Eleven California counties, including Inyo, could see delays in courthouse construction projects unless the state legislature sees fit to restore funding to the judicial branch.
The Judicial Council of California is meeting today to discuss future budgets and how state proposals may impact planned court facility projects.
In advance of this week’s meeting of the Judicial Council, the council’s Court Facilities Working Group has recommended the delay of 11 more projects if Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed state budget is enacted. The state has already delayed or cancelled 11 other court projects in the past four months due to budget issues, but officials were able to tentatively green-light several others.
Inyo’s Courthouse Construction project is a plan to build a multi-million dollar facility in Bishop and move a majority of the court’s operations to the population center. There is a separate plan to build a new, smaller, $1.1 million court facility in Independence and relocate court staff there from the historic courthouse in Independence, which is not handicapped accessible.
Originally, the project was proposed as a $32 million construction effort, but the Judicial Council has been reviewing and cutting the proposed budget since late last year.
Judicial Council of the Courts Supervising Communications Specialist Teresa Ruano said proposed project delays “are all dependent on the budget. If the budget isn’t restored for the fiscal year, this will be a year-long delay.” She added that if future budgets don’t restore the court’s funds, the delays could be extended in future budgets.
The governor’s proposal includes taking $200 million from the court construction budget to fund trial court operations and also puts off the state’s repayment of $90 million that was borrowed from the court construction fund.
The 11 projects recommended for delay are in Inyo, Hemet, Lakeport, Modesto, Placerville, Redding, Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, Sonora, Ukiah and Yreka counties.
The construction delays are the result of a court budget crisis that has seen state general fund money directed to the judicial branch reduced by more than $1.1 billion over the past five years.
Ruano said there are a few projects throughout the state that will still be scheduled for construction, even if the 11 above-mentioned projects are put on hold for the fiscal year.
“The funding cuts have also led to courtrooms and entire courthouses being closed and layoffs of court personnel, creating unnecessary delays and inconvenience for California consumers and businesses seeking justice,” a press release from the Consumer Attorneys of California states.
According to Consumer Attorneys President Brian Kabateck, “By lengthening the wait to get started on these essential court construction projects, all we are doing is continuing to rob from the future to pay for the present. It’s a shortsighted attempt at a solution that doesn’t get at the real problem: inadequate funding for a branch of government that affects the lives of all our citizens. This third-class treatment of the system that protects Californians’ liberty must end.”
Inyo County Administrative Officer of the Courts Tammy Grimm was unavailable to comment as of press time Monday, as she was on her way to Sacramento to participate in the Judicial Council’s meeting. For more information on the ruling the state organization makes, see The Inyo Register later this week.