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Cost Review Delays Santa Ana Court, 13 Other U.S. Projects


WASHINGTON — The proposed federal courthouse in Santa Ana and 13 other federal projects in California will be delayed--and possibly scuttled--by a cost review announced Thursday by the Clinton Administration.

The Times reported last week that the list of affected projects includes the Santa Ana courthouse. In documents released today, the GSA also included court facilities in Sacramento and San Francisco, and new Border Patrol stations in Calexico and Tecate.

GSA Administrator Roger W. Johnson ordered the time-out to ensure that the federal government does not construct or sign leases for new building space that it does not need, he said. Vice President Al Gore's task force on reinventing government, known formally as the National Performance Review, called for the moratorium in a report released last week.

"With the President's call to modernize and streamline the federal workplace, expanding the federal portfolio of office space . . . at this time seems contradictory," said Johnson, the Orange County businessman who broke ranks with local Republicans to become an early supporter of Clinton's bid for the presidency. Before taking the government job, Johnson served as chief executive of Western Digital Corp. in Irvine.

California lawmakers have urged Johnson to speed the review to avoid protracted delays in what they said are much-needed projects. Referring specifically to the proposed courthouse in Santa Ana, Sen. Dianne Feinstein said: "Reducing the federal bureaucracy is laudable, but ignoring the federal government's responsibility to provide courthouses in underserved areas is foolish and unwise."

Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach), who is likely to seek Feinstein's Senate seat next year, and Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove), also urged Johnson to hasten the review, which could take up to six months. The administrator has not responded to those requests.

The GSA, the government's purchasing and housekeeping agency, is responsible for maintaining more than 7,700 federal buildings across the country. The moratorium will apply to 188 projects with a value of $7.4 billion.

Johnson said the GSA will review each project to ensure that it is needed and cost-effective. Affected are major new building and renovation projects for which construction contracts have not been awarded, and major federal leases that would result in construction of a new building by a third party.

After a regional review, each project will be considered by GSA officials in Washington. If the agency wants to halt a project, it will seek permission from Congress.

The GSA moratorium is not the only obstacle facing the Santa Ana courthouse, to be named after former President Ronald Reagan. The ground-breaking schedule for the project was put in doubt earlier this year when House and Senate construction appropriations came up short.

The House set aside $148 million--$20 million short of the estimated cost--to construct the 348,000-square-foot courthouse and office building on 3.9 acres of city-owned land in the Santa Ana Civic Center.

The Senate voted to spend $103 million on the project, with the differing figures to be reconciled in a House-Senate conference committee. Feinstein, who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said her colleagues on the committee vowed to provide the balance of the needed funds next year.

Last year, Congress appropriated $6.4 million for design, and the GSA awarded a design contract last spring.

Orange County has no permanent federal courthouse, although a handful of judges sit in temporary, 30,000-square-foot quarters in the Civic Center. Cox and other lawmakers have argued that the Los Angeles courthouse, where many Orange County cases are referred, is choked with litigation and too far away.

In Los Angeles, the GSA moratorium will put a hold on plans to renovate and repair the Federal Building on North Los Angeles Street, which was constructed in 1964, and lease new office space for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Also on hold are plans to build a $162-million courthouse in Sacramento, a new federal office building in San Francisco, and an annex for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal, also in San Francisco.

The delay also affects plans to construct new facilities for the Border Patrol in Calexico and Tecate, a new laboratory for the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, and to renovate office buildings in Menlo Park and Sacramento.

Rounding out the list are plans to lease space for the Environmental Protection Agency in San Francisco, the Department of Health and Human Services in San Francisco, and the Internal Revenue Service in San Jose.

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