A Battle Lost, But a War Not Over – Save Our Capitol! Continues the Fight to Save the Historic West Steps

(Sacramento, CA - July 14, 2023) – As hard demolition of the historic Capitol Annex began early in July, former state legislators, business leaders, preservationists, environmentalists, and others continue to express their disapproval of the $1.2 billion Capitol Annex Project. Despite pleas by a supermajority of Californians to reconsider this damaging project, particularly in light of a budget deficit, the Legislature has continued to bulldoze ahead.

“The Capitol Annex certainly had issues, but this was to be expected for a building that was built more than 70 years ago, and had never been properly maintained; however, what the Legislature has failed to tell the public is that the entire premise for demolishing the Annex was built on a lie,” said Richard Cowan, former Chair of the Historic State Capitol Commission and representative of Save Our Capitol!. “After multiple Public Records Act requests, there is no documentation that shows the building could not have been rehabilitated for a fraction of the proposed $1.2 billion cost. Instead, the Legislature used “Demolition by Neglect” shamefully to destroy this iconic building that was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Yet, because of a court decision that found the Legislature violated California’s landmark environmental quality act, the Legislature is not allowed to build the new Annex until a revised final Environmental Impact Report which complies with CEQA is certified—meaning the Legislature is bulldozing forward with demolishing an historic building despite having no approved building plans.”

Following the court’s decision, the Department of General Services (DGS) was required to recirculate a revised Environmental Impact Report to allow the public to fully review and comment on the plans for the Capitol Annex, West Steps, and new underground parking garage. The Recirculated Draft Environmental Impact Report (RDEIR) became available on April 8 for public review and comment. On April 18, DGS held an informational hearing about the RDEIR changes, and received additional public comments during hearings on May 16 and June 6, with the official comment period closing on June 15. Individuals, organizations, and legislators submitted comments criticizing the proposed new Annex designs, citing concerns with aesthetics, compatibility with the historic Capitol, and safety of the planned glass skin exterior. Equally significant to the historic Capitol’s preservation, comments also were made regarding the destruction of the iconic West Steps for a visitor center, and concerns raised that trees have already died when they were supposed to be protected and relocated.

“The proposed renderings for the visitor center have shown that the West Steps will be unidentifiable and the Plaza, which provides California’s citizens with a place to assemble, rally, and demonstrate will be greatly impacted, as space will be limited (Appendix C, Pgs. 201-203). California Highway Patrol officers have stated that the design will not allow people to gather on the proposed lower level, as it will block an entrance/exit and grossly limit demonstration capacities,” said Kate Riley, representative for Public Accountability for Our Capitol. “We absolutely cannot allow this vital place that has been used for decades to exercise our First Amendment rights to be closed off and changed for the worse. Future generations deserve better.”

Public comments also pointed out the problems with the placement of the visitor center, as well as the discrepancies within the RDEIR:

Former legislators continue to come out in opposition to the controversial Capitol Annex Project. Most recently, former State Senate President Pro Tempore, Don Perata, penned a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom urging him to reconsider the project, and move forward with alternative designs that don’t waste money or decimate state history. Former Congressmember Sam Farr also has expressed his disapproval of the project as a whole, stating, “At this pivotal time, rather than erase this irreplaceable site of historic governance by historic individuals, I urge you to embrace and to protect the State Capitol in its entirety.”

Save Our Capitol! is dedicated to saving the entire historic West side of the Capitol. While the historic Annex has been thrown away by the Legislature, the West Lawn, West Plaza, and West Steps still can be preserved and remain a pivotal place for California politics, and, importantly, the historic site for the people to participate in self-government at the people’s Capitol.