Will the county leave old courthouse standing in Downtown Stockton?

Is San Joaquin County pulling a fast one on the City of Stockton?

The Record’s Mike Fitzgerald reported a few weeks ago that San Joaquin County officials appear to be back peddling on a promise to tear down the current courthouse and replace it with a public plaza with underground parking. If true, the move is disingenuous and deceitful on the part of the county, and will have detrimental effects on the redevelopment of Downtown Stockton.

scl courthouse old

The county had planned to tear down the current courthouse once a new facility was built next door. Now, county officials are saying there isn’t enough money

By not replacing the old court house with a new plaza, the county will have pulled off an impressive bait and switch. The city basically gave Hunter Square to the county for free. At the time, it was assumed that a new plaza would be part of the deal. Now, if no plaza is built, the city will have given away a historic landmark and in return will get a building that serves the exact same functions as the existing courthouse, albeit more efficiently. No permanent jobs are created, existing jobs will just be consolidated in a new building. And while the county gets a nice, shiny new tower, the city essentially gains nothing, losing a public space while being saddled by an eyesore of an empty, old courthouse.

And the presumption of new a plaza wasn’t an empty promise made in passing; the county has been touting a public plaza for years. In the project’s environmental review, it’s made clear that demolishing Hunter Square would be a blow to the city’s heritage.

“Development of the proposed project will produce an irreversible significant environmental change due to the loss of Hunter Square Plaza as a historic resource. The loss of the resource is a significant irreversible environmental change.”

That comes straight from the project’s environmental report, available on the project website. County representatives fully acknowledged that the loss of the square would be a setback to the city. Here’s another excerpt:

“…the County plans to raze the current courthouse and build a new plaza once the Superior Court moves to the proposed new courthouse, and the County’s new plaza will be superior to the existing Hunter Square.”

Not only are we supposed to get a new plaza, but the county goes as far as saying that the new square will be even better than its predecessor (which, in honesty, isn’t a huge claim. The latest iteration of Hunter Square wasn’t the most beautiful).

The county even appeared to have dedicated money to this project. The plans for demolition of the old courthouse, construction of the new square, and even a subterranean parking lot, are outlined in the county’s 2012-2017 Capital Improvement Program. $3.6 million was set aside for tearing down the old courthouse, while $11.6 million was earmarked for a new plaza and underground parking. But suddenly, the money seems to have dried up as officials are quoted as being non-committal to the project.

This new development isn’t just a case of the county swindling the city, but the redevelopment of downtown is at stake as well. The current courthouse has long been derided as an atrocity, given the beauty of its predecessor which was wrongfully torn down. Should the current courthouse remain, there would be a huge missed opportunity to create a unifying public space in the heart of Downtown Stockton. Moreover, an empty, derelict courthouse would kill street level activity, as it does now, along Weber Avenue.

Fortunately, observant people such as Fitzgerald are sounding the alarm. He also quoted an individual on his blog who noted that the county could easily afford the demolition of the old courthouse and the construction of new plaza. But it’ll take more than a couple blog posts to get the county to recommit to a new Hunter Square. More people need to speak up and demand that the county be strong stewards of Downtown Stockton by making good on their promise of a new Hunter Square.



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Categories: Community Commentary

Author:David A. Garcia

David A. Garcia created SCL in March of 2012. Garcia is a Stockton native with a background in urban policy and planning, holding a Bachelor's Degree from UCLA as well as a Master's Degree in Public Policy from the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies. He currently serves as the Policy Director at the UC Berkeley Terner Center for Housing Innovation. David was also COO at Ten Space, a real estate development firm focused exclusively on Downtown Stockton, and continues to advise on their projects. Prior to that, he worked three years as a researcher/analyst for a Congressional research agency in Washington, DC. The views expressed on this site are entirely of the author's

5 Comments on “Will the county leave old courthouse standing in Downtown Stockton?”

  1. dan
    July 3, 2014 at 10:43 am #

    Excellent piece David. One should take a look at CEQA and you might find that this Courthouse project is in violation on a number of issues. Not only do they take away parking downtown, ruin the Historic Weber Square, add ADDITiONAL Courtrooms without parking, but have no plans to build a new parking structure as promised. The bedlam created for downtown businesses while this monstrosity is being built is unconscionable over three years, but it is only the BEGINNING. When they tear down the old Courthouse, it will negatively impact us for two more years.

    The County built their new Building on Weber/Sutter on a parking lot that served many businesses that subsequently went OUT of business after this 200,000 square foot (plus) building was built with 35 underground parking spaces designated for privileged county employees.

    The tax paying businesses downtown are being battered by this lack of communication and collaboration.

  2. Clifforf
    July 3, 2014 at 1:33 pm #

    I hope they work this out. It would be awesome to have a nice open plaza in front of the Bob Hope Theatre and have an open view of it from Weber Ave.

  3. Jon Seisa
    July 3, 2014 at 4:19 pm #

    I smell a lawsuit and long arduous delays.

    Can the City of Stockton or the State of California (in behalf of Stockton) red-tag and condemn the derelict courthouse on the premise of outdated earthquake hazardous structural standards, and thus force SJC’s hand to demolish the hideous eyesore of utter urban blight?

    With new state legislation issued after the 1933 Long Beach Earthquake, the state closed and demolished many structurally high-risk schools across the entire state; hence, Commodore Robert F. Stockton High School and other structures were condemned and torn down.

    I was so looking forward to seeing this new “Hunter Square” urban plaza, because I recollect, David, in your announcement piece about the new urban plaza that one city or county official was quoted as saying that the design would be on the high caliber design level similar in standard to San Francisco’s Union Square with public parking levels below it.; that it would be a real central “showpiece” that would add tremendous urban dynamic ambiance and integrity to Downtown Stockton.

    UNION SQUARE: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/ce/Union_Square,_SF_from_Macy's_1.JPG

  4. robert
    July 5, 2014 at 2:04 am #

    anyone with half a brain knew that was going to happen.

  5. bill becker
    July 30, 2014 at 8:44 am #

    The new courthouse project may be the biggest crime committed in Stockton, paying 2 bucks for what could be had for 2 bits… $272 million vs. $34 million. Think of what could
    be done with the $240 million saved if we went the rehab route. I’ve spoken to Dan Cort
    at book signing and everything you want to achieve with a new courthouse like seperate
    hallways for staff, convicts, and the public can be done in a rehab.

    The solution is at about 30:00 on this video – interviewer Patricia Hamilton …….. Dan Cort explains that rehab, i.e. turning an old JC Penneys into Superior Court space, costs 1/8 the cost of new, takes 1/6 the time; it also brings derelict space back to life.

    Here’s some insight about how smelly(like all Ca. construction contracts?) the AOC-OCCM is …


    An excerpt:

    “Paul also questioned the costs of building 52 new courthouses. Most will cost more than $1,000 per square foot.

    “Those figures don’t match up with any cost-estimating guides anywhere for construction costs estimating,” Paul said.

    By comparison, the federal government is building a new court annex in San Diego and a new courthouse in Bakersfield for $500 to $700 per square foot.

    Paul says the most outrageous example is Alpine County’s new $26 million courthouse that will replace the historic one. There are only 1,061 people in all of Alpine County. That adds up to $1,700 a square foot — $24,800 per Alpine County resident.”

    Personally I’d rather see the old Bank of Stockton building used for court space instead of
    building an unnecessary new structure. We can’t afford it. . . but the state autopilot’s onward; this behavior has infected other agencies outside AOC-OCCM too.


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