County officials say they are reluctantly abandoning a disputed plan to turn the Sears store in Alhambra into dependency courtrooms.
Dave Yonashiro of the county's chief administrative office said Thursday that the county now plans to buy only the 12-story office tower on the site. It would be used by the Department of Public Works.
Meanwhile, he said, the county is giving up on efforts to acquire the adjacent Sears retail building for use as a satellite dependency court with five hearing rooms.
Dependency Court hears cases involving neglected, abused and abandoned children.
Tom Hibbard, a spokesman for Supervisor Pete Schabarum, said there will be no push to locate the courtrooms at the site because the county never intended to thrust anything upon the city.
City officials came out against the plan in February, saying that the Sears retail store is Alhambra's biggest sales tax producer and that its loss would mean a decrease in tax revenues of $570,000 annually.
Last year Sears sold the tower, as well as the retail store and automotive center, and is currently transferring the office tower workers to jobs in Chicago.
A Manhattan Beach development firm now owns the entire complex, but Sears has a two-year lease on the retail store and automotive center. Before the dispute erupted, county officials had hoped to take over the retail buildings at the end of that lease.
The city's opposition has dealt a blow to the county's efforts to find inexpensive locations for satellite dependency courtrooms in the San Gabriel Valley.
County officials say such facilities are badly needed to handle about 70 children per week who are housed at the MacLaren Children's Center in El Monte and whose cases must now be heard in downtown Los Angeles.
No Satellite Courtrooms
Those children must be transported to 15 backlogged courtrooms in the Criminal Courts Building that have been used for Dependency Court hearings for several years. There are no satellite courtrooms anywhere in the county, officials said.
County Clerk Frank Zolin said judges in the dependency courts are pressing the county to construct a 25-courtroom headquarters downtown, and then satellite courtrooms in the San Gabriel Valley.
"We had a couple of years where we experienced 100% growth, and right now we can hardly handle the workload with 15 courts," Zolin said. "About four years ago we were handling all the cases with just five courts."
But in the past 12 years, the county has turned aside several requests by the Dependency Court for a large downtown courthouse.
Several officials, including Schabarum, say satellite courts will help avoid further traffic congestion downtown and are less expensive, more efficient and better located to serve the children and families who need them.
"Is it reasonable to make people come downtown from all over the county, or will a decentralized facility work? We think it will," said Hibbard.
"It's getting harder and harder to get downtown, and we just don't see any sense to that idea."
But Zolin said the judges want the first funds to be earmarked for a downtown headquarters.
"It's not as simple as either/or," he said. "But a headquarters will give us 25 courts and the satellite only five. Our first priority is for a headquarters."
The county's administrative office has begun studying funding possibilities and sites for both satellite courts and a central headquarters. It will report to the board next month, after which the board may decide which way to proceed.
Meanwhile, county officials said they hope Alhambra's opposition to the county's first proposal will not be repeated when they make their new purchase offer.
Yonashiro said the county now seeks to buy only the 400,000-square-foot office tower, which is expected to be empty by July.