Courting a New Courthouse

State Picks Preferred Home for S.B. Criminal Facility

<strong>FOR SAFETY’S SAKE:</strong> Hoping to remedy a bevy of security shortcomings, such as the above pictured practice of having to transport prisoners from holding cells in the Figueroa Division courthouse across the street to the Anacapa criminal courtrooms, state-funded plans are moving forward to build an entirely new courthouse in Santa Barbara.
Paul Wellman

If the state gets its wish, five years from now, Santa Barbara will have a brand-spanking-new criminal courthouse just a short walk away from where court employees currently do their business. With $152 million worth of funding already in place to help make the magic happen, members of California’s Public Works Board approved last week what they are calling the “preferred alternative” in the planning process for a new and vastly improved Santa Barbara courthouse.

Though there is a fair bit of red tape still in the way, come late 2015, the Hayward property at 1025 Santa Barbara Street — in conjunction with two adjacent county-owned properties — would become home to a 97,000-square-foot criminal court facility, essentially housing all the activities currently split between the Figueroa Division, the Jury Services building on Santa Barbara Street, and the two criminal courtrooms still in use at the historic Anacapa Street County Courthouse. “There is still a lot of work to be done before it is official,” explained Teresa Ruano from the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC). “But the Hayward site is what we hope to move forward with.”

After 2008’s State Senate Bill 1407 earmarked some $5 billion in state dough for court upgrades and reconstruction via court fees and penalties, the AOC began formulating a court-by-court master plan. Part of this process was compiling a short list of facilities that were most in need of an overhaul. Of the 41 identified in the state, Santa Barbara, according to Ruano, “floated to the top by virtue of urgency.” Chief among the reasons cited for our “need” is the anything-but-ideal current situation of transporting prisoners across the street from the holding cells in the Figueroa building to the Anacapa courts, the lack of industry-standard security measures in both the Anacapa and Figueroa buildings, nonsecure judges chambers, substandard holding cells, and several building- and safety-code violations in the Figueroa location.

With all this in mind, AOC staffers, after determining that a retrofit of the Figueroa Division to meet the various aforementioned needs would be more costly than simply rebuilding somewhere new, began the nearly yearlong process of finding a future home for the Santa Barbara criminal and traffic courts. The still-forming plan calls for a new eight-courtroom facility, a 240-space parking structure, and assorted other facilities spread over some 2.8 acres on and around the Hayward lot. The actual proposed area includes two lots associated with Hayward and two county-owned lots immediately adjacent to the current Figueroa court building. It remains to be seen what exactly would become of the current Jury Services and Figueroa facilities — both owned by the state — the latter the subject of extensive security upgrades just a few months ago.

The recent site choice, should it eventually become a reality, is no doubt a major boon for the local economy — according to AOC numbers it would equal some 3,000 jobs — and would inject a marked bit of foot traffic in an often overlooked part of the downtown neighborhood. However, the deal is far from done, cautioned Ruano. First, the four parcels need to actually be purchased and the Government Code allots only $41.5 million of the overall budget to do so. Second, a full Environmental Impact Report process would have to have to be successfully navigated. Third, a Memorandum of Understanding with the city’s Redevelopment Agency would need to be brokered as the properties are within its plan area. Lastly, the AOC must also provide the State Public Works Board with an as-yet-unnamed second alternative to throw in the mix. Even with all the hurdles to clear, the AOC still aims to have preliminary plans (i.e., architectural drawings, etc.) in place by September 2013 and to start construction by early 2014.


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