The long-sought Santa Ana branch of the U.S. District Court could be in place this fall on a county parking lot next to the Federal Building, the chief federal judge in Los Angeles announced Friday.
Judge Manuel L. Real, who once opposed the extension, told a group of about 300 lawyers, judges and others at a Law Day luncheon in Orange that the modular units should be going up in September.
Even the U.S. General Services Administration, which has been at loggerheads with the court over where to put the branch, agreed that a lease and the letting of bids for the modular units should be completed by the end of May.
Real, saying he is "committed to getting a presence down here," warned his cheering audience that construction could be delayed by unforseen circumstances.
Leaders of the Orange County Bar Assn. were cautiously optimistic.
"I'll believe it when I see it, but I'm eagerly looking forward to a federal court branch in Santa Ana," said David L. Price, Bar Assn. president.
For five years, the court has been making plans to open courtrooms in Orange County, where lawsuits by and against major corporations based in the county are helping to keep court dockets in Los Angeles full.
Last December, the plan's future looked bleak. Besides the sometimes fractious relations between GSA and the court, the GSA regional office in San Francisco acknowledged that the $3 million needed for the modular units was not in the appropriation it received from GSA headquarters in Washington, D.C.
But supplemental funds have made the project possible, said Mary Philippini, a GSA spokeswoman in San Francisco.
A 10-year lease on about 1 1/2 acres the City of Santa Ana now uses for a parking lot should be completed in two or three weeks, said Philippini and Thomas Galvan, property management chief of the county's General Services Agency. The city has agreed to move its cars elsewhere, they said.
Rent and Options
Galvan said the county probably would seek $100,000 to $120,000 a year in rent. The lease also would include an option for five more years, he said.
After construction bids are advertised in late May, Philippini said, it would take until late September to review and award a contract. She said modular units to house two courtrooms, a magistrate's hearing room and other office space will be assembled on the site within eight weeks.
After operating for a few years to assess future needs, the court expects to plan a permanent courthouse in Orange County. Philippini said the site will probably be a federal parking lot across the street from the Federal Building.