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Congressmen attack downtown L.A. courthouse construction plan

Plan to build a federal courthouse and offices on a vacant lot in downtown L.A. comes under scrutiny by Republicans from Central California and Pennsylvania.

August 19, 2012|By Sam Allen, Los Angeles Times
  • Rep. Jeff Denham, a Republican from Atwater in Central California, called the plan to build a new federal courthouse and federal office building in downtown Los Angeles a "sham" and said the judiciary would not need more space if its judges shared courtrooms more efficiently.
Rep. Jeff Denham, a Republican from Atwater in Central California, called… (U.S. House of Representatives )

A complex plan to build a new federal courthouse and federal office building in downtown Los Angeles has come under fire by two congressmen who argue that the proposal lacks justification and won't work financially.

Under the plan proposed by the U.S. General Services Administration, two buildings would be built on a lot bounded by Broadway and 1st, 2nd and Hill streets. Part of the project would be funded by a private developer, which in return would take over an existing federal courthouse building on Spring Street.

Rep. Jeff Denham, a Republican from Atwater in Central California, called the proposal a "sham" at a hearing Friday in Los Angeles and said the judiciary would not need more space if its judges shared courtrooms more efficiently. Denham, chairman of the Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management Subcommittee, also expressed doubts that the GSA could find a developer willing to invest in the project.

"I get it, I know these judges would love to have a much bigger, palatial courtroom with lots of extra room and big conference rooms," Denham said. "The question is, can we afford it?"

He was joined by Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), who also criticized the GSA's plan. "It's outrageous that judges insist upon having their own courtrooms when they don't use them, when they spend much of the time vacant," Shuster said.

There are two federal courthouses downtown: the Spring Street courthouse, built in 1938, and the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building, which opened in the early 1990s.

In 2000, the GSA requested funding for a new downtown courthouse, citing overcapacity and security problems involved in transporting prisoners to the Spring Street courthouse. Congress appropriated $400 million for a 41-courtroom building on 1st Street, but the construction suffered repeated delays and cost increases, and the project was ultimately canceled in 2006.

Last year, the GSA announced a revised plan for a smaller, 24-courtroom facility at the same site. The agency also said it would seek to exchange the existing Spring Street courthouse with a "private-sector partner" that would build a second building at the 1st Street lot for other federal offices.

GSA officials say the new proposal would allow them to consolidate federal employees into a central campus and dispose of an unneeded asset, while helping the ongoing revitalization efforts in the Civic Center.

Construction on the smaller courthouse is expected to begin this year, Richards said, but the GSA plans to spend several months studying the second piece of the project before moving forward on the exchange.

sam.allen@latimes.com

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