Law Review: Lawsuit over plan to relocate historic courthouse in Placerville |

Law Review: Lawsuit over plan to relocate historic courthouse in Placerville

Jim Porter
Law Review

Today’s column, sports fans, is about Placerville, aka Hangtown, a historic foothill community, in many ways like Truckee and Tahoe City.


Placerville’s historic downtown courthouse, built in 1912 and renovated in 1971, is part of El Dorado County’s four courtrooms, two located downtown and two located in a county administrative complex.

The California Judicial Council, charged with managing county courthouses, wanted to consolidate all court activities in a new building located 2 miles from the center of Placerville.


Naturally, the relocation project was required to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act “to ensure that governmental entities perform their duties so that major consideration is given to preventing environmental damage.” An environmental impact report, sometimes described as the heart of CEQA, was prepared and public hearings were held.


A handful of local residents and property owners testified against the plan to reuse the historic Main Street Courthouse for retail and commercial uses. A petition was signed by 60 locals concerned about the economic impact of the relocation of judicial activities from downtown. A blue ribbon committee was created to develop a “Re-Use Strategy” for the courthouse.

Testimony at hearings claimed there would be “economic devastation” and a downtown “ghost town.”


The trial court ruled in support of the relocation concluding that repurposing the courthouse building would be for the ultimate benefit of the downtown area, writing that “urban decay” would not occur.

CEQA is designed to focus on environmental impacts and ordinarily does not require an EIR to address the economic and social effects of a proposed project, however if a project is likely to cause “urban decay,” it must be analyzed in an EIR. Urban decay is a high standard, essentially requiring evidence the project will cause closures of businesses.


The Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court finding that urban decay is not a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the relocation of the court facilities. There is no risk of “widespread business failures” downtown.

Historic Placerville will survive as it always has.


The successful lead trial attorney for the talented Remy Moose Manley law firm in Sacramento, Andee Leisy, grew up in Squaw Valley.

Merry Christmas!

Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, and Reno. His practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOA’s, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at or