(TNS) - More than 140 courthouses across California are seismically unsafe, a study commissioned by state officials determined, and fixing just the worst dozen would cost more than $300 million.
In a serious earthquake, 145 courthouses could face “substantial” structural damage, “extensive” non-structural damage and “substantial” risk to the life of those in the buildings, says the study, presented Wednesday to a committee with the Judicial Council, which sets policy for California courts.
Glendale Superior and Municipal Courthouse received a seismic risk rating of 44.2, the highest in the state and among a dozen facilities considered very high risk. The report used seismic-risk ratings developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.
Other Los Angeles County facilities in the very-high-risk category included the west and east wings of the Stanley Mosk Courthouse, which each received a 23 rating.
In Orange County, the central courthouse in Santa Ana was given a 2.1 seismic-risk rating, while the north court facility in Fullerton got a 4.4. The Lamoreaux Justice Center, in Orange, received a 3.3. All are considered high-risk facilities.
Gwen Vieau, the spokeswoman for Orange County Superior Court, noted that the ratings for these facilities put them below the threshold suggesting immediate intervention.
“We remain concerned about the current condition of several of our courthouses, but we are hopeful in these times of limited resources (that) necessary structural repairs can be made to all court facilities before they are tested or damaged by any seismic activity,” Vieau said.
Other Los Angeles facilities in the high-risk range: those in Beverly Hills, Burbank, Pasadena, Lancaster, Alhambra, Newhall, Norwalk, Van Nuys and Santa Monica, which collected 3.4 to 5.4 ratings.
Representatives of Los Angeles Superior Court declined comment.
The most-troubled facility in Riverside County, at the high-risk level, was the Hemet Courthouse, with an 8.2 seismic rating. The worst in San Bernardino County, at the same level, was the Victorville Courthouse, which received a 4.3 rating.
Retrofitting the dozen very-high-risk court facilities would cost $300 million to $400 million, the study found, while the price tag for retrofitting the 44 high-risk facilities would boost the price tag by $1.3 billion to $1.7 billion.
“We need to address this,” said Brad R. Hill, administrative presiding justice of the California Court of Appeals, fifth appellate district, during the Wednesday meeting in San Francisco. “We can’t be in a position, after a major earthquake, to have the public say, ‘What were you doing, and why didn’t you raise the alarm?’ We are raising the alarm.”
Several committee members noted that most people going to a courthouse don’t have a choice, because they are either serving jury duty or under a court order to attend a hearing.
“This is a risk that we can avoid and fix,” said Val Toppenberg, a former Merced and West Sacramento redevelopment director who sits on the committee.
However, any construction is contingent on money from the state, which committee members noted leaves them at the whims of state legislators and the governor.
“It doesn’t get safer each year as the buildings get older,” said Stephen Nash, executive officer for Contra Costa County Superior Court. “We are sitting on a time bomb. We are watching the clock tick. But our ability to do anything has been taken away.”
State budget cuts over the last decade have hit California courts particularly hard, as hundreds of millions of dollars for construction and operations were slashed. Earlier this year, Superior Court officers from across the state urged Gov Jerry Brown to earmark more money to the system.
Architect Clifford Ham, who presented the study to the Judicial Council committee, noted that the courthouses’ seismic issues are comparable to those other state agencies face, such as those governing public universities or veterans organizations.
The findings represent a “fairly rough estimate,” he said.
The engineering company that put together the study is now going to turn its attention to identifying the 20 to 25 court facilities that would be the best candidates for retrofitting.
©2017 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)
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