Dame Shirley Plaza lies just beyond the Plumas County Board of Supervisors meeting room, but it will be on the table Oct. 17 as the supervisors decide whether to sell the grass-covered parcel to the Judicial Council of California.
The Judicial Council is planning to build a new 54,000-square-foot courthouse in Quincy. Dame Shirley is one of three sites the council has identified as possible locations for the $100 million three-courtroom building it hopes to have open and operating by April 2030.
The only issue before the Plumas County supervisors is whether they are willing to sell the parcel. Any decision they make will likely meet with disappointment from one of several stakeholder groups.
Selling the 1.37-acre Dame Shirley Plaza for courthouse construction is opposed by a broad segment of the Quincy community. Opponents, which include several downtown business owners, cite its use as a music venue, an outdoor classroom and communal meeting area. Their most passionate defense of Dame Shirley is for its intangible value as an open natural space.
Proponents of construction include a majority of downtown business owners. They cite the economic value of retaining a downtown government center, where both county government and state judicial proceedings can take place in close proximity. Building a new courthouse even a few blocks away would be devastating to the downtown Quincy economy, they say.
The legal community has been largely silent throughout the months of debate over the fate of Dame Shirley. But judges and lawyers, who dominate a group appointed to advise the Judicial Council during the site acquisition process, have pointed out the many deficiencies of the current courthouse, built in 1921. They range from access for people with disabilities to security.
There are no holding cells for prisoners awaiting trial. One prisoner jumped off the third floor onto the second floor in an attempt to escape, said Judge Douglas Prouty, Plumas County Superior Court judge who presides over the advisory group. Attorneys have no private places to meet with their clients, and only one of the two courtrooms can accommodate a jury. Various members of the legal community have also expressed concerns about inadequate courtroom technology.
Sale nearly completed in 2012
Plumas County has owned Dame Shirley Plaza since August 1, 1997. The original plans were to use it to build a county courthouse annex, which would have required closing Court Street. Instead, an annex was erected near the entrance to Feather River College.
The Judicial Council first contacted the supervisors in 2009 to ask if they were willing to sell the property for a new state-owned courthouse. They were. County supervisors had received an appraisal in 2012 and were close to approving the sale, with little public opposition, said Lori Simpson, former Plumas County 4th District Supervisor.
By then the Great Recession was in full swing, forcing the Judicial Council to put all new courthouse construction on hold, said Pella McCormick, director of the Council’s Facilities Services office. When it resumed the process in 2019, Plumas County popped up to eleventh on a statewide priority list of 80 different projects, McCormick said.
The Judicial Council’s recent search for 1.88 acres to build a new courthouse in Quincy included a notice in Plumas News asking landowners if they were interested in selling. It narrowed the list of interested sellers down to three: property on Lawrence Street now occupied by Feather Publishing Co.; the Stonehouse in East Quincy; and Dame Shirley Plaza.
In correspondence with the Judicial Council earlier this year, the supervisors said they would consider selling the Dame Shirley property. They have never committed to selling it, said Debra Lucero, County Administrative Officer.
“Considering is not the same as selling the property,” she told The Plumas Sun.
The Judicial Council asked the supervisors to decide by Aug. 8 if they were willing to sell Dame Shirley. Instead, at their Aug. 1 meeting, they asked the Judicial Council to provide more information at a public meeting. McCormick met with around 100 people Oct. 4 to explain the process of acquiring land for a state courthouse and to answer questions.
The Judicial Council deals exclusively with willing sellers, said McCormick. If a property owner is not willing to sell, that property is “off the list,” she said.
The discussion regarding Dame Shirley Plaza is scheduled for shortly after 10 a.m. on Oct. 17.