Brown Budget Raids Could Delay Construction of Three CA Courthouses

Governor's plan to take $290 million from a statewide construction fund for budget balancing jeopardizes 11 projects, including courthouses in Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino Counties

Construction of a new Santa Rosa courthouse is expected to be delayed another year if Gov. Jerry Brown follows through with plans to raid $290 million from the statewide construction fund to balance the budget.

The new Hall of Justice destined for a vacant lot near the Sonoma County jail is on a list of 11 projects -- including those in Lake and Mendocino counties -- that could be pushed back.

Members of the state Judicial Council were to meet today in San Francisco to consider a plan for dealing with Brown's proposal that involves delaying preliminary drawings at all three locations to fiscal year 2014-2015.

If adopted, it would mean construction on Santa Rosa's new courthouse wouldn't begin until 2017 and the building wouldn't open until 2018 -- almost three years later than originally planned.

"These aren't just feel-good projects," said Rene Chouteau, presiding judge of Sonoma County Superior Court. "The courthouses are unsafe and inadequate. Delays make it harder to go forward."

The same fate was expected for a $119 million courthouse planned for downtown Ukiah and a $56 million facility planned for Lakeport.

It would be the second major delay for the Santa Rosa project first scheduled for completion in 2015. Last year, Brown shifted $240 million from courthouse projects to fill the state budget gap and ordered a 10 percent reduction in construction costs.

Now, costs for the six-story, 173,500-square foot facility will be pared down to $139 million through changes to some features, said Jose Guillen, the court's executive officer.

If the governor changes his mind and decides to maintain funding for construction, the Santa Rosa project and others could proceed as planned, Guillen said.

Local officials were hopeful that improving economic conditions could make that happen. At the same time, 11 other projects have landed on a list of those that are being indefinitely delayed.

"We're keeping our fingers crossed," Guillen said.

The new courthouse is needed to replace a 48-year-old facility officials say is outdated, undersized and cannot be fixed. It will feature modern security that allows for the safe transport of inmates, larger jury assembly and deliberation rooms, a children's waiting room and an in-custody holding area. It also will be earthquake safe.

Preliminary plans called for 15 criminal courtrooms, 450 above- and below-ground parking spaces and consolidated criminal, traffic, juvenile dependency and probate proceedings.

The project architect is New York-based Richard Meier & Partners, the firm that designed The Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, among other notable structures.

Estimated design and engineering costs amount to more than $8 million, officials said.

The state purchased the 6.8 acre property from the county last year for $5.2 million. The purchase included the former jail site and two sites to be used for parking, the 3-acre county Fleet Building site on Ventura Avenue and a 1.3-acre parking lot on Russell Avenue.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or

Copyright 2013 - The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif.