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Judicial Council Delays Santa Barbara Courthouse Project

By Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @magnoli |

The Judicial Council of California has voted to delay Santa Barbara’s plans for a new criminal courthouse — and 10 other courthouse construction projects — for at least a year unless funding is restored by the Legislature, which is unlikely.

Santa Barbara’s project has been long approved for Senate Bill 1407 grant funding, but since the bill was passed in 2009, nearly $1.5 billion of court construction funds have been diverted to the state’s general fund or to bankroll trial court operations. Under the plan approved by the Judicial Council, Santa Barbara courthouse design would be delayed to the 2014-15 fiscal year unless SB 1407 funds are restored.

The new building would consolidate all the criminal courtrooms and use the 1.3-acre Hayward Properties at 1025 Santa Barbara St., which already has been purchased for the project.

As of now, two projects have been canceled and 11 grant-funded courthouse construction projects across the state have been indefinitely delayed because of that money being diverted to other areas. Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed 2013-14 budget would transfer $200 million more out of construction funds, and as a result, cause delays for remaining projects.

The Judicial Council will request funding so projects can proceed, but voted to delay them as a contingency plan.

“We are seeking the return of all or a portion of those funds that were raised from court users for the express purpose of building court facilities,” Justice Brad Hill, chair of the Court Facilities Working Group, said in a statement after the meeting. “We understand the difficult fiscal environment the state is in, but further delay will imperil our vital infrastructure and compromise the safety of those citizens who use our courts.”

The projects that haven’t been outright canceled have gone through cost-reduction efforts to keep moving forward; Santa Barbara’s plan has shrunk significantly during this process.

The Court Facility Working Group’s cost-reduction committee met with Santa Barbara County Superior Courts executive officer Gary Blair in late January to look over lower-cost options for the plans and the group responded positively to the plan to build a three-story, eight-courtroom building behind the current Figueroa Street courthouse.

The full group instead voted to delay the project along with all the others.

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.

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