Fact Check: Court Facility Maintenance and Repair

Recent media reports have contained errors and misleading statements about courthouse facility modification planning and costs. Get the facts here.

The big picture

The judicial branch serves the public in more than 500 buildings statewide. Many of these buildings suffer from significant deferred maintenance—a legacy of neglect reaching back years before they were transferred to the state.

Termite Damage

Water Damage

Inaccessible and Outdated Public Facilities

Funding facts

  • Because of the state's fiscal crisis, funding for repair and renovation projects was cut 40 percent this year.
  • The current repair budget is only $30 million, inadequate for statewide needs.
  • Compared to industry standards, the judicial branch facility management program this year is operating at a shortfall of $124 million.

Y axis: $ per square foot; X axis, left to right: Current funding: $1.86; Industry standard: $3.16; Estimated deferred maintenance need: $7.96Only emergency repairs and the most urgently needed projects will get funded. Many safety and security issues will be left unaddressed, and many building systems will deteriorate further.

Maintenance funding was also cut, requiring reductions in such tasks as graffiti removal, pest control, and landscaping. Many preventive maintenance tasks that keep building systems functioning will also be deferred.

Purpose of annual list

The annual list of prioritized projects is a compilation that supports long-term planning. Such compilations are common industry practice. The list is requested by the Judicial Council and published each year. The list:

  • Provides a rough order-of-magnitude estimate of needs statewide
  • Serves as one of several ways the AOC assesses the condition of the facilities portfolio
  • Does not represent a funding request or indicate a commitment to do any of the listed jobs at the listed cost

The AOC has compared the total deferred maintenance figure, $700 million, derived through this list to other industry-standard methods of estimating maintenance needs on a portfolio this size, such as dollars per square foot, factoring in the condition of the buildings. The deferred maintenance estimate is entirely consistent with the size of the portfolio and the poor overall state of many court buildings.

At its December 2011 meeting, the Judicial Council directed the AOC to revamp the list and resubmit it to the council. That work is under way.

Where estimates come from

Cost estimates in the annual project list are extremely preliminary. They come from a variety of sources:

  • Entered by the requester. More than a thousand people, including local court staff statewide, can enter requests and estimates.
  • From building assessments, in which rough estimates for identified work are derived from a database of standard costs for components, code requirements, and relevant metrics such as square footage.
  • Some entered as placeholder figures for certain types of work.

It isn't possible or necessary at the preliminary stage to verify all requests and refine these estimates. As they rise in priority, projects are further scrutinized and estimates are carefully vetted before they are submitted for approval.

Commonly cited examples

None of the examples frequently cited have been authorized, funded, or completed by the AOC, as shown below:

$2,500 to paint a closet

  • Estimate included  installation of electrical wire, switches, and lights as well as painting
  • Never authorized nor funded
  • Court did work themselves
  • Project closed and removed from list after last publication

$3,000 for anti-graffiti film on restroom mirrors

  • Estimate involved installing anti-graffiti protective film on mirrors in seven restrooms
  • Film prevents mirrors from being permanently marked, requiring replacement, which would be more expensive, and from being shattered and turned into weapons
  • Graffiti abatement is important in courthouses to maintain impartiality and dignity, but is of lower priority than other needs
  • Never authorized nor funded

$4,500 to remove dead branches from a tree

  • Estimate included removal of one dead tree, removal of dead branches from eight other trees, and deep-root feeding for nine trees
  • Low-priority project has been deferred
  • Never authorized nor funded

$19,000 for flooring in sheriff's breakroom

  • Estimate included removing old flooring, bead-blasting concrete surface, applying sealer, and installing vinyl tile and rubber base
  • Work would have been done after hours to mitigate impact on court operations, requiring overtime
  • Because of its low priority, project deferred
  • Never authorized nor funded

$54,000 for battery packs/lights

  • Building-wide project would include lighting, batteries, and wiring of emergency lighting 
  • Current system dates from 1998 and has a normal lifecycle of 10 years
  • Estimate was based on the building's square footage and code requirements for emergency exit lighting
  • Priority 3 project has been deferred due to funding limits
  • Never authorized nor funded
  • Prior to execution, the AOC would evaluate what percentage of the wiring actually needs replacement

$155,000 for kitchenette remodeling

  • Estimate was for remodeling all kitchenettes in Sacramento's main courthouse, not a single kitchen
  • Need was identified during a building-wide assessment; preliminary estimate was based on building's size and industry standards
  • Project was assigned a Priority 5, the lowest priority for this type of work
  • Never authorized nor funded
  • This building will be remodeled after the new Sacramento Criminal Courthouse is completed, so this item remains on the list to be considered as a part of that remodel

$210,000 to pave a parking lot we don't own

  • Project was requested by the court during negotiations with the landlord for a long-term lease on the parking lot
  • Work would have included repair and improvements to an overflow dirt parking lot due to current safety hazards
  • Lease negotiations stalled, so project was placed on hold. Final scope never completed
  • Never authorized nor funded
  • The court's lease for the parking lot was terminated, and the court requested that the project be cancelled after publication of the list. Project since removed from list of prioritized projects
$8,000 was spent on gum removal

The six-day project, which was requested by the Sacramento Superior Court and had the court’s involvement and approval, involved pressure-washing and steam-cleaning of more than an acre of walkways and plaza to remove gum, feces, urine, and dirt in preparation for treating a slick walking area to remove slip and fall hazards. More info

$21,000 was spent in Los Angeles for parking lot lighting

This project was requested by the court to resolve a safety hazard, as many lights at the Los Angeles Airport Courthouse parking lot were burnt out. It involved installing 48 long-lasting, energy-efficient halide lamps and required lift equipment and weekend work. More info

What's the reality?

  • Only emergency, critical, and the most needed repair projects are currently being funded
  • Non-emergency, critical projects recommended for funding are thoroughly vetted and carefully budgeted

Oversight and governance

  • The Judicial Council sets policy for the facility management program, such as its prioritization methodology, and reviews progress and funding annually.
  • The Court Facilities Working Group, formed in July 2011, provides ongoing, high-level oversight of facility management as well as courthouse construction.
  • Facility modification project funding decisions are reviewed by the Trial Court Facility Modification Working Group: four judges and three court executive officers appointed by presiding judges and court executives statewide.
  • Major projects must get approved in advance by this statewide working group.

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