By Dick Cowan
Have you heard of the Capitol Annex Project? Probably not, though with a price tag of more than $1 billion (coming from taxpayers’ wallets), you should have. It’s no surprise the general public isn’t aware since this plan to uproot the Capitol grounds has been mired in secrecy since its inception.
Allow me to provide some background as former chair of the Historic State Capitol Commission.
In 2018, the Legislature passed a bill to allow “the Joint Rules Committee to pursue the construction of a state capitol building annex or the restoration, rehabilitation, renovation, or reconstruction of the existing State Capitol Building Annex.” Built in 1952, the Capitol Annex was designed by famed architect Alfred Eichler and has been lauded for its simple mid-century design that beautifully complements the more ornate main Capitol building.
I resigned (from the commission) in protest so I would be free to let the public know what was taking place at the taxpayers’ expense.
Instead of restoring the Annex––which has fallen behind in code and safety upgrades due to years of neglect by the Legislature––the Joint Rules Committee is moving forward with its demolition, hiking up the cost of the Project which initially was $550 million, rose to $775 million in 2019, and is over $1 billion now, including interest.
I was eager to provide my input and consult legislators at the start of the project as the chair of the Historic State Capitol Commission. In 2012, the Legislature passed a bill expanding the Commission’s official purview to include the Annex building and Capitol Park. But, to my dismay, our Commission was not provided information and was left out of the planning process. Instead, Assemblymember Ken Cooley, Chair of the Joint Rules Committee, claimed our involvement was “not a mandatory consultation role.”
The voices of others with an interest in the value of the Annex and surrounding park were dismissed as well, including environmentalists, who oppose up to 100 historic and rare trees being removed or damaged to make way for the Project, and tribal leaders who stated in public comment that they were “promised that this Project would be the ‘Gold Standard’ for respect in consultation with area tribes . . . This has not yet happened. . . .”
Spending a billion dollars to demolish and rebuild this Project is not the answer to the disrepair of the Annex.
As a result of the Legislature’s disregard for the integrity and historic value of the Capitol Annex, and their complete dismissal of the role of the Commission, I resigned in protest so I would be free to let the public know what was taking place at the taxpayers’ expense.
Spending a billion dollars to demolish and rebuild this Project is not the answer to the disrepair of the Annex. Preserving and renovating the historic Capitol Annex could be achieved without demolishing the mid-century architecture and artwork of the Annex, removing up to 100 trees in Capitol Park, and blockading the Capitol’s West Steps and Plaza where Californians regularly gather to have our voices heard.
Californians deserve transparency and responsible spending from our elected officials, particularly during this time of crisis. I ask you to join us in calling for a stop to the billion-dollar Capitol Annex Project while a new plan is created with input from those who believe in fiscal responsibility, government transparency, and the preservation of our historic State Capitol.
Editor’s Note: Dick Cowan is the former chair of the Historic State Capitol Commission and consults to California public agencies on managing design and construction projects. For more information, visit www.savecalcap.org and www.saveourcapitol.org.