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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : Courthouse Plan: Back to Life, Again

Orange County’s federal courthouse, which appeared headed for even more delay after construction funds were cut from its budget last week, was put back on track Wednesday, thanks to General Services Administrator Roger W. Johnson and two U.S. senators. It is a project that was worth saving.

The courthouse plan has been buffeted in the Washington budget wars and survived even the Clinton Administration’s “reinvent government” program, which advocated that all proposed courthouses be reassessed in terms of their necessity and cost. Late last year, the Administration gave the go-ahead for construction.

However, the project appeared doomed this week when Congress reversed what appeared to be a done deal, suddenly putting $25.2 million needed for construction in jeopardy. Fortunately, Johnson, the former chairman of Western Digital and an Orange County resident, wouldn’t take no for an answer. His determination wasn’t solely because of his Orange County roots. “I would protect any worthwhile project anywhere in the country,” Johnson said. And finding the money to keep the courthouse on track was critical because the remaining $25 million had to be funded so that it could go out for bids and construction started in the coming fiscal year.

Fortunately, Johnson was able to find the $25 million in other projects on a slower track, and with help from Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), who chairs the Senate Treasury appropriations subcommittee and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who delayed the Senate’s final vote, the Senate approved the budget, which included Orange County’s courthouse funding. The need for the facility was established long ago. Orange County’s development in recent years, which has brought the population to 2.5 million, meant an increasing load of criminal and civil lawsuits. The county is now a sprawling metropolitan region that needs its own facility to spare lawyers and clients the commute to Los Angeles.

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Now it appears to be only a matter of time before the long-awaited federal courthouse is a reality.


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