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County moves ahead on new courthouse, but funding uncertain

Posted: June 21, 2012 5:58 p.m.
Updated: June 21, 2012 5:58 p.m.

Los Angeles County officials are moving ahead to locate a new Santa Clarita Valley courthouse in Castaic, despite uncertainty over state funding for the project.

"The supervisor wants to remain proactive," said Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich's justice deputy, Anna Pembedjian. "They (county supervisors) are working with the land owner on the purchase agreement."

The county is planning to acquire land from Newhall Land Development Inc., develop it, and then sell a parcel to the state for the courthouse. The county would build a new Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station on the second parcel.

But a spokeswoman for the state said this week the funding for a new courthouse in Castaic is uncertain.

"Until the judicial branch makes its decision, we don't know what funding, if any, we'll have available for court construction," said Teresa Ruano, spokeswoman for the state Administrative Office of the Courts.

The California Legislature recommended reallocating $240 million of the $300 million in the state's courthouse construction fund to cover general court operating costs of the courts, Ruano said.

But the reallocation won't be final until Gov. Jerry Brown signs the budget for the next fiscal year. Brown and Democratic leaders reached an agreement Thursday to finalize the state budget.

After the budget is signed, the judicial branch will decide how to proceed with its limited funds, Ruano said.

A new Santa Clarita Valley courthouse is just one of many being considered, in the planning stages or under construction statewide. All courthouse construction projects in the design phase have been put on hold for a year, Ruano said.

Eight projects currently under construction have been allowed to continue, as well as nine projects close to construction, she said.

The fate of those courthouse projects in the acquisition phase, including the one proposed for Castaic, will be decided by the judicial branch after Gov. Brown signs a budget, Ruano said.

The administrative office of the courts has come under scrutiny recently after a report called the agency dysfunctional and bloated with overly high salaries. The report commissioned by California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said the administrative office of the courts needed a total overhaul.

A news release by the administrative office said 190 employees would be laid off by the end of the fiscal year.

The Los Angeles County court system announced last week it would be laying off 431 employees at 56 courthouses.

Los Angeles County jointly operates its courthouses with the state, but the court system is a state institution.

Pembedjian said Los Angeles County is moving ahead with plans to purchase the land for the courthouse because doing so is in the interest of the public.

"We want to be ready for when the state is ready to proceed with the courthouse," she said. "The work is being continued because that's what the public expects."




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