Courthouse Delay Official; No Funding on Horizon

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el centro courthouse
An architect’s rendering of the new Imperial County Courthouse, as viewed from Wake Avenue.

SAN FRANCISCO — The construction of Imperial County’s new courthouse is officially on indefinite hold.

The decision was made final—and with apparent reluctance–by the full California Judicial Council on Aug. 26. Meanwhile, the state Legislature ended its summer session on Aug. 31 without acting to patch the funding gap causing the statewide halt of new court construction.

The council “approved recommendations from its Court Facilities Advisory Committee that the schedules of active new courthouse projects be modified and put on hold until adequate funding can be restored,” according to a press release posted on its website, courts.ca.gov.

The link is http://newsroom.courts.ca.gov/ news/council-approves-complete-next-step-then-hold-plan-for-new-courthouses.

The action put a hold on 17 court construction projects statewide, including Imperial County’s, according to the website. Work was allowed to continue on courts already being built.

The Facilities Committee made its suggestions at an Aug. 11 meeting. It heard a presentation from Imperial County Superior Court Presiding Judge Christopher Plourd seeking to preserve funding for the proposed $48 million courthouse near South Eighth Street and Wake Avenue in El Centro. The judge argued it is vital to the court’s ability to provide secure and efficient service.

The new courthouse would have opened in 2019. There is now no timeline for resumption of the project, even though construction was to begin in January. The state court already owns the land on which it will be built and the architect and a general contractor were chosen, said Tammy Grimm, Imperial County Superior Court executive officer.

The delay may also affect a controversial preliminary decision by the Judicial Council to close the Superior Court branch in Brawley upon the opening of the new courthouse. That decision is not expected to be made until “until 2020 or 2021,” Grimm said.

Plourd said the legislature is now the only hope for courthouse funding.

“To me, this is in the hands of the Legislature. If they act, we get the funding and there is a need,” Plourd said in a recent interview.

Recent press releases issued from Assembly Member Eduardo Garcia, whose district includes Imperial County, did not include any on proposed legislation for courthouse funding. His office was not immediately available for official comment.

But the Judicial Council appears none too pleased with the situation, according to its press release on the closure vote. It stated Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature bled the court of construction funds to pay for other court operations the state could not cover during the fiscal crisis of several years ago. It also cited a decline in court revenues, such as those from traffic fines, that are also used to finance construction.

“The days of being able to limp along are over,” Justice Brad Hill, chair of the Facilities Committee and a state appeals court justice, stated in the press release. “We are out of money and there is nothing we can do at this point, short of getting that money back.”