The Santa Barbara County Superior Court’s proposed Figueroa Street courthouse project has been scaled down since the state trimmed funding for this and other projects funded by 2009’s Senate Bill 1407.
At a meeting last week, a state Judicial Council advisory group recommended that seven projects be indefinitely delayed and more can move forward, but with their revised, lower-cost proposals.
The judicial branch is trying to compensate for its $544 million in budget cuts by reducing construction project costs.
“It’s all just in a state of flux right now; we’re just dealing with a very difficult situation,” California courts spokeswoman Leanne Kozak said, adding that most of the proposals presented at last week’s meeting were different from even a few months ago, since there is even less money available.
Santa Barbara’s original plan for a new criminal courthouse on Figueroa Street was a $151 million, 97,266-square-foot facility that would consolidate the criminal courtrooms and adds jury-deliberation rooms, a self-help center, a waiting room for children, a larger holding area for jail inmates, and a parking facility.
Courts Executive Officer Gary Blair and presiding Judge Brian Hill presented a modified, smaller proposal to the Court Facilities Working Group, which unanimously voted to green light the project.
“It’s a huge victory for us so far,” Blair said. “It is a recommendation, it’s not final until the Judicial Council acts on it (at its Oct. 26 meeting), but we have good reason to believe they will adopt it.”
They proposed a 65,000-square-foot facility would be two stories instead of three, but would still consolidate all eight courtrooms and solve some of the “horrible security problems” from escorting in-custody inmates across public hallways, sidewalks and streets, Blair said.
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 new facility would be built and connected to the existing Figueroa Court building, which would then be renovated.
“I think we salvaged the project and had some really tough competition statewide. Everyone has a problem with security, but I think ours is unique when look at the situation of having to walk in-custody prisoners on a public street past five buses unloading international tourists.”
All inmates are held in the basement holding cells in the Figueroa Street courthouse, but some have court hearings in the Anacapa Street courthouse and have to be walked across the street.
The new holding facility would be at least doubled to deal with overcrowding – it’s only certified for 60 people and sometimes holds twice that many in a day – and give more flexibility to segregating the inmates by gender, seriousness of crime, or other classifications.
The biggest difference in the revised proposal is the project would move forward without trying to purchase the Garden Street property from Santa Barbara County for parking, which would save the cost of the acquisition and parking facility.
The project lost $20 million of funding in April, and the new proposal would save another $17 million or so, Blair said.
Scroll down for a full list of draft recommendations by the Court Facilities Working Group.