Plans to build a new $175 million courthouse in Sonoma County appear underway again after numerous delays.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget commits to completing 10 courthouse construction projects across the state including one in Santa Rosa that has been sought since 2008.
Now, if all goes as planned, construction would begin in 2019 and the new six-story, 169,342-square foot building on land beside the current Hall of Justice could open its doors in 2022, said Gary Nadler, Sonoma County Superior Court’s presiding judge.
“I’m extremely excited,” Nadler said Thursday. “It’s the greatest news for us since the program was initiated.”
Construction to replace the existing 52-year-old facility was to begin six years ago. The two-story building has been deemed seismically unsafe with a dangerous system of transporting inmates through its public corridors.
But the work has been put off for various reasons, including a decline in ticket revenue and the reallocation of funds to other parts of the state budget.
Along the way, officials have reduced the size of the Sonoma County project, once estimated at $241 million, by 27 percent. And some counties have been eliminated from the program.
Brown’s current budget proposal, which is subject to May revisions, would pay for remaining planning and construction at two sites in Riverside County as well as projects in Imperial, Shasta, Siskiyou, Tuolomne, Glenn, Sacramento, Stanislaus and Sonoma counties.
In Sonoma County, the state has already spent up to $30 million to buy the land, demolish the old jail building that was on it and draw up designs.
Another Sonoma County judge, Rene Chouteau, said the governor’s proposal to pay for construction is “extremely promising.”
After shifting money to other priorities, Chouteau said Brown realized the dire situation in some of the state’s courthouses.
“It looks like a green light,” Chouteau said. “It should carry us through.”
Courthouse construction is funded by 2008 legislation that increased fees and fines supporting $5 billion in bonds.
The same year, a state report condemned the Santa Rosa courthouse that opened in 1965 on Administration Drive and recommended replacing it.
Officials considered two locations, including downtown at the site of the main post office on Second and E streets.
They settled on a 6.8-acre former jail property next to the current courthouse that is across the street from the new jail.
Preliminary plans call for 15 criminal courtrooms, 450 above- and below-ground parking spaces, and consolidated criminal, traffic, juvenile dependency and probate proceedings.
The project architect is New York-based Richard Meier & Partners, the firm that designed The Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, among other notable structures.
Some questioned whether the outlay of taxpayer dollars for a new courthouse was warranted given other infrastructure needs and destruction caused by the October wildfires.
Ken Churchill, director of the fiscal watchdog group, New Sonoma, said the money would be better used to help residents recover from the disaster.
“Maybe it made sense before this year,” Churchill said. “Now that money could be spent on the recovery and helping people find homes. Do we really need a $174 million courthouse when we have so many other priorities right now?”