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Congressional Hearing to Discuss Whether New L.A. Courthouse is Really Needed

By Eric Richardson
Published: Thursday, November 03, 2011, at 02:38PM
Proposed Federal Courthouse Site Eric Richardson

The site of the federal government's proposed new courthouse at 1st and Broadway still looks just as it did in this 2008 photo. The project has been stalled for years by escalating cost estimates.

For four-and-a-half years, a 3.7-acre block in the heart of Downtown has been an empty dirt pit, stuck in limbo as different arms of the government debated what was needed and what could be afforded in a new federal courthouse for Los Angeles.

The former state building that the site at 1st and Broadway once housed was torn down in early 2007, but nothing has been built to take its place. On Friday morning, a congressional subcommittee will meet to gather information about whether the planned $400 million project is even necessary.

“This is a prime example of government waste," said Rep. Jeff Denham, chairman of the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management. "Ten years ago, $400 million was appropriated for a building that still doesn’t exist, to house federal judges that don’t exist. This vacant lot in downtown LA could be sold and used for private sector growth to create jobs."

The project's size and scope has changed drastically over the ten years since it was first introduced in 2000. The original project scope swelled to over one million square feet, holding 66 courtrooms and 75 judges' chambers. Projected costs reached nearly $1 billion in recent years, despite only a $400 million funding agreement.

According to a report prepared for Friday's hearing, the GSA is now planning to move forward on a scaled-back project that would add only 24 courtrooms but fit within the allocated budget.

The same report, though, notes that Los Angeles' two current courthouse buildings—the 1936 U.S. Courthouse at Temple and Spring and the 1991 Edward R. Roybal Federal Building on Temple—contain 61 courtrooms, and that the city currently has only 59 federal judges, eight less than it had in 2004.

A bill that Denham has introduced would require the federal government to sell the site, along with other under-utilized properties. The “Civilian Property Realignment Act” (HR 1734) was passed by the house Transportation and Infrastructure Committee last month.

If the site were to become available, it would be unlikely to be lacking in potential buyers.

In 2010, the city expressed its interest in swapping the site for the land beneath Parker Center, the LAPD's former headquarters.

The block, located just east of the highly-touted and often-delayed Grand Avenue Project, has the potential to serve as a transition point between Bunker Hill, the Civic Center and Broadway corridor. Both the L.A. Streetcar project and Metro's Regional Connector include stops next to the site, and the reconstruction of the Civic Center Park is taking place just one block away.

Staff Report for the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management

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