TAHOE CITY, Calif. — Amid continuing challenges with California’s budget, the Placer County Grand Jury is again recommending replacing the aging Burton Creek sheriff’s substation and court facility in Tahoe City.
“I wholeheartedly agree with the grand jury ... that the facility is inadequate and outdated,” said Capt. Jeffrey Ausnow, Tahoe station commander for the Placer County Sheriff’s Office. “It would be very nice to have a building that accommodates all our uses.”
The property has been cited with several shortcomings over the years, and Placer County grand juries for nearly two decades have recommended its replacement.
An investigation by the 2012-13 grand jury found that failure to replace the facility has not been due to a “lack of will” on part of the county or courts system, but because of outside factors, including shortages in county and state funds, the complexity of building within the Tahoe Basin, and legislative changes that have altered court administration.
Placer County has made efforts over the years to address the property’s issues of overcrowding and noncompliance with current seismic, fire safety and American with Disabilities Act standards, according to the grand jury’s recent report.
However, the two-story facility still has deficiencies, including restrooms not being ADA-compliant, inadequate space for efficient security screening of the public entering the building and no space for attorneys to meet with clients, among others.
On Tuesday, the Placer County Board of Supervisors approved a response letter to the grand jury, agreeing with its findings.
In its statewide review of court facilities, the California Judicial Council has identified the Placer County Tahoe Area Court as one of its highest priorities for replacement.
In 2010, the state awarded $27.5 million for the project. In 2011, the California State Public Works Board approved two potential sites for a new courthouse, with the preferred location at the Tahoe Tree Company property in Tahoe City, and a secondary option at Dollar Hill.
Difficulties were encountered with the Tahoe Tree Company property, said Mary Dietrich, director of Placer County facility services, in an interview this week.
Further, after the state conducted planning for the Dollar Hill property, the judicial council put the project on indefinite hold due to the redirecting of nearly $1.5 billion in new court construction funds as part of California’s budget restructuring.
The favored option among stakeholders is to create a new multi-use Tahoe Justice Center, the 2012-13 grand jury found. If the facility is to house a court, sheriff’s substation and county offices, Placer County would have take the lead and purchase a suitable site.
“The timing is right to prepare a plan and determine a suitable site so that, if need be, a site can be purchased while property values remain relatively low,” the grand jury found.
Such a facility would likely cost in excess of $20 million, Dietrich said.
In the meantime, Placer County has budgeted $2.7 million in the current fiscal year for a new Tahoe Justice Center, which should be “sufficient” to begin planning, according to the grand jury.
Dietrich is drafting a request for proposals for architectural programming and preliminary design of the center, according to the county. The initial phase of the process would analyze the existing Burton Creek site along with other potential sites. A contract could be ready in the first quarter of 2014.
Since construction of a replacement facility is expected to take several years, the grand jury recommends PCSO continue using the Burton Creek property only as a court-holding facility.