MODESTO -- Because California lawmakers have "redirected" millions away from the state's courthouse construction fund, Modesto's new courthouse has been placed on hold.
To balance the state's just-passed budget, legislators decided $240 million in courthouse construction funds should be used instead for routine court operations.
Part of that construction money, however, was supposed to be used to buy land for new courthouses in downtown Modesto and Sonora and to do the architectural work needed for a courthouse in Los Banos.
All those projects suddenly are in limbo, along with more than a dozen other courthouses planned in California.
"We're looking at a significantly smaller building program now," said Teresa Ruano, spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of the Courts.
She said lawmakers have decided to indefinitely shift at least $50 million per year from courthouse construction to routine court operations.
That means California will not be able to build as many courthouses as it has planned.
So before buying property in Modesto or Sonora or drawing courthouse plans for Los Banos, Ruano said everything has been frozen until a new priority list is created for how to spend the construction funds that remain.
New courthouses in Stockton and Calaveras County will be able to proceed, however, because they are further along in the construction process.
The state had planned to build a $278.3 million courthouse in Modesto, a $69.2 million courthouse in Sonora and a $32.2 million courthouse in Los Banos.
In Modesto, two courthouse sites were being considered:
The block where The Bee leases space between 13th and 14th streets and H and I streets
The block where the city of Modesto and its redevelopment agency own property between Ninth and 10th streets and G and H streets
Despite the state's budget woes, Stanislaus County's court executive officer, Michael Tozzi, said he is optimistic the Modesto courthouse will be funded.
"We're anticipating they'll tell us we are one of the sites that can proceed with the acquisition process," he said Monday.
Tozzi said the state's Trial Court Facilities Working Group will meet today, and he expects more information will be released after that.
"They know we're a critical needs court," said Tozzi, explaining how badly Stanislaus needs a new courthouse.
Appraisals for the two proposed Modesto locations have been completed, and Tozzi said the county is ready to start negotiating with landowners to purchase one of the sites.
"If they delay the purchase one or two years, then anything could happen to those sites," Tozzi said, noting that court officials want to stay in downtown Modesto.
City officials are rooting for the site between Ninth and 10th streets and G and H streets because the city owns a significant chunk of that block.
"We'd like to sell it to them for the courthouse," said Brent Sinclair, Modesto's director of community and economic development. "But from the city's point of view, either of those sites would be good for downtown. We just want a new courthouse. Any construction activity would be a great boost for the city."
The state had planned to build a facility with 26 courtrooms, which originally was supposed to open in mid-2016.
Ruano said she had no estimate of when a final decision would be made about the future of that courthouse.
Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2196.