Committee reviews new courthouse priority draft list, including for SCV

The Santa Clarita Courthouse. Signal File Photo

The Santa Clarita Valley is set to receive a new courthouse, but when that’ll happen was part of the discussion for the Court Facilities Advisory Committee of the Judicial Council of California on Thursday. 

At its meeting in San Francisco, the committee unanimously approved for public comment a council draft statewide list, known as the Revision of Prioritization Methodology for Trial Court Capital-Outlay Projects — a list of capital projects prioritized based on needs and costs — a list that included a new Santa Clarita courthouse. 

The list shows that the new Santa Clarita courthouse, proposed with 24 courtrooms, would cost about $325.6 million, and is considered to be in “high need.” While that might sound promising for those wanting a new local facility, its ranking actually falls behind 40 other proposals, with a higher priority that received “immediate need” and “critical need” labels. Just behind are 39 others from across California. 

The report further details Santa Clarita earned a “needs score” of 11 and a “cost score” of 0.6 for a priority total of 11.6. 

The Santa Clarita Courthouse
Cory Rubin/ The Signal

Based on the methodology, points earned for needs-based criteria were added by considering facility seismic and other environmental hazards, security, overcrowding and access to court services. The total possible points earned is 25. Cost-based criteria, with 1 point possible, looks into the cost of project per court user and maintenance. These figures are added and grouped by priority, with “immediate need” at 25 possible points at the top of the list and “low need” with points between 0 and 7.4 total. 

For perspective, Lake County’s new Lakeport Courthouse is No. 1 on the list with a priority score of 20. With 56 new courthouse constructions and 24 renovation/additions, the total estimated cost of projects is $13.75 billion. 

“Although every project on the list is important and needed in their communities, the projects listed as ‘immediate’ and ‘critical’ are considered to be the biggest priorities for the judicial branch at this time,” said council spokesman Blaine Corren. “But this draft statewide list — ‘Proposed Trial Court Capital-Outlay Projects’ — is just the latest step in the process for new courthouse construction.”

Many construction projects, including the Santa Clarita Courthouse — which was due for an upgrade a decade ago — were delayed due to continuous state budget cuts that followed the Great Recession. Despite funding challenges, the judicial branch has overseen the completion of 29 new and renovated California courthouses since 2002, according to the Judicial Council. 

The remaining projects, such as Santa Clarita’s, can only move forward if greenlighted by the Legislature. 

“As we move forward, the council will be working with the Legislature and advocating for needed new courthouse projects based on the capital outlay plan. But the authority to fund new courthouse construction projects ultimately lies with the Legislature, not the Judicial Council,” said Corren. 

Word of a new Santa Clarita Courthouse rings well among local attorneys, including civil litigator Taylor Williams, a partner at Donahoe & Young, LLP and member of the SCV Bar Association.

“The courthouse here only handles traffic and misdemeanors. Depending on the matter, their (civil) cases will typically be sent to Chatsworth or Stanley Mosk (courthouse in Los Angeles),” said Williams. “Having to go over the hill with traffic is a disaster, especially with elderly clients. There’s a huge need for a general civil court for limited and unlimited civil, unlawful detainers and probate.” 

Before Thursday’s committee meeting, Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge Kevin C. Brazile, who shared that SCV is getting a new courthouse during a May event at The Oaks Club in Valencia, wrote to the committee that the “ranking algorithm does not work for the multifaceted populous courthouse facilities in Los Angeles County.” 

He recommended “an alternate or augmented scoring tool to capture the complexities around providing access to justice to the 10 million citizens within Los Angeles County or recommend a separate funding allocation methodology to address these critical issues.

Others wishing to comment on the draft report have until Sept. 13, and the committee will consider a final draft of the report at its Oct. 1 meeting. If approved by the Judicial Council, the report will be sent to the Legislature by December and the council will then have to work on an updated five-year capital outlay plan based on the prioritization list. 

“This plan will go into more detail about the judicial branch strategy for building new courthouses and the projected costs involved, and will serve as a funding request to the Legislature for specific construction projects,” said Corren.

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