traffic in the small town.
     “The findings fail to identify the changes or alterations that are required to avoid or substantially lessen the project’s significant environmental effects,” the complaint states.
     Placerville, pop. 10,000, is in El Dorado County, 40 miles northeast of Sacramento. It was founded after gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in nearby Coloma, setting off the California Gold Rush.
     Placerville was known as Hangtown for several decades.
     As the Gold Rush brought thousands to the region, crimes and murders increased. According to a city history, after an “impromptu citizens’ jury” convicted three men of an unstated crime in 1849, the jury asked what happened next.
     “Hang them!” someone in the crowd shouted. And so it was done.
     The stump of the hanging tree remains, “hidden in the cellar of a bar on Main Street,” according to the city website.
     The new courthouse would hold six courtrooms and has an estimated completion date of 2020. Funding will come primarily from state Senate Bill 1407, approved in 2008, which dedicated $5 billion in bond money for courthouse projects.
     The preservation league asked the court to set aside certification of the EIR and suspend construction. It is represented by Donald Mooney, of Davis.
     The Judicial Council of California did not respond to a request for comment.

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