The Septuagenarian Speaks – Published November 25, 2020, Siskiyou Daily News
When I sat down to write this column last week, Siskiyou County had just been reclassified into the purple tier, the most restrictive COVID-19 tier under the state’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy.” Already suffering from COVID fatigue, I was so full of gloom-and-doom that I couldn’t think of anything to write. COVID-19-induced writer’s block! “Think of something positive, something uplifting,” I told myself, “Just to get the juices going.” Then I remembered that a couple of weeks ago I promised you more information about the nearly-completed new courthouse facility in downtown Yreka. I’m referring to our new $69 million, five-courtroom, 67,459 square-foot courthouse! Just thinking about it perked me up, and the words started flowing. As we all try to drive the woes of 2020 from our minds and look to a brighter future, the new courthouse is a good place to start. What’s so great about it? A lot. And here is why it matters to you and me:
Most people probably view going to the courthouse as somewhat akin to having a root canal. You don’t go there for fun; you go there because you have to. You have been summoned for jury duty. Or you have to pay a fine. Or worse, you have been sued or charged with a crime. It’s almost inevitable that sooner or later you will have to go to the courthouse for one reason or another. With the new facility, your experience will be much more pleasant, and certainly much safer.
For example, let’s talk about jury duty. If you have ever been summoned for jury duty at our old courthouse, you will remember being jammed into an uncomfortable undersized stuffy room in the basement, pretending not to compare the Fire Marshall’s placard limiting the number of people permitted in the room to the number of people actually there. That room was not originally designed to be a jury assembly room. At one time the county human services department occupied the basement, until it moved out as a result of recurring flooding. The room was converted to its present use as a jury assembly room years ago, when the court expanded into the basement. (We got the flooding problem solved, sort of.)
Next time you are summoned for jury duty, you will be welcomed into an easy-to-find attractive comfortable and spacious room located near the main entry of the new building. This room is designed specifically to be a jury assembly room. With large windows, it is bright and airy. You will be able to see and hear better; you will be more comfortable; and you will be safer. Our courthouse project was funded by the State of California through Senate Bill 1407, adopted twelve years ago. That legislation funded $5 billion in critically needed courthouse construction and renovation projects throughout California. All branches of California’s government recognized the importance of safe, secure, and accessible courthouses in providing access to justice, essential to our democracy. The safety and security issues are a very big deal. They are important reasons why the decision was made to build a new facility, rather than remodel the existing one. After thorough study it was determined that there simply was no practical way to retrofit the old building to meet contemporary security standards required for courts and courtrooms. Security concerns for courts are different from such concerns for public buildings generally. Courts are unique. For example, inmates from the jail are brought into the courthouse on a daily basis for their court appearances. At our old courthouse, the inmate van parks on the street by the side of the building. The inmates are offloaded from the van, marched along the public sidewalk, through the door into the courthouse, up or down the staircase, into the public hallway and then into the courtroom. It is not uncommon for courthouse visitors to find themselves commingling with shackled inmates in orange jumpsuits in the hallways. There are no holding cells, so inmates are kept in an unsecure jury room while awaiting their court appearances.
In the new building, the van will be driven into a below-ground secure and controlled sally port. From there the inmates will be transported up a dedicated secure elevator to holding areas adjacent to the courtrooms. They will not be commingled with the civilians.
And, speaking of elevators, the new courthouse has four. Four elevators! Here is a mini trivia quiz to help take your mind off COVID-19 woes: Aside from the new courthouse, how many elevators are there in all of Siskiyou County? The old courthouse has one, slow as molasses. I’ve been racking my brain, and could only think of one other, and I’m not sure about it. Isn’t there one at the Tree House in Mount Shasta? It’s been a while since I’ve been there. There surely was one in the Warrens Building on Yreka’s Miner Street, but it burned down more than fifty years ago. Come to think of it, maybe there is an elevator in the Masonic Lodge building above the Cooley and Pollard hardware store? Let me know if you think of others. Enquiring minds want to know.
Sorry, I got off-topic. With safety, security, and accessibility in mind, the entire new building will be state-of-the art, with a high-tech security screening area at the front entrance and a large number of constantly-monitored security cameras located throughout the building, more than three times as many as in the old building. I confess to some mixed emotions about praising the modern security technology. Most of us, I think, would love to go back to the “old days,” when you could walk into your local courthouse without having to empty your pockets or pass through an X-ray machine. We want our courts to be accessible, but we also want them to be safe and secure, and today’s world is far different from the “old days.” Accessibility and security are goals that pull from opposite directions. The new courthouse will do a fine job of accomplishing both of these conflicting objectives.
Next time: How was the site selected for the new courthouse? And why is its location so important?