Friday, December 1, 2023
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HomeNewsNo courthouse on Dame Shirley

No courthouse on Dame Shirley

Supervisors are unwilling to sell 

Dame Shirley Plaza will not be the site of a new state-owned courthouse in Quincy. 

The Plumas County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 on Oct. 17 to send a message to the Judicial Council of California that the county is unwilling to sell the 1.37-acre grassy area for construction of a 54,000 square-foot building. 

The initial motion by Supervisor Tom McGowan “that we do not sell” was amended on the advice of Acting County Council Sara James to read “the county does not intend to sell.” Either way, it left no confusion about the majority of the supervisors’ position. 

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Board Chairman Greg Hagwood was unequivocal: “I do not favor selling Dame Shirley to the state to build a courthouse that will have a footprint three times the size of this courthouse,” he said before opening the discussion to public comment. 

In casting their votes opposing sale of the property, Supervisors Kevin Goss and McGowan both spoke to the critical importance of natural space to community health. Supervisor Dwight Ceresola paused for several seconds before making his vote clear: “I vote not to sell,” he said. 

Supervisor Jeff Engel cast the lone “no” vote in favor of selling. After listening for months to the pros and cons of construction next to the Plumas County Courthouse, he said his primary concern is convenience for the district attorney, his staff and the public paying fines and assessments. 

“So I just got to tell you, I’d like to see that courthouse built over here,” said Engel, who represents the East Quincy and Graeagle areas. 

The decision ends a months-long controversy over building a new two-story courthouse on property adjacent to the Plumas County Courthouse. Owned by the county since 1997, 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 other two properties are on Lawrence Street, now occupied by Feather Publishing Co., and the Stonehouse in East Quincy. 

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. Pella McCormick, director of the Council’s Facilities Services office, met with around 100 people Oct. 4 to explain the process of acquiring land for a state courthouse and to answer questions.  

Community comes out in force

The vote followed nearly an hour of comments from the standing-room-only crowd that filled the Board room to have their say on the controversial decision. Most spoke in favor of leaving Dame Shirley in its current state. The decision to sell or not to sell pits an economic decision against one that is heart based, said Gretchen Jehle, who has lived in Quincy since 2011. Retaining the natural space at Dame Shirley is “a subjective and irrefutable argument about the intangible value of the space as it is,” Jehle said. 

Josh Hart, a spokesperson for the Portola-based Feather River Action!, addressed the elements that make a neighborhood successful from the perspective of an urban planner. “What makes a neighborhood economically successful is that people want to be where other people are. They want to have open space,” Hart said. 

Kyle Merriam, who gathered 1,300 signatures on a petition opposing the sale of Dame Shirley, spoke about the patterns that matter to the people who live here: having a place for kids to play; having a quiet, peaceful park that highlights the charm and aesthetics of Quincy’s historic downtown; drawing visitors who want to stay here to shop in stores and eat in restaurants. 

“These are patterns of our community coming together in Dame Shirley to celebrate and also to mourn. These are the patterns that bring us together as a community,” Meriam said. 

John Kolb, of Quincy, was responsible for the design and construction of Dame Shirley Plaza as a public works employee in 2005. The Judicial Council’s process has complicated the supervisors’ decision to sell or not to sell, he said. 

“The state needs to buy the property before they can show you the design. That’s the trouble here,” he said. 

Amy Carey, owner of Carey’s Candy Co., has been consistent in her support of building on Dame Shirley. She called the supervisors’ decision “a 100-year opportunity” that will have a “far-reaching” fiscal impact on the entire county. Carey admonished the supervisors individually to take responsibility for the long-term consequences of choosing to force construction of a new courthouse outside of the immediate downtown Quincy area. 

“I want to hear from each of you because 10 years from now, when someone says wow, I didn’t realize that, I want to be able to say, ‘Well Dwight knew about it. Tom knew about it. Greg knew about it. Jeff knew about it, and Kevin knew about it,’” Carey said. 

Next steps for courthouse construction 

The supervisors’ vote throws the decision of finding a site for a state-owned courthouse back to the Judicial Council. It is still waiting for a formal written response on whether the Board is willing to sell the Dame Shirley Plaza property to the state, said Blaine Corren, a spokesman for the Council. Once the Council receives that formal notice, preliminary scoring for the potential sites will continue without the Dame Shirley site. When the scoring and ranking is complete, the findings will be reviewed and analyzed by the Judicial Council, the Superior Court of Plumas County and a local group of project advisors. 

The goal is to confirm one preferred and one alternate site, Corren said. Those two sites will then be presented at a public meeting of the Council’s Court Facilities Advisory Committee for approval. 

The public can provide written or in-person comments at Court Facilities Advisory Committee meetings—dates and meeting agendas are posted on the committee’s public webpage. The next steps in the process are posted to the project webpage under the Schedule tab.

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