Business, environmental groups push for Capitol Annex Project transparency

By Sarah Downey
Northern California Record
June 15, 2021

As state lawmakers prepare to vote on this year’s budget by the June 15 deadline, financial and environmental concerns persist about the Capitol Annex Project, which is projected to cost $755 million to $1.2 billion.

A coalition of business and environmental leaders oppose the project and question how the Capitol Annex, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, could possibly be demolished.

It is not yet clear if the project could be covered by state revenue dollars, or if it would require financing through the sale of bonds.

The process to determine that has lacked transparency, Dick Cowan, former chair of the California State Historic Capitol Commission, told the Northern California Record.

“Spending money that doesn’t need to be spent to solve legislative space needs is not a good idea regardless of where the cash comes from,” said Cowan, who is among members who have resigned from the commission to protest the capitol plans and because they hope to accomplish their goals of saving not just the building, but the arboretum.

Under the current plan, roughly 60 rare trees would be uprooted to allow for an underground parking garage for employees.

A new bill, AB 706, that would allow the project to continue with oversight from a handful of legislators is now before the Governmental Organization committee. The coalition is also awaiting the recirculation of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), and to see whether any plans have been submitted to the California Office of Historic Preservation.

Ken Cooley, chair of the Assembly Joint Rules Committee (JRC), which has jurisdiction of the project, did not respond to the Record’s request for comment.

The coalition also has offered an alternative proposal with a roughly $300 million price tag that would include keeping the nearly completed building intended to house employee offices for the project’s duration.

“That’s one of the solutions – is renovate, and use the swing space building,” Cowan said. “It’s already there, and it has parking. You don’t need to tear up 60 trees, that’s not green.”

Construction of the swing space building – at 10th and O streets – is scheduled to finish by the end of this year.

“Public attention in opposition to the project has been growing, from the business community, taxpayer associations, from environmental and historic preservation groups,” Cowan said. “Is it enough to awaken the legislators to change the shape of this project? We’re afraid that it isn’t.

“We're hoping the Department of General Services will do the right thing and recirculate the EIR, and allow the public to speak up.”