By Dave Fidlin
After delays and setbacks, transition to new Central Courthouse is underway
Patience is a virtue: This phrase has served as a mantra throughout all corners of the San Diego branch of the California Superior Court.
After a series of delays, which pushed the opening date back on several occasions this past year, officials began the long process of transitioning all of the Downtown courthouse functions into one centralized building, perched at the corner of Union and West C streets.
As the New Year dawns, portions of the new 704,000-square-foot, 22-story facility are up and running. During the week before Christmas, several functions — including family court, jury services and some of the probate court functions — had already begun operating out of the new digs.
In the hopes of making the sizable transition as digestible as possible, plans call for moving other functions over in a series of waves, through the first week of February.
Michael Roddy, executive officer of the Central Courthouse, said the work is taking place over six phases. The first phase, now completed, was the most complex, Roddy said, though it went off without a hitch.
“We began the move at the close of business that Wednesday [Dec. 13], and had a small army of movers,” Roddy said in an interview with Downtown News. “There was a lot that went into it, but it actually went relatively smoothly.”
The most granular work — invisible to the casual observer — is also complex, particularly for an operation with the scope and size of San Diego’s Central Courthouse. All the latest technology is being harnessed within the new facility, for security, public and employee access, and energy efficient lighting methods.
The size and scope of the five remaining phases are smaller, and Roddy said he and others intricately involved with the move are hopeful each subsequent phase will go forward seamlessly as well.
In a way, the series of delays for the actual move had a silver lining, Roddy said, as he outlined the extensive process. The amended timetable afforded Roddy and other staffers more of an opportunity to plan the various logistics.
The new courthouse — a project pegged at $555 million — was scheduled to open by early 2017, but the opening was delayed several times, in large part due to infrastructure issues behind the scenes, including an extensive smoke and fire alarm system installation.
A July opening had to be pushed back, again, when officials in the state fire marshal’s office ruled more than 1,000 smoke dampeners had to be re-programmed and re-tested to determine their effectiveness.
Touted as a “one-stop shop,” the new Central Courthouse will bring all services — previously housed in three separate, progressively cramped facilities — under one roof.
The new site also offers a variety of modern amenities, including free wireless internet service for the public and more functional space for all persons using the facility.
The layout, Roddy said, is expected to improve visitors’ experiences, while dually ensuring the highest level of security possible. Shackled inmates, for instance, will no longer have any interface with the general public — a scenario that had still been playing out in the old arrangement.
Public talks of the project stretch back about a decade, though Roddy said internal discussions about a new facility have taken place over the course of a much longer time span.
“It’s something that’s been looked at for about 30 years,” Roddy said. “We’ve believed the public deserves better. We think this building is going to deliver on that promise.”
In the weeks ahead, the California Superior Court will continue its transition into the new Central Courthouse facility. Departments will make their moves to the new venue on the following dates:
Monday, Jan. 8 — Presiding and assistant presiding judicial departments, executive office, judicial services, misdemeanor business office, community outreach, family law facilitators, family support division.
Monday, Jan. 15 — Appeals, court clerk support, court reader administration, interpreter support, case processing.
Monday, Jan. 22 — Exhibits storage, administrative services, legal services, background investigation unit.
Monday, Jan. 29 — Courthouse support staff, criminal records, central administration, public affairs officer.
Monday, Feb. 5 — All remaining departments; move scheduled to wrap by this date.
For more details on the San Diego branch of the California Supreme Court, including the move underway, visit sdcourt.ca.gov.
— Dave Fidlin is a freelance journalist with a special affinity for San Diego and its people. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.