Recently, we told you about the closure of the Plumas/Sierra Regional Courthouse, the first courthouse construction project managed from start to finish by the AOC. It was built at a cost of $4.7 million, it was open only four days a month at its peak, and it shut its doors just four years after it opened.
It’s bad enough that the AOC built a little-used courthouse and had to close it down soon after it opened. But the story gets worse. Now, and for the indefinite future, we have to pay to maintain a big empty wooden building in snow country. As the city manager of Portola pointed out, “Right now it’s even too expensive for them to even mothball the thing. . . . It’s costing them a fortune just to have it sitting there, and it’s wearing out quicker than it would have if it had occupants.” The AOC is trying to get local officials to rent it for nothing, so long as they pay for the upkeep. You can read the Plumas News’s story on the courthouse here.
So there it sits—a beautiful, brand-new, empty cedar-sided courthouse rotting in the snow, a monument to the AOC’s folly.
We need to figure out how this happened. We need to know how a proposal for a courthouse that would serve the public only four days a month somehow jumped to the front of the line for construction funds, while desperately needed construction and renovation projects got pushed to the back. Judges and staff work in those outdated and unsafe buildings, and even scheduled projects to renovate them have been put on indefinite hold while a lovely new courthouse sits idle.
Just four years ago, the AOC’s publicity machine gushed that the Portola courthouse was “a building both timeless and of our time.” They were right. This building is timeless because its time ran out. And a closed, money-wasting courthouse is a sad but fitting symbol of our troubled time.
One final note: The AOC-produced YouTube video announcing the opening of the courthouse is no longer accessible to the public—much like the courthouse itself.
There is, however, cause for hope. When asked about his thoughts about the recent audit of the Judicial Council, the incoming chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, Mark Stone (D-Scotts Valley), told The Recorder:
As we've been struggling with court budgets here in California, to get an audit at that level is something we absolutely needed to understand the context in which some of the budget requests were being made. And it points to some weaknesses in the way the court system at that level of the AOC is run. And I want to distinguish between that and the trial courts because the trial courts have been working very hard on efficiencies. . . . All Californians deserve to have as efficiently run a judiciary as possible and the audit will help us all get to that point.
We agree wholeheartedly. It looks like Assembly Member Stone, like Assembly Member Reggie Jones-Sawyer, gets it. It took an audit of the CCMS project to expose the project as a failure and ultimately get it shut down. It took an audit to expose the AOC's continued waste of precious judicial resources. Now the Legislature should direct respected State Auditor Elaine Howle to thoroughly audit the court construction program.
Directors, Alliance of California Judges