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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : Open and Shut Case

September 11, 1993

Whatever justifiable enthusiasm there may be in Washington for trying to streamline government, there is apparently a flip side for Orange County, which now faces the prospect of further delay on the $168-million federal courthouse project in Santa Ana. The project could even be killed.

In line with a brief section of the study directed by Vice President Al Gore, intended to eliminate waste and inefficiency, the General Service Administration will halt construction and leasing of new federal office buildings, including courthouses, so that cost and need can be reviewed.

Reassessing deals already done inevitably must be a part of any comprehensive plan to eliminate the fat in government. However, this is one bit of second-guessing that Orange County, already inconvenienced, does not need.

The new head of the GSA, Roger W. Johnson, an Orange County Republican businessman who supported President Clinton's candidacy, ought to be able to spare the reinventors of government any wasted time and effort on this one. With firsthand knowledge, he should be able to expedite a fair review so that the case for the courthouse will be evident and it can proceed before delay further increases the cost to taxpayers.

Orange County has judges in temporary quarters in Santa Ana, and there is too much going on locally to continue having cases referred to crowded and distant Los Angeles. This county deserves its own courthouse. Moreover, this is a community redevelopment issue; the new courthouse can be a catalyst for revitalization of the inner city.

With much of the planning already done, the courthouse should have been wrapped up and ready to go by now. It already has been caught up in unnecessary political budgetary wrangling in Congress. At least the two key players in that political debate, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach), a strong backer of the courthouse who is a likely challenger for Feinstein's Senate seat, both lament this latest wrinkle.

Reform of government is good, but a much-needed courthouse for Orange County should not be confused with overly expensive coffeepots.

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