When Santa Clara County Superior Court moved into a downtown
San Jose office building earlier this year, it appeared to be
the end of a long ordeal. Officials took two years to find the
spot to house some of its Family Court operations -- and then
spent nearly $3 million to renovate the building.
Now court officials are facing the prospect of another move,
because -- with little advance warning -- the San Jose Redevelopment
Agency intends to acquire and tear down the courthouse to build
a parking garage. This week, court and city officials are offering
fresh details of how they found themselves in conflict, while
detailing the possible multimillion-dollar public cost for the
The Mercury News reported Saturday that the agency apparently
was not aware that the Notre Dame Street property it decided last
year to acquire for parking was in the process of being remodeled
for the Superior Court. The report was based on interviews with
the building's landlord and a redevelopment agency official.
But it appears now that some agency officials knew of the court's
plans, yet never clearly communicated the agency's thoughts about
the building. The county signed a lease on the 14,000-square-foot
building last January, paid for renovations, and began operating
it as a family court annex two months ago.
``My understanding was that any redevelopment was far out into
the future,'' Superior Court Judge Jack Komar said Thursday. ``I'm
not going to enter into a lease at a place I have to vacate in
Redevelopment director Susan Shick said Thursday that she and
agency employees knew a year ago that the court was proceeding
to renovate and move into the site at 99 Notre Dame St. But she
said it would have been inappropriate to dissuade the court even
though the agency had long had desires to acquire the site.
Until the council approved a plan in November designating the
site for a parking garage, it wasn't clear what would happen,
``Downtowns are ongoing creations,'' Shick said. ``You can't
stop someone else's program unless you have a very concrete plan.''
The property, near Highway 87 and Santa Clara Street, is owned
by Barry Swenson Builders. It is one of five locations for downtown
garages approved by the city council in November.
Where the agency and the court appear to disagree is on how much
the agency said about its plans.
Shick said she had conversations with court representatives more
than a year ago, when the agency was still considering whether
it would rather put housing or parking on the site. ``What I told
the court is we couldn't for sure say we were going to do housing
or parking,'' Shick said. ``We understood they needed to make
a decision; they have an operation to run.''
She said she suggested the court, which faces a shortage of space,
``If we had to acquire it, we obviously would relocate them,''
Komar, who led Superior Court's search for more space, said court
and agency officials discussed the Notre Dame Street building
only briefly, in the context of a larger exchange about the court's
needs downtown. The agency was never explicit about the possibility
it would take over the building in the near future, he said. The
court signed a seven-year lease, which expires in 2008.
``I don't think anything we heard indicated there would be anything
happening within five years,'' Komar said.
Shick said Thursday that the court would probably have to move
within a year to make way for the parking garage.
Komar said that court officials learned about the agency's plans
in late December, well after the court signed a lease. The news
came from Swenson, he said, not the redevelopment agency, and
by then it was too late for the court to back out.
According to Superior Court Chief Executive Officer Kiri Torre,
the county spent $2.7 million renovating the building for the
courthouse -- money that would be lost if the city acquires the
site for a parking garage.
Komar said the court would not try to block the agency's plans
for a parking garage.
``We're just trying to provide a service for the public,'' he
said. ``To the extent we can provide it another place, that's