Santa Maria Sun / News
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 45
The new Santa Maria courthouse building is officially open for business
BY AMY ASMAN
People going to the Santa Maria courthouse to pay a traffic fine, look up a court document, or find out when they’re next due in court will no longer have to cram into a portable trailer in the back parking lot. As of this month, they’ll get to use a brand-new, multi-million dollar facility.
At a grand opening ceremony on Jan. 11, presiding Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Art Garcia officially welcomed the public into the new building amid a crowd of judges, probation officers, and other community members.
“Something like this doesn’t happen under the watch of one person,” Garcia said, referring to the presiding judges and key staff members who have come before him. “We are stewards of the public’s money and property. We’re just caretakers—it’s all we are. We’ll come and go. We have to have the vision to think of the future, the use, the benefit [of this facility] to the public.”
Superior Court Executive Officer Gary Blair told the Sun the money for the new building didn’t come from the county’s general fund.
“The actual construction contract was about $3.6 million, and it was funded through a Certificate of Participation (COP) that was issued by the county back in 2001. It’s like a bond issue,” Blair said. “Given the competitive nature of contractors after the recession, [the county received] a good price.”
Santa Maria’s own Vernon Edwards Constructors Inc. completed the project, which broke ground back in September 2010 after years of on-again/off-again planning.
“The COP came from the county, but the source that pays back the debt on the bond came from the courthouse construction fund,” Blair continued. “Every time a criminal defendant is convicted and pays a fine, there’s a portion of that fine that goes into the courthouse construction fund.
“So I guess you could say it’s paid for in part by the people who use the system. It’s not really a taxpayer, general fund type of funding situation. It’s a dedicated revenue source coming from penalty assessments,” he said.
Keynote speaker Steven Jahr, the administrative director of the Courts of California, made a special trip to Santa Maria to congratulate officials and staff on their accomplishment. He referred to the state’s severely anemic budget, which is making it increasingly difficult to fund courthouse construction projects.
Jahr expressed concerns over the $200 million worth of additional funding cuts to courthouse construction projects proposed in Gov. Jerry Brown’s January budget plan. Brown’s proposal would transfer money out of reserves and put it toward court operations. The move would delay construction projects for up to a year.
Legislation passed in 2003 transferred ownership of county courthouses to the state, which took over all future maintenance costs.
“It was a win-win for the county and for the courts because there were varying levels of maintenance depending on which county you were in,” court executive officer Blair said. “If you were in a poor county down in Imperial County in El Centro, they couldn’t keep up the maintenance.”
He expressed gratitude to the county for securing the COP for construction.