Los Banos courthouse project survives budgetary chopping block

12/13/2012 4:27 PM

12/13/2012 4:34 PM

Plans to build new courthouses in Los Banos, Sonora and Modesto made it through another round of budget cuts Thursday.

Court construction projects in Fresno, Sacramento, Nevada City and Los Angeles were axed instead to save the state more than $550 million. California’s Court Facilities Working Group voted for the cuts Thursday during a special meeting. That group’s recommendation will be taken to the state's full Judicial Council next month for final approval.

For now at least, the local projects are good to go.

Brian McCabe, presiding judge of the Merced County Superior Court, said he's happy the Los Banos' courthouse project still has a green light. "It was an excruciatingly competitive process but we can't be more pleased with the results, and we eagerly anticipate the project moving forward in the near future," he said.

The latest round of courthouse cuts was caused by California lawmakers shifting about $600 million in Long Beach court expenses to the state’s courthouse construction budget.

That money will be used to cover leasing costs for a privately built Long Beach courthouse, which will be finished next fall.

Twenty-four other California courthouses construction projects -- not counting the ones in Long Beach and Stockton -- previously had been approved. Now only 20 will be built.

They include the the $32.2 million Los Banos courthouse, the $278.3 million Modesto courthouse and the $69.2 million Sonora courthouse.

The Robert M. Falasco Justice Center in Los Banos occupies about 5,370 square feet of its 15,000-square-foot building. The one-courtroom structure is owned by Merced County and is shared by the Merced County Sheriff’s Department, probation department and the public defender. A feasibility report identified numerous deficiencies at the existing facility, which was built in 1980.

In 2009, the state authorized $32.6 million (since reduced to $32.2 million) be spent on construction of a new court facility with two courtrooms and room to expand to four.

During the summer the governor and state Legislature struck a deal to reduce the state’s deficit by decreasing funding to the court system by $486 million, including $240 million from its operations budget. The Legislature agreed to replace the $240 million with funding from the court system’s $300 million construction budget.

The Los Banos courthouse staying on the list of projects to be funded is encouraging to some in the county.

Last week Linda Romero Soles, executive officer for Merced County Superior Court, said the Los Banos project is in a better position than many others because the land for the courthouse has already been purchased.

Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at jnsbranti@modbee.com or (209) 578-2196.

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