Santa Clara County, New Santa Clara Family Justice Center

New Santa Clara Justice Center

Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara

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

Architect's rendering of new Family Justice Center

Current Status
This project is in construction with a current expected completion date of 1 Q 2016. 

Vital Statistics
Courtrooms: 20
Square footage: 233,906
Current authorized project budget: $233,267,000 
More information

The Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara, currently provides family court, dependency, and drug court services out of five different facilities. This functional dispersal not only creates administrative and operational inefficiencies, it also makes accessing associated services by members of the public extremely challenging. Many are required to travel between locations to complete their transactions and to go long distances to gain access to treatment and drug-testing services.

These buildings are also undersized and overcrowded, creating challenges for families who must use them. For example, the Family Law courthouse, located on Park Avenue, is a former bank. It lacks attorney/client conference rooms, so confidential discussions take place in public lobbies, in areas separated only by low partitions. There is no space for a children's waiting room in this location. The building also lacks in-custody holding and secure circulation, which means that in-custody detainees must be escorted through public corridors.

The 20-courtoom Family Justice Center will replace six leased facilities and consolidate all family-related services, including Family Court, Juvenile Dependency, and Drug Court, into a single facility. It will include a self-help center, family court services, a child waiting area, and space for justice partners. It will also include a secure central holding area as well as separate hallways for in-custody detainees.


Judicial Council staff, the Superior Court, and Santa Clara County are collaborating on the project. The County donated the major portion of the site, located across the street from the San Jose Downtown Superior Court on the block bounded by North 1st Street, West St. James Street, North Market Street, and Devine Street. Funding for the project comes from SB 1407 funds, court funds, and proceeds from the sale of a vacated courthouse.

California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Compliance

Council staff are responsible for CEQA compliance. A Mitigated Negative Declaration was prepared for the project.


January 19, 2010 through February 17, 2010: Draft report circulated.
February 10, 2010: Public meeting held.
After receiving public comments, council staff completed a Final Initial Study and Mitigated Negative Declaration
On April 12, 2010, staff filed a Notice of Determination (PDF), completing the CEQA process.

May 2015

What is the current status of the project?

The new Santa Clara Family Justice Center is in the construction phase, with an expected completion date in spring 2016. This schedule is subject to change.


Why does Santa Clara County need a new courthouse?

The Superior Court of Santa Clara County currently provides family law, juvenile dependency, child support, and drug and mental health court services out of six obsolete, leased facilities that include an old warehouse and a former bank. These buildings are undersized, overcrowded, and unsafe. They create operational challenges and inefficiencies for members of the public who must access associated services by visiting several facilities to complete their transactions. Additionally, these buildings have significant physical, seismic, accessibility, and logistical problems that prevent the Court from providing adequate and efficient court services to Santa Clara County families and residents. Examples include:

  • Entrance screening space is inadequate to serve the volume of visitors to these buildings; lines of people waiting to enter often wrap around the buildings.
  • Deputies escort in-custody detainees through public corridors and stairways, increasing security risks.
  • Lack of central holding cells in the buildings used for in-custody proceedings means in-custody detainees enter through the same doors as the public and court staff.
  • Attorneys confer with clients, victims, and witnesses in crowded public corridors and less-than-private waiting areas.
  • Most features, such as service counters, courtrooms, and elevators are inaccessible to people with disabilities without assistance.
  • Other issues include inadequate systems for HVAC, mechanical, plumbing, and electrical, and inefficient working conditions for staff.

What was the plan for the new courthouse?

Designed to create a calming, stress free environment friendly to families and children, the new eight-story Santa Clara County Family Justice Center Courthouse will include 20 courtrooms in approximately 234,000 square feet. It will replace the Court’s use of six overcrowded and obsolete buildings, scattered throughout downtown San Jose. The new courthouse will solve the current space shortfall and will include an adequately sized lobby, a self-help center, children’s waiting area, attorney/client conference rooms, court administrative space, and accessibility for people with disabilities. Improved security features will include separate hallways for the public, court staff, and those in custody, adequately sized and separate holding areas for juveniles and adults, a secure sallyport, and an appropriately sized security screening area.

The family justice center is a unique project both in the services that it will provide and the opportunity afforded to share funding of the courthouse between state and local sources. The Santa Clara Superior Court contributed to the pre-design funding and will continue to contribute future funds to help amortize the bond debt. Additionally, the County of Santa Clara donated most of the property for the new courthouse, with the state purchasing a small parcel from the Valley Transportation Authority to complete the site. The new courthouse will consolidate all family law operations and related services into a single, centrally located building, significantly improving access to justice for Santa Clara County families and residents. It is the first Senate Bill 1407 courthouse dedicated solely to family law to reach construction.

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

The Judicial Council evaluated renovation as an option and found that it would not be feasible. The court’s six leased facilities are insufficient for its space needs, and renovating the scattered buildings would not provide the benefit of centralizing family court operations to improve services and access.

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

How has the local community had input regarding the courthouse project?

The Project Advisory Group, required by Rules of Court and state law, remains the main source of ongoing community input to the project. The broad-based Project Advisory Group for this project is composed of community, legal, and government leaders. Judicial Council staff work with the group throughout the site selection, design, and construction process. Project updates will be posted to the California Courts website, and media advisories will be distributed at key milestones.

Additionally, public input was a part of the environmental review process. The Judicial Council was the lead agency for environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). In 2009, the Judicial Council began preparing an Initial Study (IS) Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) for the project. This IS/MND was circulated to the public for a 30-day review period. The public comment period on the IS/MND ran from January 19, 2010 through February 17, 2010. On February 10, 2010, the Judicial Council held a public meeting to take comments on the IS/MND as well as answer any questions about the proposed project. On April 12, 2010, the Judicial Council filed a Notice of Determination.

What will happen to the court’s current facilities when the new courthouse is completed?

After the new courthouse is completed and the court vacates its space in the six leased facilities, the leases will be terminated.

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Where is the location of the new courthouse?

The 1.8-acre site for the new courthouse is located at 201 North First Street in downtown San Jose, across the street from the historic Santa Clara County Courthouse and St. James Park. Santa Clara County donated the majority of the property for the new family justice center. The state then purchased a second, smaller parcel from the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority to complete the site.

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 the Project Advisory Group throughout the site selection process

The site used to be a parking lot. What parking will replace the lot?

When construction began on the new family justice center, nearby public parking facilities replaced the parking for court staff, county staff, jurors, and the public previously done on the site.

Where will courthouse visitors, jurors, and employees park?

The plan for the new courthouse includes limited surface and secured parking in the basement for judicial officers. The plan does not include parking for the public, jurors, or most of the Superior Court’s staff. As part of its environmental assessment of the site, the Judicial Council staff conducted studies that indicate there is ample public parking in the area to accommodate the needs of the new courthouse. It is also important to note that most of the Superior Court’s existing family justice facilities are within walking distance of the new site, so parking lots and garages currently used to accommodate visitors, jurors, and staff at those facilities will likely continue to be used. The Court and the City of San Jose have an ongoing agreement to provide 400 spaces at a discounted rate for employee parking. The site is also very accessible to public transit, with a light rail line running in front of the new facility.



Was an environmental review completed for the project?

The Judicial Council is the lead agency for the environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). A Mitigated Negative Declaration was prepared and a Notice of Determination was filed for this project on April 12, 2010.

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

Yes. The building will be designed with attention to sustainability. The building’s sustainability features will qualify it for a LEED Silver certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. This is a third-party certification program and the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of high-performance “green” buildings.



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 bond funding for new and renovated courthouses using court fees, penalties, and assessments rather than taxpayer revenues from the state’s General Fund. The Santa Clara Superior Court also contributed to the pre-design funding and will continue to contribute future funds to help amortize the bond debt.

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, criminal penalties and assessments, parking offense penalties, and civil filing fees were created or increased. 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. When the project was ready for construction, the state sold bonds to finance the project. Once the courthouse is completed and occupied, the same revenue stream will repay those bonds over 25 years.

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

Since 2009, $1.8 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 delays. In addition, every Senate Bill 1407 project has been required by the Judicial Council to undergo budget reductions. These reductions are overseen by a statewide oversight committee of justices, judges, and public building experts established by the Judicial Council.



Who designed the new courthouse?

ZGF Architects LLP was the architect for the new family justice center. In business for more than 60 years, it has had a California presence for more than a decade and has designed numerous buildings throughout the state, including government offices, university buildings, and healthcare facilities. The award-winning Ronald Reagan Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Santa Ana are among the firm's many projects. The company brings extensive experience in both sustainable design and master planning to the project.

How are the architects for courthouse construction projects selected?

Judicial Council staff follow a competitive, qualifications-based process to select the architects. Qualifications under consideration include the experience of the design and technical staff, the previous experience of the firm, and other criteria. Once the firm is selected, the fee is negotiated, and an award is made.

What are the key milestones in designing the courthouse?

  • A Request for Qualifications is issued to find and secure the best-qualified architecture firm.
  • Once site acquisition is completed, the architects begin the design, draw floor plans and elevations, and illustrate the design through renderings or scale models.
  • Once the design is complete and agreed upon, the preliminary plans are approved.
  • The design phase moves into working drawings.
  • Working drawings are approved and the project moves into construction.

Where can I see renderings of the new courthouse?

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

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

Most courthouse projects funded by SB 1407 are being designed to qualify for LEED Silver certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. This is a third-party certification program and the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of high-performance “green” buildings. The courthouse design will meet the energy-efficiency requirements set forth in LEED as well as by California Energy Code.

What design approach was used for the new courthouse?

The Santa Clara County Family Justice Center blends the dignity of the historic Santa Clara County Courthouse across the street with the modern ideals of providing redemptive justice to county families and residents. An entrance colonnade lines the north side of a plaza, framing gathering places reminiscent of the old courthouse. The interior lobby area will have ample natural light from the myriad of windows that make up the exterior of the stone-and-concrete building. Many of the court’s public functions, such as the self-help center, are located off the lobby, providing convenient, centralized access. Waiting areas outside the courtrooms, positioned to provide views of historic St. James Park and downtown San Jose, will provide an assortment of seating options, using wood screens and banquettes to create privacy. A rooftop garden off the third floor will offer a quiet, exterior space for court users to enjoy without having to leave the building.



Who is building the new courthouse?

Hensel Phelps Construction Company is the construction manager at risk (CMAR) on the project. In business for more than 70 years, Hensel Phelps has completed numerous California public projects, including courthouses, and is consistently ranked among the top general contractors and construction managers in the nation by McGraw-Hill’s Engineering News-Record. Two of the firm’s California public projects won McGraw-Hill Construction’s 2010 Best of the Best Awards, a national competition that recognizes design and construction excellence. The firm is also building the new Yolo courthouse in Woodland.

How was the CMAR selected?

The CMAR was selected through a competitive process factoring 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 include 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.

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 were sold for this project and it was ready to be put out to bid, the construction manager at risk became the general contractor. Before the project went into construction, the contractor conducted 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 were 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 CMAR.
  • 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 on the new justice center began in summer 2013; the courthouse is scheduled for completion in spring 2016. This schedule is subject to change.


Video, audio, photos and text: Santa Clara Celebrates Start of Construction

Architecture/Engineering Firm

Zimmer Gunsul Frasca

Construction Manager at Risk

Hensel Phelps

Contact Info

Judicial Council of California
Capital Program

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

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888-225-3583 or
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