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Governor’s Budget Could Delay Santa Barbara Courthouse Project

Local officials are scheduled to meet this week with a Judicial Council advisory group in an effort to keep plans on track

By Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @magnoli |

Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year would further cut court construction funding and delay some projects for a year, which could affect Santa Barbara Superior Court’s plans for a new criminal courthouse.

Local court officials will be making their case to move forward — again — to a Judicial Council advisory group this week.

The new building would consolidate all eight criminal courtrooms and solve the overcrowding and security issues of the current Figueroa Street courthouse.

It would be built using the 1.3-acre Hayward Properties at 1025 Santa Barbara St., which already has been purchased for the project.

The project long has been approved for Senate Bill 1407 funding, but grant funds have been diverted to the state’s general fund and trial court operations for several years. 

Since SB 1407 was passed in 2009, nearly $1.5 billion of the available court construction funds have been loaned — diverted to the state’s general fund or to bankroll trial court operations, according to the Judicial Council.

Two projects have been canceled, seven have been indefinitely delayed and the budgets have been reduced for the rest, including Santa Barbara’s. 

The Courts Facility Working Group, an advisory group to the Judicial Council, green-lighted Santa Barbara’s modified, smaller project proposal in September in light of those budget cuts.

On Thursday, the Judicial Council could indefinitely delay another four projects — in Fresno, Los Angeles, Nevada City and Sacramento — with a combined cost of $558.9 million.

Scroll down to see the Judicial Court’s Jan. 17 agenda regarding SB 1407.

Brown’s budget, released last week, would transfer $200 million out of the court system’s immediate and critical needs account to support trial court operations.

The transfer would delay some courthouse construction projects up to one year, with final decisions made by the Judicial Council.

“We’re hoping somehow we don’t get delayed for a year based on the latest recommendation from the governor and his proposed budget,” said Gary Blair, Santa Barbara Superior Courts executive officer.

“The big costs for the project are in land acquisition, which we’ve already passed through, and the construction phase, which is after the planning and design stage.”

On Friday, Blair will be presenting the project to the Courts Facility Working Group cost-reduction subcommittee yet again. 

“It’s a presentation to ask them to move our project into the planning and design stage, starting in July,” Blair said.

“We have three options to reduce cost, and think the best option is the most cost-effective. We would build an eight-courtroom building behind the Figueroa building and then knock down the Figueroa courthouse after construction.”

That would eliminate relocation costs — the court could continue operating during construction — and renovation costs.

This plan is estimated to cost $51 million, compared with the original plan’s $151 million, and forgoes any renovations or integration of the current Figueroa courthouse facility.

New construction is much cheaper than renovating a 60-year-old building, Blair said.

The cost reduction subcommittee will make its recommendations to the full Court Facilities Working Group and then to the Judicial Council, which makes the final funding decisions.

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors sent a letter to the Judicial Council in December, urging members to support the proposed project.

“Where we’re at is just basically to survive, but frankly, nobody really knows what the outcome will be,” Blair said. “It’ll all play out over the next few months.”

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

  Judicial Council Jan. 17 Agenda Item Regarding SB 1407 Court Construction Funding by   Giana Magnoli

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