By Jennifer Horn
AM 870 The Answer
February 11, 2022
Jennifer Horn: Welcome back, it’s the Inland Empire Answer, I’m Jennifer Horn in for Don Dix today, and you know, the California Legislature’s failure to address rehabilitating the Capitol Annex here in California over the last 68 years is now hurting taxpayers, with costs to the tune of $1.4 billion. But, according to SaveOurCapitol, a supermajority of Californians are vehemently speaking out against the expensive re-do and are calling on Californians to join in to #StopTheDemolition. Demolition is set for 2022, this year. The top-secret plan from the Legislature—$1.4 billion in scope—sets out to raze the existing Annex building, and to erect an elaborate new one, surrounded by sort of glass walls. There are some security concerns as well, making experts a bit nervous. The plan decimates hundreds of historic trees, some of them rare and more than a century old. Paula Peper is an award-winning ecologist and an urban forest researcher, and she’s here today to discuss the Capitol Annex Project and explain the results of the survey. She’s going to call on you to help by reaching out to the governor with the hashtag, #StopTheDemolition. Paula, welcome to the Inland Empire Answer, thank you so much for joining us.
Paula Peper: Thank you for having me.
Horn: Alright, so take us through. I gave a brief description here of what exactly the Capitol Annex Project is. But this is something—I consider myself pretty dialed in— I haven’t even been paying attention to this, Paula
Peper: Yes, it’s been pretty secretive right from the get-go, and very much planned that way. I mean, Dick Cowan and I both resigned from the Historic State Capitol Commission—and that commission had a mandate, a statutory mandate, to inform and advise the Joint Rules (Committee) on all aspects of historic preservation of the Capitol, the Annex, and the huge surrounding park—they’re all on the National Registry. We resigned in protest to the secrecy and started what has become a coalition of non-profit organizations and volunteers. We’re still working, obviously from your comments, together to bring the project into the light of day.
Peper: We conducted a poll, which was to voters statewide, and the results were pretty stunning—even to the pollster—because a super majority of Californians, 77%, oppose the project.
Horn: And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Paula, we don’t agree on a lot in the state of California <laughs>. Voters don’t always come to the table and agree on things. But we can agree that not only is this $1.4 billion a lot of money—we have no taxpayer oversight, over that, right? But they’re going to do it in a way that might create additional security concerns that we don’t have; but there’s also this park that’s historic, and that is beautiful. So, is demolishing, is a part of the project—getting rid of all that. I mean there’s a lot of history, it’s a landmark site.
Peper: It is. It was established originally as an arboretum—although it doesn’t qualify now—but there are like 210 unique species of trees. 864 trees throughout the park. People from all over the world, as well as all over the state, tens of thousands of people visit it and walk through all of it every day. There are about 180 trees that are endangered. Of those, there’s like 49 historic palms that are supposedly going to be relocated, but arborists that I’ve spoken to are doubtful about the success of that because they’re the largest palms in California, and they’ve been there since.. well, from 1893 when they were first planted, to 1908 when the last one was planted. And then there are many other trees which they say they will relocate within the park, but I have to question the relocation processes—the root preparation and other issues along with that. They’re actually starting to do that!
Horn: They’re starting to move them already. So, this is what I don’t understand though; Paula Peper, maybe you can tell us. She’s an award-winning ecologist and an urban forest researcher she is here today supporting #StopTheDemolition. This is a social media campaign directed at Governor Gavin Newsom to stop the…well really the destructive Capitol Annex Project that is happening. Again, I do radio and I do politics. I don’t do preservation, but it seems to me that if you have something that is historic, or you have something that is a landmark—important to the state as you mentioned, from an ecological perspective, the beautiful trees and all of that’s going on around it; Wouldn’t you first want to rehabilitate the property before you knock it all down and start over again? Was that even considered?
Peper: It was not.
Horn: That’s crazy.
Peper: In 2018, there was a confidential memorandum of understanding that went right to demolition and completely ignored what was in—I think it was in AB 26 or 46, I can’t remember—that said renovation, rehabilitation and/or destruction and construction of the new all needed to be considered. But in 2018, they signed this memorandum of understanding that ignored the rehabilitation and renovation aspects of that. So, there has been no cost evaluation between the options. We’ve talked to many architects, and they have told us it will cost a fraction of the $1.4 billion—they estimate.
Horn: So, what’s the point if it’s cheaper, and there are alternatives? What would an alternative look like, and how much would it save taxpayers do you think?
Peper: Well, rehabilitating, our estimates cost about $400 million to do that; and the state knows how to do that. They’ve done it to buildings all around the Capitol and are in the process of doing it to the old Unruh building across from the Capitol. But there seems to be a desire on the point of the Joint Rules Committee to have everyone in the same building; and that isn’t the case today. The Legislative office building across the street, and people are there. But the thought is it will make everything faster for the Legislative processes if everybody is in the same building so they’re looking at adding 200,000 square feet to the existing—well not to the existing—to a new building. So over 500,000 square feet. Also, from L street to N street, they’re putting in a two-story, underground garage for the private use of the Executive and Legislative branches.
Horn: And what could go wrong with the government building something under the ground? I mean there’s never a problem with that!
Peper: Yeah. I mean, all that has to happen is someone gets into a car that a Legislator is driving and says, “I’m going to keep your kids hostage or whatever…” and drive underneath the building; and it’s attached to the new Annex. In this day and age, you know, that just is not logical. Nationally, our U.S. Capitol is based on a campus of separate buildings for Assembly or Senate, and then they walk or take underground tunnels to the Capitol for the meetings. I don’t know why in this day and age, with super technology that this can’t be done here, and people can’t communicate from different buildings. They’re in the Swing Building right now.
Horn: You can get more information at SaveOurCapitol.org. SaveOurCapitol.O-R-G. Now, you hear about this, you learn about this and then you resign in protest; and then your group, Paula Peper, decides to do a survey just to see…just to take the temperature of California. We talked about the results already. Tell us more about this survey, and just what the reaction is to the results; because, again, it is not usual for Californians to get together and agree in these high percentages that this survey returned on behalf of the group that you represent.
Peper: Yes. It was conducted by a very reputable pollster, opinion pollster—J. Wallin Opinion and Polling—and it was a stratified random sample of voters throughout the state, registered voters. And, as I said before, a supermajority of 77% opposed the Annex (project). That was quite intense because 59.9—almost 60%—strongly opposed it. For Southern California 78% opposed it. In the Bay Area something like 81%—in Northern California it was pretty close to 81%.
Horn: Now before we talk about how people can get involved, let’s just talk a little bit about the transparency because that’s something that the government isn’t great with. Certainly, people will be wondering about the oversight, about how their money is being spent—what are you hearing? Whois overseeing this, and how transparent is this plan going to be?
Peper: Well, the only information that is available is on the Assembly website. We’ve listened in to Joint Rules Committee sessions on this, but the hard details are just never available. Even through public records requests, because they’re supposedly in draft forms, and legally they do not have to give out draft forms of decisions. It’s just—One of the things that we’ve asked people to please actually write—as in snail mail letters—and call. There are four key Legislators that they should get in contact with, along with the Governor and of course their own Legislator.
Horn: And who are they?
Peper: There’s the Governor, there’s the Joint Rules Chairman—Ken Cooley, there’s Senator Toni Atkins, and there’s Assemblymember Anthony Rendon—they are leaders of the Senate and the Assembly.
Horn: They need to hear your call, that is for sure. Check out the website, SaveOurCapitol.org. You can click there to take action. From there you can email directly the Governor’s office and they also have telephone numbers and resources to lodge a complaint via telephone. You can call your state Senator, your Assembly member; and if you’re on social media, use this hashtag; spread the word about this project #StopTheDemolition. The majority of Californians opposing this $1.4 billion Capitol Annex Project. Again, you can check it out at SaveOurCapitol.org, or post away on social media using the hashtag #StopTheDemolition. Paula thank you so much for what you’re doing, for your fight and you really have put your money where your mouth is. We thank you for bringing this to our attention, it’s an issue that I think none of us have been really following. Will you keep us posted?
Peper: We sure will, and thank you so much for the opportunity.
Horn: Thank you. SaveOurCapitol.org and there goes Paula Peper.