The fate of Dame Shirley Plaza remains in limbo pending additional information about the state’s proposal to build a courthouse on the community green space in downtown Quincy.
The Plumas County Board of Supervisors on August 1 tabled a decision to sell the property adjacent to the county courthouse, calling on the Judicial Council of California to present the proposed project in detail at a community meeting.
The Judicial Council has done “no outreach” despite the “gigantic” impacts on downtown Quincy and the community, said Supervisor Tom McGowan, who represents the Chester and Lake Almanor areas. His motion to invite the Judicial Council to Plumas County passed unanimously.
In refusing to approve the Dame Shirley site, the supervisors put the onus on the council responsible for the administration of justice in California. They cited the absence of any drawings to help them assess the project’s compatibility with business and community interests.
“The Judicial Council has an obligation to this community, to this board, to come here and make a presentation,” said Board Chairman Greg Hagwood, who represents the Quincy area.
No one from the Judicial Council was available for immediate comment.
The supervisors’ hour-long discussion before a packed board room was the latest in a years-long controversy over the green space now known as Dame Shirley Plaza. When the county bought the property in the mid-1990s it was by all accounts blighted, strewn with fire debris, broken glass and beer bottles.
A proposal from county officials to use the property for a county administration building drew “screaming opposition,” said former Plumas County Supervisor Lori Simpson. Before it could be used for anything, underground gas tanks had to be removed at county expense.
The state first proposed the site as a courthouse in 2012. County supervisors were close to approving the sale, with little public opposition. They had received an appraisal when the state halted the process, said Simpson.
Since then the space has been embraced by the Quincy community. It was named through a contest for Dame Shirley, the pen name of Louise Amelia Knapp Smith Clapp. A resident of Rich Bar, Clapp wrote about life at the gold mining camps of mid-19th-century California in “The Shirley Letters.”
When the supervisors adopted the name, they were specific about calling it a plaza, not a park, said Simpson. “They thought that would be less permanent in case they wanted to use it for something else later,” she said.
“Later” came this January, when local officials became aware of the renewed project through a request for information posted in Plumas News. The state had made a $7 million budget request in January 2022 for a 54,000 square feet building.
Dame Shirley Plaza is one of three potential sites for construction on its renewed proposal to build a new courthouse in Plumas County. In July, County Administrative Officer Debra Lucero told the board that she had received a letter from the state’s Judicial Council asking the board if they supported Dame Shirley Plaza as a site for the new courthouse.
This time the hostility was fierce. At the August 1 meeting one opponent after another faced the supervisors in often emotional pleas to preserve the space used for concerts, weddings, memorial services, Tai Chi and dog obedience classes.
“This is our village green, a piece of Americana,” said Michael Jackson, an attorney based in Quincy.
And there are other options, said Kyle Merriam, who organized petitions garnering 1300 signatures in opposition to using the space for a courthouse. The Judicial Council has also proposed property on Lawrence Street now occupied by Feather Publishing Co., and the Stonehouse in east Quincy.
Amy Carey, owner of Carey Candy Co., spoke in favor of the Dame Shirley site to support the vitality of downtown businesses. The proximity of the courthouse creates revenue for nearby merchants and efficiency for the district attorney and other county officials.
District Attorney David Hollister also cited a loss of efficiency if the courthouse is distant from current legal offices. But it was his suggestion that led to the supervisors’ ultimate decision.
Hollister suggested that the supervisors “say ‘no’ today,” then gather information about other options. The county could, for example, sell some but not all of the current green space, he said.
“This is a 100-year decision… a 100-year opportunity,” Hollister said.
In delaying a decision, the supervisors rejected the Judicial Council’s request that they provide a site recommendation by August 8. “The Judicial Council’s deadline is a distant second on my list of concerns,” said Hagwood.
Along with a dearth of detailed information about the project, McGowan cited uncertainty about the state’s plans if it acquired the county property. “We have no guarantee when we sell <property> to the state that they will do what they say they will do,” he said.
Hagwood said the supervisors will revisit the new courthouse proposal once they hear from the Judicial Council.