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Congress Slashes Funding for O.C. Courthouse : Government: County will receive only $103 million for Santa Ana facility expected to cost $168 million.


WASHINGTON — Orange County will get only $103 million next year for work on its new federal courthouse, about $65 million less than the total needed to complete construction, a congressional aide said Friday.

The decision, reportedly made by House and Senate budget negotiators, is the latest setback for the star-crossed project, which is to be built on 3.9 acres of city-owned land in the Santa Ana Civic Center.

Two weeks ago, officials of the General Services Administration, the housekeeping arm of the federal government, said the agency was temporarily putting the brakes on 118 federal office and courthouse projects across the country--including the one in Santa Ana--pending a review of cost and need. That review could take up to six months.

A spokesman for Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove), whose district includes the courthouse site, said Friday that the $103 million figure was agreed on late Thursday by congressional budget negotiators. The money is included in a $22-billion bill that will fund the Treasury Department, Postal Service and other agencies in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

The final figure for the Santa Ana courthouse was the same amount approved last month by the Senate. The House earlier had set aside $148 million for the project, still $20 million short of the total needed. The compromise bill must be passed again by both houses of Congress before it becomes law.

Courthouse funding has become a matter of contention between Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach). Cox, who has told supporters he plans to seek Feinstein's Senate seat next year, helped initiate the courthouse project when he served on the House Committee on Public Works and Transportation.

Feinstein has said that language in the Senate appropriations bill guarantees that the rest of the money needed to build the 348,000-square-foot courthouse will be available in fiscal 1995. The senator said the project can proceed in the interim because the money appropriated for 1994 is enough to pay for excavation at the Santa Ana site, which is bounded by 4th, 5th and Ross streets.

But Cox has said contractors will hesitate to begin work until they know that all the money needed to complete construction has been set aside by Congress.

In the meantime, architects at the Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Partnership in Newport Beach are completing their work on the courthouse design.

Neither Cox nor Feinstein was immediately available for comment Friday.

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

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