State officials say they hope soon to purchase a prime downtown block for a new Sacramento Superior Court courthouse even though new state budget concerns have left the project's construction in limbo.
Responding to a last-minute lobbying plea from the Sacramento court's presiding judge last month, a state advisory group says it will recommend the state Judicial Council allocate $10 million to buy land in the downtown railyard, two blocks from the current courthouse.
The state, which runs local Superior Courts, has determined Sacramento's existing Gordon Schaber Courthouse downtown is too small and needs replacement. A new $452 million, approximately 16-story courthouse has been planned for the block bounded by H and G and Fifth and Sixth streets.
The advisory group, however, recently recommended placing construction plans for the Sacramento courthouse and several others around the state on "indefinite hold," pending state budget decisions this year.
As many as 11 court projects could be postponed if the Legislature and governor choose to tap a state courthouse construction account to finish construction of a Long Beach courthouse. Judicial officials want the state to pay for the Long Beach project out of the state general fund.
If not, "we don't have enough money for all the projects that were originally slated to come out of the (courthouse) account," said Teresa Ruano, a spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of the Courts, the Judicial Council's staffing agency.
Local court officials have been pressing the state, however, to push the project forward. In a Dec. 10 letter to state judicial officials, Sacramento Superior Court Presiding Judge Laurie Earl urged the state to at least follow through on an already negotiated $10 million agreement to buy land.
If not, she warned, the state would risk losing the opportunity to acquire what she described as "the only viable (courthouse) site in downtown Sacramento.
"Should we be unable to move forward on this agreement, we are confident that this lot and this price will not be available to us" in the future, Earl wrote.
Earl said in her letter that the new site is close enough to the current courthouse to allow the older building to continue to be used for some functions, including administrative support services. The new site is only a block from the county downtown jail, which houses several courtrooms, she pointed out. It also sits next to a light-rail station, making public access easier.
Sacramento city officials and representatives of the private company that owns most of the 240-acre railyard say they hope the state will push forward with its plans to purchase the site and eventually build on it.
A spokesman for the railyard owner, Inland American Real Estate Trust of Illinois, said the courthouse project would serve as a catalyst for further development in the railyard, even if construction is delayed.
"We're excited to sell it to them," Inland spokesman Jared Ficker said.
The city, teamed with Union Pacific, recently moved the downtown rail tracks a few hundred feet north to make room for the courthouse and other development.