San Diego County, Central Courthouse

Superior Court of California, County of San Diego

Funded by Senate Bill 1407
Initial Funding Year: FY 2009-2010

San Diego Central Courthouse

Related News

Current Status
This project was completed in October 2017.
Project milestones

View construction webcam

Vital Statistics
Courtrooms: 71
Square footage: 704,000
Authorized total project budget: $555,499,000
More information


American Architecture Award of 2012, Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design

The Superior Court of San Diego County is currently located in multiple facilities in the San Diego metropolitan area, most of which are seriously outdated and deficient. This project will replace the County Courthouse, the Family Courthouse, and the Madge Bradley Courthouse in downtown San Diego. These buildings have been found to be unsafe, overcrowded, and inadequate for modern court operations.

The new courthouse will provide the court's central court district with a full-service, consolidated facility for criminal, probate, family court, and small claims services. It will also bring downtown a small claims calendar from the Kearny Mesa courthouse, improving service to residents of the central San Diego area. This project is the largest to be funded under the Senate Bill 1407 court construction program.

The County of San Diego and the City of San Diego have strongly supported the new courthouse in downtown San Diego. The County and Judicial Council staff negotiated an equity exchange agreement for a site near the Central Jail, approximately 1.4 acres in downtown San Diego bounded by West "C" Street, Union Street, West "B" Street, and State Street. Some parties refer to the site as the "Stahlman Block."

The project includes a bridge between the new courthouse and the Hall of Justice. After completion of the new courthouse, the County Courthouse and Old Jail will be demolished.

The equity exchange agreement includes other features, which include the state assuming liability for any seismic damage. In the exchange agreement, the state will also receive equity to approximately 20,000 square feet of space in the Chula Vista Regional Justice Center, for badly needed additional court operations to address large increases in caseload in southern San Diego County.

California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Compliance

Judicial Council staff are responsible for preparation of an environmental report to comply with CEQA.


August 9, 2010, to September 22, 2010: Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) circulated.

September 8, 2010: Public meeting held.

In response to public comments, council staff completed a Final EIR.

EIR, part 1
EIR, part 2
Appendices A through E
Appendix F
Appendices G-I

On December 15, 2010, Judicial Council staff filed a Notice of Determination, thereby completing the CEQA process.

San Diego Central Courthouse

Trouble viewing this gallery?   Troubleshooting tipsOr view on

Architecture/Engineering Firm

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, LLP

Construction Manager at Risk

Rudolph and Sletten, Inc.

What is the status of the project?

The new San Diego Courthouse was completed in October 2017.


What were the key milestones in designing and building the courthouse?

  • Architects complete schematic design, floor plans, and elevations, illustrating the design through renderings and scale models – July 2011
  • Preliminary plans are approved – May 2012
  • Design phase moves into working drawings – July 2012
  • Working drawings are approved – August 2013
  • Lease-revenue bonds are sold to fund the project's construction – November 2013
  • Construction begins – December 2013
  • Site excavation and foundations completed –October 2014
  • The building's steel frame erected – begins January 2015
  • Work began on the bridge that will connect the new courthouse with the Hall of Justice – February 2015
  • The structure is enclosed – April 2016
  • Grand Opening Ceremony – June 2017
  • The building is completed – October 2017
  • Court business begins in new court building – December 2017


Why do we need a new courthouse?

The Superior Court of San Diego County is currently located in multiple facilities in the San Diego metropolitan area, most of which are seriously outdated and deficient. This project will replace the County Courthouse, the Family Courthouse, and the Madge Bradley Courthouse in downtown San Diego. These buildings have been found to be unsafe, overcrowded, and inadequate for modern court operations. Examples:

  • The County Courthouse and the Family Courthouse are both rated as unacceptable seismic risks. A fault line with surface-rupture potential lies immediately beneath the north tower of the County Courthouse, increasing the risk of major disruption and damage from an earthquake.
  • The County Courthouse lacks a dedicated in-custody transfer system, forcing deputies to escort defendants in chains through public corridors, stairways, and elevators, as well as through private judicial corridors.
  • Courtrooms, judges’ chambers, deliberation rooms, and public waiting areas are located directly above two busy public streets-—B and C Streets—thereby creating vulnerability.
  • The County Courthouse contains asbestos, making even simple repairs very costly.

What is the plan for the new courthouse?

The new court building will house 71 courtrooms in 25 stories, with a total of 704,000 square feet. It will provide a consolidated facility for criminal, civil, probate, family court, and small claims services, with adequate space for court services, administration, security operations, and holding areas, with a secure vehicle sallyport for the transportation of in-custody detainees.

The majority of civil matters will remain in the adjacent Hall of Justice, which will be partially remodeled to enable the two buildings to function together efficiently.

Along with a new public park planned by the City on the current courthouse site, the new courthouse will complement the Hall of Justice and other buildings around it and help to shape the character of an emerging civic district in downtown San Diego.

The court building contains 1,936 fire alarms, 1,270 smoke detectors, 488 surveillance cameras, 11,700 network connections, and 205 wireless access points.

Was renovation considered before the plan to build a new courthouse was decided on?

Because the current County Courthouse is on an active seismic fault, renovation was not an option for this project.

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.

More information:

Judicial Council

Judicial Council Staff

What will happen to the current courthouse when the new courthouse is completed?

After the court occupies the new building, the County Courthouse will be demolished. Judicial Council staff intend to seek a private sector party to do the demolition and develop the properties.

The new courthouse will have essentially the same number of courtrooms as the buildings it replaces. Why is there no room for expansion, particularly for a growing community?

Courtrooms in the new San Diego courthouse will be far more flexible than many of the courtrooms they are replacing, making the new building more efficient and flexible in managing the variety of caseloads it will handle. However, as with all judicial branch capital projects, the number of courtrooms for the new San Diego courthouse was based on the number of judges assigned to the building, including any new judgeships that have been authorized and funded (in this case, there is room for one new judgeship). This approach has been defined by the state executive branch, which approves funding requests, budgets, and scope for all courthouse projects. The state Legislature authorizes and funds new judgeships.

TOPIC MENU--click topic of your choice


Who is the architect on the project?

The San Francisco Office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP was selected to design the new San Diego Central Courthouse. Established in 1936, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP provides architecture and sustainable design services, as well building services, engineering and urban design and planning. The company has won numerous awards from the American Institute of Architecture as well as the American Architect Award from Chicago Athenaeum. Its projects have included the new courthouse for the Superior Court of San Bernardino County and the new federal courthouse in Los Angeles, both currently under construction.

What was the design approach used for the courthouse?

The new building’s design incorporates features historically characteristic of civic buildings, such as a podium which raises the entry off the street and also separates it from the commercial realm, a large interior public space, and an identifiable crown, establishing continuity with the past in a contemporary way.

Where can I see renderings of the new courthouse?

Renderings are posted on the project web page under the GALLERY tab.

Will the new courthouse be energy-efficient and sustainably designed?

This project has been designed to qualify for a LEED Silver rating from U.S. Green Building Council. This is the national standard for sustainable design. The design takes advantage of the region’s climate, employing sunlight to optimize interior day-lighting, and the new building will consume approximately 17 percent less energy than a code-minimum facility.

The new building’s convenient location, in conjunction with the city’s planned redevelopment efforts, will promote pedestrian access and use of public transit.



What is the location of the new courthouse?

The courthouse will occupy approximately 1.4 acres in downtown San Diego bounded by West "C" Street, Union Street, West "B" Street, and State Street. Some parties refer to the site as the "Stahlman Block." The building site was obtained at no cost to the state through an equity exchange agreement with San Diego County.

What was the process used to select the site?

In 2005, the state hired a consultant to evaluate site options and develop a preliminary cost estimate for the new courthouse. The study of potential sites was developed in collaboration with the City of San Diego, the Centre City Advisory Committee, the Centre City Development Corporation, the San Diego Downtown Partnership, and the County of San Diego. The study led the state to pursue the equity exchange option with San Diego County for the Stahlman Block.

Why does the Judicial Council decide where the new court is built? Why isn't this a county decision?

Historically, trial courts functioned largely as county departments, but that changed in 2002, with passage of the Trial Court Facilities Act. This law made the State of California responsible for court facilities statewide, rather than the counties. The law gave the Judicial Council responsibility for facilities owned or occupied by the courts and made it responsible for operations, maintenance, and repairs, as well as site acquisition, planning, design, and construction of capital projects that replace or renovate courthouses. Council staff work closely with each affected Superior Court and justice agency stakeholders throughout the process of replacing or renovating courthouses. By Rules of Court, staff involve the public primarily through the Project Advisory Group, although depending on the needs of the project, public input may be sought at various stages.

Part of the site for the new courthouse currently is a parking lot. What about parking during construction?

The public parking lot and adjacent street parking that will be eliminated by construction contain less than 200 spaces. Based on available alternative parking in the area, the environmental impact report for the project concluded that construction would have less-than significant impact on parking resources in the area.

Why is there no parking planned for the new courthouse?

The current County Courthouse has no dedicated parking for the public. Public parking is accommodated in paid surface parking lots on surrounding blocks and in a nearby public parking garage. Current court policy encourages jurors to ride transit. Nothing will change with the new courthouse. The currently available parking lots within walking distance of the new court building are adequate to absorb its public parking needs. This is consistent with the City’s policy of encouraging transit use in the downtown area. The new building is very accessible by public transit, as it is adjacent to a light rail stop and a few blocks from the transfer hub for regional commuter rail and Amtrak.



Was an environmental review completed for the project?

Judicial Council staff are responsible for environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). In August 2013, council staff completed the environmental review process for the preferred site on 10th Street by filing a Notice of Exemption under CEQA's categorical exemption for an in-fill development project.

Will the new building be energy efficient?

Yes. The building has been designed to consume 17 percent less energy than required by building code. The building’s sustainability features are expected to qualify it to receive a LEED Silver certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.



How is the new courthouse being funded?

The courthouse was ranked as a “Critical Need” in the judicial branch’s capital-outlay plan, making it among the branch’s highest-priority infrastructure projects. It is funded by Senate Bill 1407, enacted in 2008 to provide up to $5 billion in funding for new and renovated courthouses using court fees, penalties, and assessments rather than taxpayer revenues from the state’s General Fund.

How did the state arrive at its budget for the project?

Council staff develop each project budget by first determining the building size, site size, and number of parking spaces. Then it provides this information to a professional cost estimating firm that creates a hard construction cost for the building and site work. To this, staff add all project soft costs, which includes all costs associated with evaluating, selecting, and acquiring a site, analysis required to comply with CEQA, the fee for the architecture and engineering team, geotechnical testing, project management and construction management fees, commissioning fees, and the cost of furniture, fixtures, and equipment.

How can the state afford a new courthouse at all, given current state finances?

To fund desperately needed renovations and repairs, penalty assessments and parking offense penalties were increased, and civil filing fee surcharges were created. This ensured a revenue stream to finance courthouse construction and renovations, promising these projects would be paid for from within the court system rather than drawing on the state's General Fund or local taxes. Once the courthouse is completed and occupied, the same revenue stream will repay those bonds over 35 years. This means that funds from other court jurisdictions will support San Diego’s critical needs in years to come.

What is the impact of the state’s current budget crisis on this project?

Since 2009, $1.5 billion in court construction funds have been borrowed, swept to the General Fund, or redirected to court operations As a result, this project, as with other courthouse projects statewide, has been subjected to several delays, and has been required by the Judicial Council to undergo reductions to its construction budget, overseen by a statewide oversight committee of justices, judges, and public building experts. Funding of future phases of this project depends in part on what happens to court construction funds in future fiscal years.

More than $50 million was trimmed from the project’s construction budget. This cost-cutting effort also required cancellation of a tunnel connecting the new courthouse to the Central Jail as a part of the current project.



Who will build the courthouse?

Rudolph and Sletten, Inc. was selected in May 2010 as the construction manager at risk (CMAR) for this project. The Construction Manager at Risk (CMAR) delivery method provides a guaranteed maximum price. The firm was involved during the design process to provide scheduling, cost, and constructability input and acts as general contractor during construction.

In business for more than 50 years, the California firm of Rudolph and Sletten has completed numerous public projects and will deliver services from its regional office in San Diego. The firm has particular expertise in sustainable construction.

How was the CMAR selected?

The competitive selection process factors in qualitative criteria, such as the firm’s experience, as well as the contractor’s fee. The CMAR is retained early in the project for preconstruction services. Following a competitive bid for all subcontracts and the approval to award, the CMAR becomes the general contractor. Selection criteria included an evaluation of the firm’s plan for outreach to local subcontractors, ensuring that qualified local firms are fully aware of the bidding opportunity, the process, and the timeline.

Why did the Judicial Council approve a project labor agreement on this project?

Because any delay on a project of this size can be costly, Judicial Council staff, working closely with the Court Facilities Advisory Committee, requested that the contractor enter into a project labor agreement (PLA) with the State Building Construction and Trades Council.

The PLA requires that all subcontractors, whether union or non-union, agree to pay prevailing wages (a requirement of all Judicial Council projects), and to follow specific work rules and dispute resolution methods to prevent work stoppages or delays. It does not require subcontractors or their laborers to join a union. The San Diego PLA applied to most, but not all, of the bid packages—those smaller than $125,000 at all bid tiers were exempt.

What are the Judicial Council's policies with regard to local hiring and purchasing during design and construction? How will members of the public find out about these opportunities?

Once bonds are sold for this project and it is ready to be put out to bid, the construction manager at risk will become the general contractor on the project. Prior to the project going into construction, the contractor will conduct an outreach to local subcontractors, ensuring that qualified local firms are fully aware of the bidding opportunity, process, and timeline. All qualified subcontractors, lower-tier subcontractors, and suppliers will be considered.

What are the key milestones in building the courthouse?

  • When the project is in architectural design, a Request for Proposals is issued to find and secure the best qualified general contractor.
  • The CMAR in turn issues bid packages to qualified construction professionals to build the construction team.
  • The construction site is prepared, the foundation is poured, and the core of the building and protective shell are completed.
  • The building is enclosed and infrastructure systems are completed.
  • Interior fixtures and finishes are completed.
  • The newly constructed building undergoes quality control checks and the major systems are tested.
  • The finished new building is inspected and issued a certificate of occupancy.

When will the courthouse be completed and operational?

Construction began in winter 2013, with a ceremonial groundbreaking in spring 2014. Construction was completed in fall 2017.


Contact Info

Judicial Council of California
Capital Program

455 Golden Gate Avenue, 8th Floor
San Francisco, California

Customer Service Center:
888-225-3583 or
© 2018 Judicial Council of California