Funded by Senate Bill 1407
Initial Funding Year: FY 2009-2010
For example, the building lacks secure hallways and holding cells adjacent to courtrooms, so in-custody defendants use the same hallways as the public and staff. Approximately 800 people enter the building each day, using single doors, and all queuing is outside, exposed to the elements. The entrance has room for only one security screening station, so it can take 15 minutes to clear security screening at peak times. The building lacks a jury assembly room, so current juror check-in and assembly take place in the hallways. The court's space is also not compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
The proposed project would replace this space with a new, modern courthouse, improving security with secure and separate hallways for in-custody defendants, court staff, and visitors, and adequately sized in-custody holding. It would also provide much-needed additional space, for appropriately sized courtrooms, a jury assembly room, and other services. The proposed project also includes secure parking for judges as well as 210 parking spaces for staff, visitors, and jurors.
Because of significant, ongoing cuts to the judicial branch budget, this project is indefinitely delayed, based on the Judicial Council's January 17, 2013 decision.
California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Compliance
Because this project is indefinitely delayed, no further environmental work is proceeding. The following information is for historical purposes.
On July 8, 2011, the AOC completed preparation of a Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) in accordance with CEQA for the New Nevada City Courthouse project.
The EIR evaluates two potential sites currently being considered for the proposed project:
Construction Manager at Risk
To be selected, Schedule TBD
What is the current status of this project?
As of the passage of the Budget Act for fiscal year 2013–2014, the new Nevada City courthouse project has been designated by the Judicial Council as indefinitely delayed. News release.
Who owns the Nevada City Courthouse and Annex?
The Nevada City Courthouse and Annex are interconnected and for all practical purposes function as one building. The building is owned by Nevada County. The Superior Court of Nevada County occupies a little more than half of the complex. The Trial Court Facilities Act of 2002 made the state responsible for court facilities statewide. Under the transfer agreement executed between Nevada County and the Administrative Office of the Courts (Judicial Council), the County holds title to the Courthouse, and the Judicial Council has responsibility for the space occupied by the Court.
Who is the Judicial Council, and why are they managing this project?
The Judicial Council is the policymaking body for the California court system, including the trial courts, known as “Superior Courts,” based in each county. Among other responsibilities, the council—through its Capital Program office—is responsible for planning, acquisition, design, renovation, and construction of court facilities. The new courthouse will be owned by the judicial branch.
Why is a new courthouse needed?
The current historic courthouse is a significant town landmark, but no longer functions well as the main courthouse for the Superior Court. The court's current space is unsafe, substandard, overcrowded, and functionally deficient. The state's functional study applying current design standards indicates that the court needs more than twice the square footage it currently occupies. For example, approximately 800 people enter the building each day, using single doors, and all queuing is outside, exposed to the elements. The entrance has room for only one security screening station, so it can take 15 minutes to clear security screening at peak times. The building lacks a jury assembly room, so current juror check-in and assembly take place in the hallways. The building lacks secure hallways and holding cells adjacent to courtrooms, so in-custody defendants use the same hallways as the public and staff. The court's space is also not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Why can’t the historic courthouse be renovated?
The state's study of the Court's needs indicate that there is not enough space in the current courthouse to accommodate the court's basic needs as well as the County's current uses of the building. Even if the County were to move out of the building, renovation of the historic building to current seismic standards, building codes, and current statewide design standards for court facilities is not feasible. The primary impediment to compliance with current judicial branch standards is the requirement for three separate and distinct zones of circulation, one for the public, one for judicial officers and court staff, and one for in-custody defendants and law enforcement officers.
What will happen to the historic courthouse when the new courthouse is completed?
The Judicial Council is currently evaluating whether the new courthouse could be located on the current site. If the new courthouse is located on the existing site, the existing courthouse would have to be demolished. If the new courthouse is constructed elsewhere, the court's space in the current building will revert to County use once the court vacates it; therefore the County will have the option of using the entire building for administrative functions.
If the new courthouse were to be built on the existing site, could it reuse the existing 1937 façade?
The Judicial Council has reviewed this question with the project architect, a historic preservation consultant, and the project’s structural engineers. Their combined analysis concluded that reuse of the facade would not be feasible or appropriate, given the project’s functional requirements, budget, and site constraints.
Who decides where the new courthouse will be located?
In deciding where to locate the new courthouse, the Judicial Council is working closely with the Superior Court and with a Project Advisory Group, which includes court leaders and representatives from the legal community, the Sheriff, and local government (County/City). The Judicial Council follows a standard site selection policy and process. The process involves objectively evaluating all potential sites and selecting at least two sites that meet agreed-upon criteria for the proposed new courthouse in providing access to justice for the Nevada City area, within the confines of the project’s budget and schedule.
The Judicial Council and the Court have identified site selection criteria of greatest relevance and importance to the Court. Working with a local real estate broker, the Judicial Council identified possible sites that met the criteria. All site alternatives were then ranked against the criteria. Once a preferred and alternate site are chosen, the Presiding Judge will sign off on the site selection criteria and the preferred and alternate sites. The site selection must also be approved by the state Public Works Board. Site selection and acquisition typically take a year or more.
Will the new courthouse stay in downtown Nevada City? Within the city limits?
The Superior Court of Nevada County and the Judicial Council recognize the strong community support for keeping the courthouse in downtown Nevada City. We are working with community leaders to explore every option for doing so, and we are pursuing every manner of community collaboration that would be required to meet that goal. However, in keeping with its site selection policy and process, the Judicial Council must seek and evaluate all feasible options for siting the courthouse that fit the court's functional criteria, and options within downtown Nevada City are very limited. Therefore, the Judicial Council's preliminary site search and evaluation has included options outside downtown Nevada City.
How much land is required for the project?
A little less than 4 acres is required for both the courthouse and associated surface parking. The Judicial Council will consider site configurations in which the parking would be nearby but not on the same lot as the building.
Whom should I contact if I know of a potential property for the courthouse?
Please contact the Judicial Council's Senior Real Estate Analyst for this project, Theresa Dunn, email@example.com, 818-558-1245.
How soon will a site be selected?
To keep the project on schedule, the Judicial Council expects to secure site selection approval by the State Public Works Board by fall 2011, which means preliminary site selection will need to be finalized by summer 2011. The Judicial Council typically submits a preferred and an alternate site for approval. Earlier this year, two sites were submitted and approved by SPWB. One approved site, the Forest Service Site, has been removed from consideration, because the long-term lessor is no longer interested in terminating the lease. The remaining site, the Cement Hill site, is still under consideration. This timeline is subject to change.
How will environmental reviews be conducted? Who will be the lead agency for CEQA?
The Judicial Council is the lead agency for environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The Judicial Council is preparing a full environmental impact report (EIR) for the project to ensure the most comprehensive review of the project's environmental effects.
What is the timeline for the CEQA process?
The Notice of Preparation was released on March 4, 2011, and a scoping meeting was held March 22, 2011. The draft EIR was published for public review on July 8, 2011; a 45-day comment period will end August 22, 2011. Another public meeting about the draft EIR will take place on August 9, 2011, to ensure that the community has an opportunity to submit comments. The Judicial Council expects to complete the CEQA process by the end of 2011.
Why is money being spent on a new courthouse when there are so many other local needs and there is a state budget crisis?
The project is funded and managed by the state, not the County, using funds specifically approved by the state legislature for courthouse construction. These funds come from court fees and fines, so new court construction is paid for by “user fees,” not the state's General Fund. The courts comprise the judicial branch of state government, now independent of the County administrative structure. The Court and County share the same building, the County collects court-imposed fees and fines, and the two entities work together in many areas but are separate government entities.
How is the new courthouse being funded?
The courthouse will be funded from statewide increases in court user fees, authorized by Senate Bill 1407, which passed in 2008. This bill approved the issuance of up to $5 billion in lease revenue bonds to fund this project and 40 others throughout the state, to be repaid by court fees, penalties, and assessments.
How will the local community have input regarding the courthouse project?
There are several avenues through which the local community will have input. The court is already participating in community dialogue through the "Save the Downtown Courthouse" committee. A few community leaders are involved as members of the Project Advisory Group. Anyone can join an email list to directly receive official announcements and updates regarding the project; instructions for joining are on the project's web page. As previously noted, the public will also be invited to participate in the project's environmental review process.
How many courtrooms will be in the new courthouse?
The proposed courthouse will include six courtrooms in approximately 83,800 square feet.
Will a new jail be located close to the new courthouse?
As site selection process proceeds, the Judicial Council and the Court may be able to identify and prioritize sites near the existing jail or where adjacent space for a future jail may be possible, along with other important criteria. However, the construction and operation of a new jail would be the county’s responsibility.
Who will design the building?
The Judicial Council’s request for qualifications for this project went out August 6, 2010. The Judicial Council and the Court interviewed a short list of candidate firms. In January 2011, SmithGroup was selected as the architecture firm for this project. Architectural design cannot begin until site selection and acquisition are complete.
Will the project hire local contractors and use local suppliers?
When the project is in architectural design, the state will select a construction manager (currently scheduled for 2012). The construction manager will perform local outreach to ensure that qualified local subcontractors and suppliers have the opportunity to bid on construction work when that phase nears. Construction is scheduled for early 2014 through summer 2015.
Will the new courthouse be energy-efficient and sustainably designed?
Yes. All courthouse projects to be funded by SB 1407 are being designed to receive LEED Silver certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. This is a national standard for sustainable design, and energy efficiency is among its key criteria.
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