County pitches value of new courthouse to state study group

By From page A1 | August 31, 2012

El Dorado County Supervisors directed a formal request to the state’s Fifth District Court of Appeal essentially to “fish or cut bait.” At issue is the Superior Court facility proposed for development adjacent to the El Dorado County jail in Placerville.

As reported in Wednesday’s Mountain Democrat, broad cuts to the state’s judicial system budget could derail progress on what had appeared to be a done deal. The county has offered to swap more than 7 acres of land near the jail in return for space currently occupied by Superior Court in the Government Center’s Building C. That deal, along with a number of related improvements is estimated to be worth nearly $3 million in savings to the state’s facilities fund for site acquisition.

The property is held by the Briggs Family Trust and the negotiations are subject to ratification by that entity. Over the course of discussions and decisions at the Board of Supervisors, Supervisor Ron Briggs has recused himself each time the matter of the property came up.

In addition to the land, the county has offered to complete $1.5 million in roadway improvements connected to future realignment of Ray Lawyer Drive as part of the West Placerville Interchange project.

Court properties are managed by the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts, the AOC, and within that entity is the Facilities Working Group. The Board of Supervisors addressed its request to Justice Brad Hill, chairman of the working group.

The letter of request concludes by noting that “the terms outlined herein have been consistent between the AOC’s office and the County of El Dorado for the past nine months. The terms are still acceptable for the current time but may not be in the future.”

Earlier in the letter, Board Chairman John Knight had written that if the deal does not go through, it would result in “driving up the cost of the new Placerville courthouse.”

The El Dorado County facility is one of more than two dozen projects being reviewed by the state’s Court Facilities Working Group over three days next week in San Francisco. El Dorado County Presiding Judge Suzanne Kingsbury will represent the county at the hearings and will convey the sense of urgency expressed by the Board of Supervisors along with the “too good to pass up” offer being tendered.

“We desperately need a safe and secure environment where we can operate efficiently. And the county stands to save millions by putting the court adjacent to the jail, because of the cost of transporting prisoners to the current courts and guarding them,” Judge Kingsbury was quoted earlier this week.

Project-specific decisions are not expected before next year, the Mountain Democrat reported in the previous story.

Chris Daley

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