After legal trouble, advocates want state lawmakers to ‘reconsider’ Capitol Annex options

By Nicole Nixon
Capital Public Radio
February 8, 2023

A pair of California Highway Patrol officers walk past the Capitol Annex in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. Built in 1952, the Annex was added to the east side of the Capitol to house lawmakers offices, including the governor.
Rich Pedroncelli / AP Photo

Opponents of a $1.2 billion revamp of the California state Capitol Annex – the building that houses offices for the governor, state lawmakers and their staff – are calling for the state to reconsider the entire project.

A December court ruling has already delayed the demolition of the existing Annex and construction of a new building, parking garage and visitor center by requiring the state Department of General Services to recirculate its environmental impact report for public input.

Neither legislative leaders nor DGS have released a new timeline for the project or its received impact reports following the court ruling. While lawmakers moved into new offices over a year ago and the existing Annex has been closed off, demolition has not begun.

A 2017 planning study recommended demolishing and rebuilding the Annex, noting that the building’s current footprint would not allow for the necessary accessibility and seismic improvements.

A group of opponents has criticized the new building’s proposed design, the project’s $1.2 billion price tag, a lack of transparency over its plans and timelines, and issues with the project’s impact on local businesses, the Capitol’s west steps and trees in Capitol park.

“I’m calling on my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to reopen this conversation,” Assembly member Josh Hoover (R-Folsom) said Wednesday. Hoover won his seat in November from Ken Cooley, the lawmaker who had been overseeing the annex project.

“I don’t think there’s any disagreement that we need solutions,” Hoover said, adding that the 70-year-old existing Annex building “certainly needs to be upgraded to add ADA accessibility and a number of other improvements.”

Hoover and other opponents have also called on the state to rehab the existing building, rather than spend money on demolition and rebuilding, especially when the state is projected to experience a budget deficit of more than $22 billion this year.

Aziz Bellarbi-Salah, who owns and operates three downtown establishments including Brasserie du Monde, which is steps from the Capitol, expressed frustration at a lack of information about the project and its impact on Sacramento’s downtown.

“Sacramentans deserve to know how our urban core is going to be affected by these projects,” Bellarbi-Salah said. “I’m not opposed to any sort of renovation. … What I am opposed to is not knowing that we are going to have a decade’s worth of disruption.”

Legal and leadership limbo

The December ruling by the 3rd District Court of Appeals in Sacramento means the state must revise and recirculate plans for the Annex’s facelift and a new visitor center, which threw off the original timeline.

There also appears to be a leadership vacuum in the Legislature over the project.

Cooley had overseen the Capitol Annex Project as chair of the Joint Legislative Rules Committee, but lost his re-election bid in November.

The new Joint Rules chair, Assembly Member James Ramos (D-Highland), has referred CapRadio’s questions about the project to the Assembly’s Chief Administrative Officer, who did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

“The Capitol annex was full of issues, from asbestos to accessibility and compliance, and as an environmental impact report concluded, the decision to demolish and rebuild is the right solution,” Senate Secretary Erika Contreras said in an emailed statement. “We will continue to have discussions along the way, but this project is critical in our efforts to provide a safe, accessible State Capitol.”

Richard Cowan, a former chair of the state Historic Capitol Commission said he and other advocates have had “a couple of meetings” with lawmakers about the issue but have not yet met with Ramos.

Cowan said he would welcome Governor Gavin Newsom’s input. Though state lawmakers claim oversight of the Capitol building, he believes “the Legislature would listen” if the governor weighed in on the future of the Annex project.

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