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Where I Stand: Addressing speculation about the new courthouse and its potential location

By John Kolb

Plumas Advisory Group Member

Following up on Judge Douglas Prouty’s “Where I Stand” column, published online on February 21st in Plumas News, I have heard a lot of speculation about the status of a new courthouse in Quincy.  I had hoped that Judge Prouty’s column might have helped reduce some of the public’s concerns, but I’ve been made aware of some pretty wild speculation in the past couple of weeks.  As a member of the Public Advisory Group (PAG) helping in the State Judicial Council’s search to site the new facility, I’d like to give an explanation of the process so far and talk about the reason the State is building a new courthouse in Quincy, why it needs to be as big as what you’ve heard it will be, and so on.  To do this, I’ll start with some of the many questions I have heard around town and read online.

Why does the County need a new courthouse? Does it have to be as big as I’ve heard it will be?  The courts are State operations, not the County’s.  The State of California’s Judicial Council is in the process of making sure that all of their court facilities are in State buildings located on State-owned lands.  This is being done so that they can meet State-mandated requirements for building security, public safety, judicial staff safety, prisoner isolation from the public, secure prisoner transfer facilities and secure judicial staff parking while seeing that all rooms, elevators, hallways and restrooms meet current American Disabilities Act (ADA) standards.  None of these State and federal requirements are currently being met in our historic County-owned courthouse.  There will be three courtrooms in the new courthouse, each with its attendant judge’s chambers and staff offices.  There will be a secure “Sally Port” in the building where prisoners can be transferred from the jail to a holding area prior to and after their court appearances.  There will also be separate hallways for moving prisoners through the building, away from areas used by judicial staff and the public.  The whole building will be built to exacting ADA standards, which means bigger restrooms, wider doorways and ramps in the place of stairs, all of which require more floor space.

What will happen to the existing courthouse?  Will it be torn down? When the new State courthouse has been completed, judicial staff will move into it, ending the rental agreement that is currently in place between the State and the County for court functions.  The District Attorney works for the County, not the State, and will remain in the existing courthouse.  It remains to be seen what kind of shuffling will take place to fill those newly opened spaces in the existing courthouse, but I would hazard to guess that the Board of Supervisors Room might be relocated to a bigger space, some offices will take advantage of the additional room and one or more offices that used to be in the courthouse might return.  And no, the historic courthouse won’t be torn down.

How were prospective sites chosen for the new courthouse?  Has a final decision been made?  The State’s real property staff has made an exhaustive effort to identify each property in the Quincy area (as the County seat) that could be a suitable location for the new courthouse.  This list of some 13 properties was made available to the Judicial Council, who shared it with the PAG.  Over the years, the Judicial Council has developed a multi-page list of attributes to be used when evaluating sites for new courthouses in California, with topics ranging from available public parking near the proposed site to the proximity of non-State, but court-related offices (i.e., District Attorney, County Clerk, local attorneys), to the nearness of restaurants and commercial properties that help serve the courts’ needs.  Using this list of attributes as a ranking system, three sites have been chosen as finalists for the new courthouse.  They are, as established by their scores: Dame Shirley Plaza, the Feather Publishing parcel, and the Stone House property in East Quincy along with the parcel immediately east of it.  It’s important to note that a final decision has not been made yet. The State’s design/build architect has been selected and is currently evaluating all three of these sites before they make a recommendation to the Judicial Council.

How can you defend the choice of Dame Shirley Plaza as the location of the new courthouse?  Weren’t you involved in developing this site in the first place?  This question cuts to the heart of why I agreed to participate in the PAG in the first place.  I had a hunch that DSP would emerge as one of the top choices, if not the number one contender, this time around…as it did in 2010-12 when new Quincy courthouse construction was first embarked upon.  If the State had not run into a financial crisis back then and frozen funds for new courthouse construction statewide, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. A lot of things have to come together before I would agree that Dame Shirley Plaza could be developed as the right choice for a new courthouse – but of course the ultimate choice is not mine to make.  Yes, I was involved in the design and construction of Dame Shirley Plaza (DSP) as an Assistant Engineer for Plumas County Public Works and the head of the Quincy Streetscape Committee at that time. So were many local volunteers who put a lot of time and effort into turning a weedy, trash-strewn lot that the County had purchased “for future use” into a beautiful downtown park that benefits residents and visitors alike.  My goal was – and is – to try to convince our county officials (read BOS) and the State’s architectural team to work together to maintain the large public space that makes up the bulk of DSP while accommodating the new courthouse and its attendant parking needs.  There are hurdles to overcome to accomplish this.  The Governor’s Office has decreed that grass will not be allowed as part of the landscaping for a new courthouse under the State’s water conservation mandates.  One way this could be overcome is by executing a Lot Line Adjustment (LLA), moving the east line of the DSP property west far enough to maintain a large grassy park that would continue to be owned by the County. This, along with the vacation and closure of the north half of Court Street (which would be developed into additional irrigated turf, blending into the existing courthouse lawn) would allow the Plaza and the Veteran’s Memorial to remain as a center for downtown activities.  The useful area of Dame Shirley Plaza could be very much the same size as it is today and remain a showcase for people entering Quincy from the north and west.

An issue I touched on earlier is the size of the new courthouse.  Here I will try to discuss some options for the building layout and the impact of those options on the site that is ultimately chosen for it.  A 54,000 square foot (SF) building would cover 1.24 acres all by itself if it were to be built as a single-story structure – half of that if it were two stories.  My thought is that if it could be built as a three-story building, the footprint would “only” cover 18,000 SF and allow more room on a smaller, State-owned parcel for parking, hardscape and landscaping.  This is the proposal for Dame Shirley Plaza that I put together last Fall and forwarded to the State through our PAG meetings.  At this point I have no idea whether the State’s architects will be open to any of my suggestions, should they settle on the Plaza as the preferred site.

What about land acquisition?  Will the State use eminent domain to take the land it needs?  No, the State is prohibited from the use of eminent domain for new courthouses.  Most – but not all – of the primary and adjacent landowners who would be affected by the State’s purchase of land have been contacted and have agreed to make their properties available if that particular site were chosen.  When a selection is made, offers will be made based upon the parcel(s) current appraised values.

I hope this clears up some of the misconceptions that seem to be going around regarding the new courthouse.

16 thoughts on “Where I Stand: Addressing speculation about the new courthouse and its potential location

  • John, you did a superb job of clarifying all elements related to the building of a new courthouse, and we appreciate getting this information.

  • No on the plaza. It’s a core part of the community. It’s our green space used for many activities. Why not the Feather Publishing parcel? It’s right downtown.

  • WOW!! Why since the inception of the county in 1854 has the court system operated just fine in the original courthouse? I believe as far as the courts go, only Superior Court would be affected. What will change in the operation of the court in a new building VS the Superior Court we have today? My guess is absolutely nothing. In reading an opinion of this it seems this has been in the works for years and was not done due to budgetary problems. As I understand it now, Governor Newsoms budget is short in the area of some 38 billion dollars. How on earth can adding a new building just to let the state have control over it and provide bigger bathrooms justify the expenditure of even one dollar? This to me shows why the state budget is in shambles. If the state wants to improve anything, provide struggling counties with grants to raise wages, which retains employees & in the long run, saves the county money. It seems common sense has gone out the door.

  • There are only 3 parks in Quincy, Dame Shirley is the ONLY green space in downtown, using this park to build a large courthouse and parking area would completely change the character of downtown and to even consider DSP as a site is short sighted and degrades the overall quality of the downtown gateway.

  • Assuming the state chooses DSP, can we actually compel the state to build a 3-story building on DSP, shrinking the footprint?

    If the state can do what it wants, the state will go with cheaper options of either one or two floors on DSP, instead of three..

    The less green space there is, the less community space there will be.

    How much will the community space change if DSP is chosen?

  • Nobody has addressed why the state can’t use the already constructed courthouse in Portola which is now sitting idle, doing nothing more than wasting and costing upkeep.

    Why not use that?

    • The courthouse cannot be in Portola because Quincy is the County seat; and the jail, CHP, Probation and Sheriff’s office are in Quincy. They all need to be close to the Courts.

    • Precisely my question too, Fill!

  • Thanks for the clarification, John. Please continue to keep us all updated.

  • Thank you, John, for an excellent overview. Is there some office or individual we can address at the state level as it considers the options?

  • Thank you John for taking the time to write an informative column. The courthouse selective process isn’t taken lightly and reading your column should answer a lot of questions if people would take the time to read what you wrote. I’m not sure I am in agreement with the idea of blocking off N. Court St. to through traffic and making that area an extension of the current courthouse lawn for community functions only because parking is already at a premium in that area and traffic flow would be altered. Then there is the issue of pedestrians crossing Main St. in front of what is now the Wildflower Cafe in both directions while traffic is turning the corner at the intersection of Bucks Lake Rd., Court St. and Main St. It seems that it is only a matter of time before a pedestrian is hit because they are crossing Main St. in this area. Thank you for the information, there is a lot we didn’t know.

  • Once the state selects Dame Shirley Park how can we ensure there won’t be a change to the design and amount of green space? We can’t. For those that want to protect and keep Dame Shirley Park now is the time to speak up against using that site. Once the ball gets rolling we will have less influence as the process moves forward.

    A few questions to consider:

    Will there be a significant boost in the number of people/jobs in the new courthouse, or is it moving existing employees to another building?

    What guarantees will there be to keep the same amount of green space and the ability to keep it under local control?

    Who in their right mind spends $50,000,000+ for a superfluous courthouse while having a $35,000,000,000 shortage of funds?

    Dame Shirley is probably the best piece of real estate in all of Quincy…Do we really want that to be a courthouse?

    And finally why would we be ok giving our park to the state court system?

  • I live in East Quincy and we could definitely use an increase in business on our side of town, why locate in the downtown on top of a beautiful existing park? Any other community in California wouldn’t dare destroy a park to build a large building and parking lot so why are we considering it? It doesn’t matter if there will be a space around it, the article states that no grass is allowed around new courthouses, this would be a terrible loss for our town.

  • Wow. A lot of people are worried about that mediocre park. When the community is dying all around us… We really hang-on to the scraps.

    But, hey, NEW court house!!! Am I right!!? I’m super excited that new focal point(s) of our local culture will be NOT one, but TWO government buildings… Really speaks volumes about our values. Good with your entitlement fight; I wish I could help, but my calendar is full

  • It would be nice if the old pizza factory lot could be turned into green space and then the new courthouse could use the Dame Shirley space.

  • Here’s what Quincy should do, turn Dame Shirley into a food court with a Taco Bell, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, and KFC. Tear down the old courthouse and build a Walmart Super Center, build the new courthouse in Ganser or Pioneer park.

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