Alliance of California Judges
September 26, 2013

31 Courtrooms in Long Beach cost $2.3 billion over 35 years

We write to highlight our continuing concerns about the Court Facilities Program.

First we offer an editorial written by Milt Policzer of the Courthouse News Service regarding the Long Beach Courthouse, published September 23, 2013:

More Long Bitching: OK, I admit it - I'm obsessed with the new Long Beach Courthouse.
     It's just so entertaining.
     I went back last week and waited while a woman with a baby carriage went through the security checkpoint in front of me. Then I heard one of the guards ask another guard if it was all right to bring in baby food in a jar.
     Apparently he wasn't up on the latest TSA rules.
     If the place looks like an airport, those rules ought to apply.
     I also forgot to mention the acoustics last week. Whoever designed this place apparently forgot to think about that. When you walk into one of the mostly glass-enclosed clerk's offices, the sound of the line - even a small line - is seriously amplified.
     It's like one of those fancy restaurants where you can barely hear the person across the table from you. Except here you can barely hear the clerk six inches in front of your face.
     In most cases, this is just as well.
     But even though you're drowning in unintelligible sound, at least you can watch the high-definition monitor suspended above showing a short rotation of oddly random ads.
     One for designer water. One for a "Street Fighter" video game. And one for the Maserati Gran Turismo.
     I looked at the crowd around me in the "family/probate" section where they keep the civil files. I couldn't picture any of them running out to buy a Maserati.
     Someone may want to reconsider the target audience.
     Then there's the piece of vaguely ironic symbolism in front of the building - four giant cement and mutant honeycomb-metal columns that you might think are pillars.
     They're lovely.
     They don't hold anything up.

We are concerned that Mr. Policzer’s comments reflect a public perception that the Court Facilities Program administered by the Judicial Council and the AOC is disconnected from the reality of 80 closed courthouses and the loss of more than 2500 court employees.

The Alliance has always maintained that the local courts of this state are in desperate need of new facilities. What is missing from the equation is a clear connection between cost and available resources. Please recall the report to the Judicial Council of October 26, 2012, announcing the termination of seven needed court construction projects. Yet in Yolo County the Judicial Council is proceeding with the construction of a $161 million, 163,000 square foot courthouse for 10 judges [pictured here]. In Kings County, construction is proceeding on a $123 million, 144,000 square foot courthouse for seven judges [pictured here]. In San Diego, plans are being finalized for a $555 million, 704,000 square foot courthouse with 71 courtrooms [pictured here].

The Kings County, Yolo County, and San Diego Superior Courts need new facilities and they are deserving of them. We do not fault the judges of these courts and others for pursuing plans developed and costed by the AOC, but these facilities are costing from $8 to $16 million per authorized judgeship. By similar accounting, the Los Angeles Superior Court would need $4 to $5 billion for court construction. Total court construction throughout the state to replace outdated facilities would require $16 billion of capital investment.

Our concern is that none of these facilities have been costed with an eye toward total needs throughout the state. Our state may never have these billions to spend, nor will court facilities be the only outdated state facilities needing repair and replacement. We are concerned that the state will be left with extravagantly funded courthouses in just a few locations, while courtrooms and courthouses throughout the state remain closed and public access remains frustrated. Once the public perception takes hold of these discrepancies and inequalities, it is the judges of this state who will be blamed.

This is why the Alliance has called for a complete audit of AOC funds. As to the Court Facilities Program, we have called for an audit to ask these key questions:

  • Has the AOC used best practices in managing and planning construction projects?
  • Has the AOC costed the construction projects in line with anticipated revenue support so that all of the courts of the state will be receiving equivalent facilities within a reasonable period of time, or will the state be saddled in the near future with only a few costly projects while the rest of the state court needs are left without support?
  • Has the AOC improperly used funds intended by law for capital improvement for ordinary maintenance under guises such as “bundling”?
  • Did the AOC provide for enough maintenance funds for the facilities received from the counties in determining the maintenance of effort funding, considering the amount of deferred maintenance on old courthouses?
  • Should the construction plans be modified to devote substantially more money to deferred maintenance and capital improvement, as opposed to new construction, considering the new reality of budget reductions, diversion of construction revenues and the likely long delays in getting new construction on line?
  • Would the court construction program be better administered by the Department of General Services or an independent agency rather than the Judicial Council? For instance, does the Judicial Council and AOC staff have the core competence to oversee such a massive construction program and real estate portfolio?
  • Are there available funds that can be redirected to trial court operations for the immediate future?

Our state cannot afford extravagance and mismanagement when our courts are in crisis. We remain committed to securing an audit of the operations of the AOC.

Directors, Alliance of California Judges

Alliance of California Judges
1817 Capitol Ave., Sacramento, CA  95811

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