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Judicial Council Votes to Move Forward With New Santa Barbara Criminal Courthouse Project

State wants to acquire nearby county parcel for its plan to build new eight-courtroom facility in downtown Santa Barbara


After years of budget cuts and delays, a Judicial Council of California committee on Tuesday voted to pursue plans for an eight-courtroom structure to be built on land neighboring the Figueroa Division of Santa Barbara County Superior Court, .

The proposed facility would consolidate all the Santa Barbara criminal courtrooms instead of having them split between the Figueroa and Anacapa courthouses.

The 2016 design included a four-story building with eight courtrooms, jury services space and court offices.

Cost estimates came in substantially over the $54.2 million budget, which led to a feasibility study of creating a joint court and Santa Barbara County Probation Department facility.

Probation offices are located on the same block as the Figueroa Division, at 117 E. Carrillo St.

Santa Barbara County had sticker shock at the price of its contribution – about $25 million toward the $80 million joint project – according to Judicial Council facilities staff, and opted out of the project.

The joint facility was not feasible due to cost, said Janette Pell, county General Service director.

That court/probation project included a 0.23-acre county-owned parcel that is adjacent to the Judicial Council-owned land, and the county is in talks with the state to possibly sell it for the courthouse project.

“The county is in discussion with the courts regarding some type of transaction where the county could make 10,000 square feet of land available at the Figueroa Division Courthouse site,” Pell said.

Preliminary discussions are happening, and final approval would be made by the county Board of Supervisors, she added.

Map showing Judicial Council of California’s property on the block of Figueroa and Santa Barbara streets. Click to view larger
Judical Council of California-owned land, in yellow, includes the current Figueroa Division Santa Barbara County Superior Court facility and will be the site for a new criminal courthouse.  (Judicial Council of California photo)

The parcel, located between the Probation Department and Superior Court buildings, is currently used as parking.

The state-owned 1.8 acres, including the Figueroa Division, is an odd shape, and acquiring the county parcel would allow a typical, rectangular courthouse built behind the current building, limiting court disruption, Judicial Council facilities staff said at Tuesday’s meeting.

A four-story, eight-courtroom building would fit, with two office floors and two courtroom floors, staff said. 

The Judicial Council’s Court Facilities Advisory Committee voted to explore acquiring the county parcel and redesigning the Santa Barbara criminal courthouse project to fit that site, and have one phase of construction. That option is estimated to cost an additional $5.5 million, according to staff. 

The current Figueroa Division building, at 118 E. Figueroa St., would operate as usual during construction and be vacated after the new courthouse is finished. 

Map showing proposal to build a new courthouse south of the Figueroa Division. Click to view larger
A proposed plan for the new criminal courthouse in downtown Santa Barbara includes building the eight-courtroom facility south of the existing Figueroa Division.  (Judicial Council of California photo)

Judicial Council facilities staff said the state may offer the county a stake in the Figueroa Division building, owned by the Judicial Council, as an alternative to paying out of pocket for the county parcel, which is estimated to have a fair market value of $2.5 million.

Santa Barbara County Superior Court Executive Officer Darrel Parker and Presiding Judge Patricia Kelly attended Tuesday’s Judicial Council meeting in San Francisco.

Project history

The Figueroa Division criminal courthouse building was built in 1954 and had renovations in 1990 and 2006, according to a 2010 feasibility report for the new courthouse project. 

“Despite these renovations, the existing Figueroa courthouse is overcrowded and contains numerous deficiencies relative to security and public access,” the report said.

The Judicial Council facilities page for the project goes into details on those deficiencies:

“The Court has criminal courtrooms in both courthouses, but these courtrooms and supporting facilities no longer function well for criminal proceedings. The Anacapa Courthouse, built in 1929 — a National and State Historic Landmark — lacks entrance security screening. The courthouse also has no holding cells. In-custody detainees must be escorted from the Figueroa Division, across the same street used by court users and tourists visiting the historic courthouse.

Parking lot and property at 1025 Santa Barbara St. Click to view larger
The state purchased the 1.3-acre Hayward Properties for its courthouse project, including this space at 1025 Santa Barbara St.  (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

“At the Figueroa Division, those in custody must travel from holding cells in the basement to the courtrooms through corridors used by the public and court staff. Both situations create serious security risks. In addition, these overcrowded facilities have severe physical, functional, accessibility, and efficiency issues, limiting access to justice for South County residents.”

The new Santa Barbara criminal courthouse project was approved for Senate Bill 1407 grant funding. However, since the bill was passed in 2009, funds were diverted to the state’s general fund or to pay for court operations, and projects including Santa Barbara’s were downsized and delayed.  

The state previously paid $7 million for the 1.3-acre Hayward Properties site at 1025 Santa Barbara St. for the new courthouse project.

At the time of that purchase, in 2011, the plan was for a $151-million, 97,266-square-foot facility.

Noozhawk managing editor 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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