SALINAS VALLEY — New courthouse projects in Greenfield and Seaside were both suspended by the Superior Court of California’s Monterey County branch, according to an announcement made last week.
The funding impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on the state budget, including withdrawals previously allocated for judicial facilities, were credited as the reason for suspending the projects.
In addition, the court announced approval of $224,074 to repair the roof of the King City Courthouse, which is currently in a state of disrepair as other portions of the building are in use by different agencies.
Repairs are expected to proceed in July or August, and the county said the King City Courthouse could open by early 2021.
The June 22 announcement was made to Luis Alejo, District 1 county supervisor, who then shared the information on social media shortly afterward.
“It’s unfortunate the majority of the projects overall have lost their funding,” said Chris Lopez, District 3 county supervisor.
Lopez noted the inter-lake pipeline screen project was also canceled due to budget pullbacks.
“As we continue to see the governments focusing on equity and the need for minority communities to have access to government services, perhaps that will inform the court on providing services to communities that need them the most,” Lopez said.
The Greenfield courthouse project has been in the works for more than a decade, and has already been the subject of funding-focused delays. Greenfield’s city government made an arrangement where the state would build and fund the courthouse, while the city granted the property. The property is currently owned by the state.
“There’s other projects throughout the state that are also looking for investment,” Lopez said. “We’re just once again catching the short end of the budgetary stick.”
King City’s restoration will now be the county court’s focus in the south.
“I’m hopeful that they can find a way to bring meaningful services to South County and find all the funding needed to make all those services come to fruition in the southern end of our county that needs them the most,” Lopez said.
“It is still the intent of the city to have the court system have a home in Greenfield,” said Paul Wood, Greenfield’s city manager. “Covid-19 has changed many priorities for everyone, especially the state.”
Wood said the state’s decision to repair King City made sense from a monetary savings view, since repair and upgrade would cost less than building a new facility. He added that not only was Greenfield suspended, but the site in Seaside was postponed as well. Their selection in the first place proved a need by those communities for court services.
“We are looking into eventually developing that property to house other municipal agencies,” Wood said.
He explained what could go into the property could be an ag commissioner office, state representative offices, conference rooms or a future courthouse project.
“By designing the buildings appropriately and by working with the Judicial Council, the footprint of the building that we build could still allow for a courthouse on that property,” Wood said.
Timing, however, has caused review of the prior agreement between the city and state.
“It was the parties’ intent that the property be returned to the city if the courthouse project was not constructed by a certain date,” Wood said. “The city council recently directed staff to work with the state to accomplish the return of the property and we are currently engaged in that process.”
Greenfield building its own government center on the property could allow it to determine the future not only of the site, but the government services offered in the city, Wood explained.
“By building municipal offices and leaving appropriate space for a future courthouse, with a footprint that makes sense to the Judicial Council, we allow ourselves to best utilize the assets we have, and to add revenue streams not possible without developing the property or by waiting for the state,” Wood said.
Wood noted that having a government center in Greenfield would increase access to justice for all South Monterey County communities.
“We believe the courthouse will come in time, but until then, Greenfield City Hall already hosts the county behavioral services, traffic court and small claims court, so we are already, without having a courthouse, providing access to justice for our communities to the extent that we can,” Wood said.