SAN FRANCISCO—The Judicial Council working group overseeing the judicial branch’s facilities program is recommending that 13 planned courthouse projects be reassessed with the goal of significantly lowering their costs. Options to be considered in these projects may include significantly reducing square footage, undertaking renovations instead of new construction, evaluating lease options, and using lower-cost construction methods where feasible.
The committee will also recommend to the Judicial Council that the remaining 25 active projects funded under Senate Bill 1407 continue as planned, but undergo other cost reductions as they proceed. See the list of recommendations here.
The Judicial Council is expected to consider the recommendations at its meeting on April 24.
“We are now in a significantly different economic climate,” said the working group’s chair, Administrative Presiding Justice Brad R. Hill of the Court of Appeal, Fifth Appellate District. “After years of budget cuts in the courts, we now need to look more carefully at whether we can build smaller court projects and still meet court needs, or how else we may be able to save money. The state’s current fiscal crisis and the needs of the judicial branch demand that we take a critical look at this now, before most projects are in design. We should take strong action to ensure that we are spending public money as prudently as possible.”
A subcommittee of the working group chaired by Justice Jeffrey Johnson, Associate Justice of the Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, developed the recommendations and will oversee work with the affected courts. “There’s no ribbon around the status quo,” Justice Johnson said. “We’ve identified dozens of cost-reduction strategies, some of which have high cost-benefit impact that we think can be achieved, and we intend to work with the affected courts to implement them.”
Senate Bill 1407 was enacted in 2008 to authorize up to $5 billion in lease-revenue bonds for new and renovated courthouses using court fees, penalties, and assessments rather than taxpayer revenues from the state’s General Fund. Since 2009, more than $1.1 billion in funding originally designated for courthouse construction has been borrowed, swept to the General Fund, or redirected to court operations.
The working group’s recommendations are expected to be considered by the Judicial Council at its April 24, 2012, meeting. The council can accept, modify, or reject the recommendations, which will be posted on the California Courts website.
The judicial branch facilities program is responsible for providing local communities in California with safe, secure, accessible courthouses. In addition, the projects generate jobs, enhance local economies, and increase state tax revenues.