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Editorial: $152M courthouse is a stimulating development

By   /   Monday, December 20th, 2010  /   Comments Off on Editorial: $152M courthouse is a stimulating development

The state judicial branch should focus on helping the local economy along as it builds its $152 million courthouse in Santa Barbara

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In an early Christmas gift to the region’s ailing construction industry, California’s judicial branch has announced plans to spend more than $150 million for a new justice center smack dab in downtown Santa Barbara.

For a state that’s going broke fast, $152 million in spending seems a bit over the top. And when it comes right down to it, this massive infrastructure effort might have been averted or delayed by — don’t hold your breath — setting up security screening stations in the front entrance to Santa Barbara’s historic Courthouse.

But, the wheels of decision-making in the California judicial system move in mysterious ways. Bond funds have been raised and must be spent, and it’s true that the Figueroa Street annex to the landmark courthouse is badly deteriorated, too small and not very secure.

As Real Estate Editor Marlize van Romburgh reports, if negotiations to acquire the so-called Hayward’s site proceed as planned, some $152 million will be spent to build a new justice center, including spanking new criminal courtrooms and holding cells.

The Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce and UC Santa Barbara economist Peter Rupert are heralding the projects as classic economic stimulus, which will add some 3,500 new construction and building services jobs over a five-year period.

Given that labor is abundant and materials are plentiful, we’d guess that the judicial system will get a lot of bang for its buck. But we’d offer a few words of advice to the system as it contemplates a new Santa Barbara County facility. To wit:

Hire local contractors. It’s plenty quirky to excavate and build on the South Coast. Just ask Granite Construction, which had a leaking mess on its hands when it tried to lay a few blocks of pavers on Carrillo Street.

Be transparent. Ultimately, the taxpayers will foot the bill for this bond-funded improvement. We have a right to know who’s doing what and at what cost.

Work with the community. City officials are known for being sticklers for detail when it comes to granting permits — even to other government authorities. Traffic in downtown Santa Barbara often moves at a slug’s pace, so don’t try to time each cement delivery to the split second.

It still strikes us as highly ironic that Santa Barbara, with an unemployment rate at around 5 percent, is getting $152 million for a city center makeover when Santa Maria urgently needs a new jail and has jobless numbers above 10 percent. But what happens in Santa Barbara doesn’t always stay in Santa Barbara — the entire tri-county region will benefit from this project.

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