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Year in review: SCV Sheriff’s Station’s future still unclear

Judicial Council of California decides not to build new courthouse

Posted: January 1, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: January 1, 2013 2:00 a.m.
 

The year 2012 opened with the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station housed in the same cramped structure that it has occupied since the early 1970s, detectives’ offices in a nearby leased building because the station had long since outgrown law-enforcement needs of the valley’s 1970s population.

The year closed with the station still located in the decaying building, but with unanswered questions asked about its future and the best ways it can serve the current and future communities of the Santa Clarita Valley.

The year also closed with heightened tensions over a proposed new station location between the city of Santa Clarita — which contracts with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and finances much of the station’s operating costs — and the county itself, which built the Civic Center where the aging station sits.

The issue arose in February, when the county Board of Supervisors agreed to a deal that would build a new sheriff’s station and courthouse on 12 acres of land along The Old Road in Castaic. To finance the deal, the county would sell off the existing sheriff’s station, leaving the Santa Clarita Valley with one station located northwest of most of its population.

The move, recommended by the county’s CEO without apparent consultation with Santa Clarita, surprised both the Santa Clarita City Council and Sheriff’s Station Capt. Paul Becker.

“We’re shocked,” Santa Clarita spokeswoman Gail Ortiz said at the time.

“As soon as I hang up the phone, I’m going to call the county and ask them why we weren’t consulted,” said then-City Manager Ken Pulskamp when contacted about the supervisors’ vote.

The new location was linked with a plan to build a replacement courthouse for the existing one, also located in the county’s Civic Center. Since courthouses fall under the state’s purview, and the state named the Castaic site for a replacement courthouse, the county seized the opportunity to gain a sheriff’s station site next to the new courthouse, thus securing a much-needed expansion for the station.

The state Administrative Office of the Courts said both the existing courthouse and the existing station are “deficient and unsafe,” according to a letter given to county supervisors.

But the proposed Castaic location did not sit well with many in the Santa Clarita Valley. Shortly after the supervisors’ vote, Becker said the proposed location would reduce the efficiency of his deputies because of its distance from populated areas.

“It’s just not practical,” he said. “It’s just bad business.”

City officials said there had been talk of adding a second station to the west, not replacing the existing one with a station about as far as one can get from Canyon Country, the most populous of the valley’s communities.

The City Council opposed the plan and noted it had offered the state city-owned land in Centre Pointe for a courthouse but was rejected.

The county’s response was to assure residents the valley could have more than one station. But no concrete proposals for second stations were offered.

“The sheriff wants the Santa Clarita Valley to know that they will always have a sheriff station,” said Steve Whitmore, spokesman for Sheriff Lee Baca. “They may have more than one.”

“The city and county are in discussions about a future Sheriff’s Station that will best serve our community well into the future,” Pulskamp assured residents later in the year in a letter to the editor published in The Signal.

In October, the issue seemed to become moot.

Hard hit by the recession, the state of California had been siphoning money from a fund for new courthouses to cover operating expenses. Consequently, the Judicial Council of California agreed in October it simply cannot afford to build a new Santa Clarita Valley courthouse.

The Judicial Council estimated that, by fiscal year 2014, the state will have borrowed, transferred or redirected nearly $1.5 billion originally set aside for courthouse construction into the state’s general fund or court operations fund.

The state council mothballed a long list of needed new courthouses around the state.

Tony Bell, spokesman for Supervisor Michael Antonovich, said late in 2012 that the county is still examining leasing options for land off The Old Road, but it will not move forward with leasing or purchasing land in Castaic unless the state commits funds to build the courthouse.

Meantime, the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station continues to operate out of a too-small building officially deemed unsafe.

Among the 23 sheriff’s stations across Los Angeles County, the Santa Clarita Valley’s serves the largest population with 268,000 residents, Becker told The Signal in February. Lakewood is second with 240,000 residents served.

llittlejohn@signalscv.com

661-259-1234

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