Your comments on court construction may be helpful…

Posted on October 17, 2011

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…but probably not. The JC/AOC’s version of giving the public a voice is to give them an hour to express an opinion, followed by promptly ignoring that opinion.

On Wednesday, Justice Brad Hill’s court facilities working group (the clueless group that approves some of the world’s most expensive light bulbs and public buildings) will hold a meeting this Wednesday to quickly make recommendations on how to spend 350 million dollars less this year in their court facilities program. While one would have believed that someone in charge would have applied the brakes sooner so that the Office of Court Construction & Management didn’t rush out and spend their allotment without a cohesive plan and blow their whole wad, this doesn’t appear to be the case. With a 350 million dollar cut to their construction program, things have been going full steam ahead on every project in the pipeline as if the funding cut never happened.  “Business as usual” has been a common theme leaking from the AOC.

We think that this is all about politics, to pretend to Sacramento that they’re actually doing something about their wasteful court facilities program. Much like they did with the so called ‘pause’ to ccms – also lofted with suspect timing to prevent legislative intervention.

A third of the fiscal year into this years program it appears the JC/AOC has just begun to realize that their budget has been cut and that it might have some impact on their construction program. It appears that they may have to reconsider the pace and their priorities.

Many of you are unaware that Justice Hill was spearheading the court transfer process and negotiating CFP or county facility payments for individual courthouses. What only a few are aware of is that Mr. Hill gave away the store with a program labeled “transfer is the answer” where transferring the buildings to state control was far more important that actually gaining enough money from the counties to maintain the buildings.  Ultimately, it was Mr. Brad Hill and his previous court facilities transfer committee that indirectly chose to fund courthouse maintenance with a majority of state funds.

Many of the Office of Court Construction & Management’s most vocal critics have been the locals where the courthouses are being built. The AOC was kind enough to hold public meetings with the locals and promptly ignored them as well. Recently, JCW was provided some information on the Mammoth Lakes Courthouse that we would like to share with our readers about the AOC being tone deaf.

Mammoth Lakes Courthouse

First off, the main function of the Mammoth Lakes Courthouse is to process speeding tickets off the Hwy 395 corridor. In fact, several courthouses are being established off the hwy 395 corridor – one of the least traveled major highways in California.  Second, Mammoth Lakes is a rustic community. This rustic community is now straddled with an ugly, expensive modern out of place looking state courthouse that a) Has a flat roof in a place where snow drifts can get over 10 feet high and b) is so ugly that the locals have demanded a monument be put up with an unverified price tags of about a million dollars to block the view of the out-of-place courthouse from the street.

This new courthouse will cost the people of the state of California 5 times as much per year to own and operate over the previously leased space, yet there is no corresponding traffic increase on Hwy 395 or population increase in Mono County to justify spending 20 million dollars. This holds true with the other Hwy 395 ticket processing courts from Susanville to Mojave. Every project could afford to be re-scoped and dramatically downsized. 

As if these epic failures to plan and listen to the public were not enough – we hear that the old Mammoth Lakes court leased space had 4 years remaining on a 150K per year lease in another flat / leaky roof  building. Sources tell us that the termination of this lease will result in the AOC paying an extra 600K to rent the commercial space they won’t be using. Extraordinary planning brought to you by the AOC and the Judicial Council’s court facilities working group. Insiders on this project tell us this thousand dollar per square foot building suffers from ‘a compromised design that will shorten the life span of the building’.

We would suggest that all readers drop a note to our friends at the Office of Court Construction & Management and the trial court facilities working group. That note should outline outrage about the all-inclusive price per square foot that is being paid for these courthouses – and not just the construction price tag. If the all inclusive price tag to build a courthouse exceeds an all-inclusive 500.00 per square foot, then it shouldn’t be built. Most of these costs will boil down to the materials choices, a deflation of the trial court facilities standards and all other costs not associated with construction. With respect to that last item, all costs not associated with construction can be quite expensive and needs to be looked at. Case in point, the Los Angeles Mental Health Court is OCCM’s flagship of waste coming in at $1,900.10 per square foot. The AOC declares that the courthouse construction costs will only be $637.00 per square foot. $1,263.00 per square foot goes in to the “other costs” column. recently, this project appears to have increased from two courtrooms to three.

Almost twice as much per square foot is in the other costs column as the construction costs column. Surely, this building can be built for less.

Written Comments Preferred
The working group prefers written comments but will accommodate in-person comments as well. Comments may be e-mailed to occmcomments@jud.ca.gov or mailed or delivered to:

Administrative Office of the Courts
Attn: Comments to Court Facilities Working Group
455 Golden Gate Ave., 8th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94102

Comments received by 1 p.m. on October 18, 2011, will be distributed to working group members at the meeting. The same e-mail address and postal address will remain open to the public at any time to comment on the facilities program or the work of the working group.

In-person comments can be made during the first hour of the working group’s meeting on October 19, 2011, from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., which will be reserved for public comment. The meeting will be held in the Malcolm M. Lucas Boardroom on the third floor of the Hiram W. Johnson State Building, 455 Golden Gate Avenue, San Francisco (map ).

Speakers will be limited to 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the volume of requests, and scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis. To reserve time to speak, please send your request by e-mail to occmcomments@jud.ca.gov or mail or deliver your request to Administrative Office of the Courts, Attn: Comments to Court Facilities Working Group, 455 Golden Gate Ave., 8th Floor, San Francisco, CA 94102.

Please state:
• The speaker’s name, occupation, and (if applicable) name of the entity that the speaker represents;
• The speaker’s email address, telephone number, and mailing address; and
• The courthouse project to be commented on, or the nature of the speaker’s interest in the SB 1407 program.

Give them a piece of your mind.

More on the AOC’s construction program can be found here.

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Courthouse News –  California Court Construction Costs Tower Above National Average

The Recorder – Capital Accounts: With Construction Money Mostly Gone, Court Planners Redo Wish List (paid article)

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