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South O.C. courthouse funds OKd

A $118-million upgrade, delayed almost 20 years, will add 14 courtrooms to the run-down justice center in Laguna Niguel. Design work is ongoing.

December 13, 2006|Christian Berthelsen | Times Staff Writer

After delays spanning nearly two decades, Orange County supervisors approved an agreement Tuesday that puts a funding plan in place to build a new courthouse in southern Orange County.

The affluent area is the fastest-growing region of Orange County, with a population of roughly 650,000. But it has made do for years with four courtrooms in an aging building in Laguna Niguel that in recent years have not even been available for jury trials because of their poor condition. The building does not meet disability requirements.

The board began setting aside funds for a South County courthouse in 1977, but obstacles continually pushed the project back. As recently as 2003, a lean budget year, the county diverted more than $29 million from the courthouse fund to balance the county budget.

The agreement, between Orange County and the state administrative office of the courts, lays out a financing arrangement detailing who will pay, and how much, to build the $118-million project. The construction will be paid through bond financing, and under the agreement the county is committed to pay up to $2 million annually for 30 years, while the state will pay up to $6.2 million for 30 years.

The facility will have 14 new courtrooms in addition to the four existing ones. It will be built on the same site as the current courthouse, but is planned as part of a new civic center for Laguna Niguel that will include other public projects, such as a library and new City Hall.

Supervisor Tom Wilson praised the agreement during the board hearing Tuesday, noting that the effort to build a South County courthouse predated his tenure on the board and that he had "endured" the effort the entire time.

An engineering firm has been doing an environmental review and preliminary designs under a $3.8-million deal signed with the county in March, but until now there had been no definitive funding mechanism for construction. Once the engineering and design work is completed, the project will be put out to bid.

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christian.berthelsen@latimes.com

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