Closure of Plumas / Sierra Regional Courthouse

Posted on October 24, 2014

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Only four years ago, amid great fanfare, the former AOC heralded the opening of the Plumas/Sierra Regional Courthouse in Portola. This 6500-square-foot courthouse, which features a “prominent transparent glazed entry vestibule and tall clerestoried lobby” along with its single courtroom, was built at a cost of $4.7 million.  In the AOC’s words, it “exemplifies the state of California’s efforts towards a more sustainable future.”

If this building exemplifies our future, we’re in big trouble. Apparently, the building itself can no longer be sustained. It’s closing next month.

Of the over 200 courtrooms that have been shuttered across the state since 2008, the closure of this one courtroom bears a particular significance. This building was “the first trial courthouse completed from start to finish by the California Administrative Office of the Courts.” It was supposed to represent a new era of state-directed courthouse construction, one in which our centralized branch administration would bring to bear its greater expertise and financial wherewithal to build smarter buildings for less money in places that truly needed them. Now this model project is a white elephant.

The Plumas/Sierra courthouse doesn’t just stand for bad planning and wasteful spending.  As the first multi-jurisdictional courthouse in the state, it also stood for a philosophy. The sign in the front, as seen in this Court News video, reads, “Superior Court of California”—with no county designation.

The rapid demise of the Portola courthouse raises a host of questions: How did a one-room courthouse that was open only four days a month take priority over so many other desperately needed construction projects? How much more did it cost the branch to build and operate this one facility than it did to run the two modest facilities it replaced in Portola and Loyalton? How much is it going to cost for the judicial branch to maintain an empty cedar-sided courthouse deep in the heart of snow country?

Very Truly Yours,
Alliance of California Judges