House votes to strip staff funding for courthouse not yet built

Occupy members protest outside the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building and Courthouse.
Occupy members protest outside the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building and Courthouse.
Corey Bridwell/KPCC

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The US House of Representatives voted late last night to prohibit the hiring of any staff next year for the new federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles. It’s a symbolic vote, because there isn’t a new LA federal courthouse…yet.

Construction is supposed to begin later this year on the new building at the corner of First and Broadway Streets. It’ll be four years before any staff reports for work.

But the amendment is another salvo from Republican Congressman Jeff Denham of Fresno who considers the $400 million project a waste of taxpayer money. He suggests selling the land.

"We could have a private company come in and develop it very quickly," he says, "and get out of a lot of the lease space we have in LA." Denham says the federal government leases a million square feet in L.A. alone. "Let’s just utilize space better."

Downtown L.A. is home to two federal courthouses. The new building would replace the Spring Street courthouse, built in 1938. Denham suggests doubling up in courtrooms at the newer Roybal Federal Courthouse in Little Tokyo.

Denham argues that the Roybal building has "two floors that are sitting empty and other areas that are being used for other purposes outside of courtrooms. And they don’t share!" Denham says the courtrooms are used less than two hours a day. "If you had courtroom sharing, we could do a lot more with less."

A spokesman says all the Roybal's space is being used and even when there aren't trials under way, courtrooms are used for hearings, guilty pleas, and sentencings.

Funding for construction of the new courthouse has already been approved by Congress.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the correct location of the courthouse. Apologies for the error.