The courthouse above is really that below.
She has been standing on the street corner at Main Street and Bedford Avenue since 1912, welcoming those seeking justice, but the beautiful old courthouse is no longer able to serve the purpose to which she was dedicated more than a century ago, according to California state officials.
Like grown children trying to decide what to do with an aging parent, the community has been arguing over the fate of the ornate old building.
The El Dorado County Courthouse, with its stately and proud presence, apparently is serving its last days as a justice hub, with plans afoot to have a judicial complex in place by 2021 on property near the county jail on Forni Road, within city limits but no longer downtown.
There are those who say such a move should never happen, that the loss of the courthouse and its ancillary services and businesses such as the District Attorney, Public Defender and private law offices will mean the devastation of the downtown Main Street economy.
There are others, however, who envision a rebirth of the area, with a revitalization of not only the old courthouse building but the DA’s Office right across Bedford Avenue, a building that historically was Placerville’s post office. The nearby Old City Hall and even the brick county Chamber of Commerce building all could be part of a package deal with a city-county-private partnership that would infuse the funding to make the project into a historical haven that would draw tourists off Highway 50 and onto Main Street, proponents say.
A Blue Ribbon Committee was formed last year with the goal of helping to decide just what the old courthouse’s future might be; it met twice, but the last two scheduled meetings were canceled in January and February, due to pending litigation by an organization that states it seeks to preserve historical aspects of the city.
The Placerville Historic Preservation League filed a lawsuit last summer saying that an environmental impact report regarding having the courthouse operation move is inadequate and in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) because it doesn’t address nor offer mitigation of possible damage to the downtown business core. The league’s Kirk Callan Smith has said the EIR did not adequately address issues including the “blight and urban decay” that would result downtown if the courthouse moves to the planned site near the county jail.
Therefore, the suit alleges, the certification of the EIR is in violation of CEQA and it asks that the Judicial Council of California “vacate and rescind all approvals” for the Forni Road courthouse project, a planned 88,000-square-foot, three-story building with six courtrooms and a basement.
Smith has told the Mountain Democrat he thinks there is sufficient property in the immediate area of the existing courthouse to build an even bigger courts complex than the one eyed for Forni Road.
For decades it has been discussed having the current courthouse, built in 1912, “re-purposed” into possible retail, offices and even a museum but the PHPL maintains that the court should remain as is.
The state, however, since 2002 has taken over the operation and management of all superior courts and has deemed the Placerville situation in need of immediate changes. The state Judicial Council said not only is the main courthouse in downtown no longer workable as a court, it also took into consideration the auxiliary courtroom in Building C at the county Government Center, Dept. 7. But, even together, the facilities were deemed inadequate to fill future needs