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County working with courts on new Indy facility

May 23, 2014

County Administrative Officer Kevin Carunchio.

Inyo County is attempting to push the state of California and Administrative Offices of the Courts through a quagmire of bureaucracy in an effort get a new court facility built in Independence.
Earlier this month, the Board of Supervisors approved a Memorandum of Understanding with the AOC that will facilitate lease negotiations for a piece of county property near the jail in Independence to be used for the new courthouse.
County Administrative Officer Kevin Carunchio said the state is hoping to purchase a modular building to place on the county-owned property. The new facility would be Americans with Disabilities Act compliant, and, because it is located adjacent to the jail, reduce the cost of transporting prisoners to court appointments.
“We’re doing everything we can to help them out and get this moving, but with the state bureaucracy, they’re trying to strangle themselves with their own umbilical cord,” Carunchio said of the lengthy site selection and resulting lease negotiation process.
Carunchio explained that the courthouse saga began in the 1990s. At that time, Inyo worked with the local courts to build a new facility at the site of the old Inyo County Jail in Independence. In the midst of those negotiations, the state took over responsibility for court operations, and ruled that the proposed $8 million facility was too expensive, and the project was nixed.
The project was dormant through the early 2000s, until the state released a report in 2009, listing the Historic Independence Court facility on a list of facilities in need of repairs or replacement.
Carunchio said that the AOC allocated $44 million for a new facility in Independence in 2010. By December of that year, the state office changed its mind, and began looking into spending those funds on a new court facility in Bishop, much to the dismay of Inyo residents, particularly those in Independence and regions south.
Residents who voiced opposition to the new plan said that the main court facility in the county should be located in the county seat. Residents also said that, for residents living in the most southern parts of the county may find it difficult to travel two hours or more to Bishop to attend jury duty or handle regular court business.
Those concerns fell on deaf ears, and the AOC recruited a site selection committee to begin exploring options for a new court facility in Bishop.
While the bulk of the funding would go towards a new facility in Bishop, the AOC said that $2 million in a county-held court rehabilitation fund could be used to build a new, modular facility in Independence.
Carunchio said there are many details to hammer out regarding the new project, including a lease agreement that is currently being reviewed by AOC staff.
Carunchio explained that the transition of court operations to the state included a transfer of one third of the historic courthouse’s ownership to the AOC. Essentially, the state is responsible for a third of any improvements to the facility.
Carunchio said the state wants the county to buy out the state’s third of the building. “We don’t have the money to pay for something that the state got for free,” Carunchio said, explaining that the county responded with a counter off. That offer is to have the state release its share of the historic courthouse in exchange for rent on the lease for the property near the jail.
He added that the county is waiting for a response on that offer.
Carunchio said that he is doing all he can to move negotiations along as quickly as possible because the state has a modular building that can be used for the court facility identified, but it must be in place by September of this year.
“We want to facilitate this because it will help the courts, it will help the state and it will help the community of Independence,” Carunchio said. “But the poor state can’t get out of its own way sometimes. Hopefully we can get moving on this.”

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