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Downtown L.A. courthouse plan blasted by GOP [Video discussion]

An Obama Administration plan to build a new federal courthouse and federal office building in downtown Los Angeles is under fire from the GOP.

Times Staff Writer Sam Allen will discuss the debate during a Google+ Hangout at 2 p.m. You can submit questions on Twitter using the hashtag #asklatimes.

Under the plan proposed by the U.S. General Services Administration, two new buildings would be built at a large vacant lot on 1st Street, between Hill Street and Broadway. Part of the project would be funded by a private developer, which in return would take over an existing federal courthouse on Spring Street.

Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Atwater), called the proposal a “sham” at a hearing Friday in Los Angeles and said the judiciary would not need more space if its judges shared courtrooms more efficiently. Denham, chairman of the Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management Subcommittee, also expressed doubts that the GSA could find a developer willing to invest in the project.

“I get it, I know these judges would love to have a much bigger, palatial courtroom with lots of extra room and big conference rooms,” Denham said. “The question is, can we afford it?”

He was joined by Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), who also criticized the GSA’s plan. “It’s outrageous that judges insist upon having their own courtrooms when they don’t use them, when they spend much of the time vacant,” Shuster said.

There are currently two federal courthouses downtown: the Spring Street courthouse, built in 1938, and the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building, which opened in the early 1990s.

In 2000, the GSA first requested funding for a new downtown courthouse, citing overcapacity and security problems involved in transporting prisoners to the Spring Street court. Congress appropriated $400 million for a 41-courtroom building on 1st Street, but the construction suffered repeated delays and cost increases and was ultimately canceled in 2006.

Last year, the GSA announced a revised plan for a smaller, 24-courtroom facility at the same site. The agency also said it would seek to exchange the existing Spring Street courthouse with a “private-sector partner” who would build a second building at the 1st Street lot for other federal offices.

GSA officials say the new proposal would allow them to consolidate federal employees into a central campus and dispose of an unneeded asset, while helping the ongoing revitalization efforts in the Civic Center.

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L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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