MODESTO -- California court officials have given the go-ahead to purchase land in Modesto for a new Stanislaus County courthouse.
Which of the two proposed downtown sites the state wants to buy hasn't been revealed, but that's expected to be announced next month.
The long-planned $278.3 million, eight-story facility is a year behind schedule, and there's no guarantee the state can afford to build it.
Nevertheless, California's Judicial Council agreed Friday to allow negotiations to start for the purchase of an entire block in downtown Modesto.
"Right now, it's blue skies and green lights," said Michael Tozzi, Stanislaus County's court executive officer. "But I'm going to hold my breath."
Unless California voters agree to raise income and sales taxes as proposed by a few propositions on the Nov. 6 ballot state officials may divert courthouse construction funds to more pressing needs.
If that happens, construction could be delayed indefinitely.
Nearly $1.5 billion in court user fees originally designated by the Legislature for court construction already is being borrowed, transferred to the state's general fund or redirected to court operations.
Tozzi said there's fear the state may divert more money from court construction if voters reject tax increases.
The state court system had planned to build or renovate 31 California courthouses, including projects in Modesto, Los Banos and Sonora.
Seven of those projects are on indefinite hold and others are being scaled down.
In Modesto, the state planned to build a 301,464-square-foot facility with 26 courtrooms. Those plans likely will be modified, but court officials expect to need about three acres for the construction project.
The current courthouse is at 800 11th St.
Since mid-2011, state officials have been evaluating other downtown Modesto sites for the new courthouse. Here are the two finalists:
The block where the city of Modesto and its redevelopment agency own property between Ninth and 10th streets and G and H streets. Private landowners there include G&K (Reed) Enterprises, Gary Gervasoni, Helen Silva, Gina Rugani and Curtis Mote.
The block where The Bee leases space between 13th and 14th streets and H and I streets. That 2.75-acre block was sold in April 2011 to a group of investors from Visalia and San Luis Obispo.
Tozzi said "there's a gap" between how much owners of those two blocks want the state to pay for their property. If landowners significantly lower their price offer, Tozzi said officials from the state Administrative Office of the Courts might switch their preference on which to buy.
But the final site selection decision will be made by a committee of seven Stanislaus Superior Court judges, Tozzi said.
Court construction plans also are proceeding in Los Banos, where a 29,511-square-foot building is expected to cost $32.2 million.
Design of Sonora's new courthouse also is going ahead. That 66,724-square-foot structure is expected to cost $69.2 million.
Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2196.