FAQ: The Billion Dollar Vanity Project

Californians are weathering a pandemic, historic wildfires, and an economic crisis, but state lawmakers believe the Capitol Annex project is still worth pursuing. So, what is it and who will it really serve? We have answers.

What is the Capitol Annex Project?

The historic Capitol Annex building, where many legislative offices are located, was completed in 1952. Being an old building – and one that has not been properly maintained – it needs significant health and safety upgrades in order to become a safe place for state employees to work. While it is imperative the state restore the building, spending $1.3 billion to do so is completely unnecessary, even in good economic times.

Experts have estimated that restoring the Annex could be done at $300 million. Rather than demolishing the historic Annex and replacing it with an elaborate new building, lawmakers should take a step back and develop a plan to restore the current building.

What Does the Project Include, And Why Is It So Expensive?

The project will demolish the existing Annex building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, to build an elaborate new workspace for legislators. The building is deemed worthy of preservation due to its historical significance by the federal government, yet lawmakers are planning to tear it down.

In addition to demolishing the Annex, the project will upend the current function and beauty of the Capitol and surrounding grounds by excavating the West Steps of the Capitol building to build a new visitor center. Plans also include decimating the surrounding Capitol Park grounds for a new, underground parking garage exclusively for legislators and high-ranking officials.

While the state claims that just 30 trees will be destroyed to build the politicians’ private parking garage, environmentalists say the project will claim up to 100 trees, including rare and historic ones. Further, since the mid-1800s, Sacramento has taken pride in being known as the “City of Trees," making the self-serving destruction of Capitol Park trees all the more insulting.

Unfortunately, the state has failed to provide updated numbers, and the costs of the project are constantly changing, which makes public accountability especially difficult. Essentially, the project - which was initially estimated to cost $755 million - has ballooned to over $1 billion due to 35% interest costs over 25 years on bonds funding the project. Here’s a cost breakdown:

 How Will the Project Impact Capitol Visitors?

On the Capitol Annex Project website, they state that “California’s new Capitol Annex should convey to visitors California’s positive, hope-filled outlook, founded upon the deliberative Democracy which unfolds there …” Two things in response:

  1. Californians' “hope-filled outlook” does not come from a building, it comes from an invigorated and thriving economy where small businesses flourish, taxpayers are protected, children receive the finest education, and all Californians have a roof over their heads.
  2. As for democracy, eliminating crucial gathering spaces for Californians to let their voices be heard (aka excavating the West Steps and blocking its access by way of a new Visitor Center) undermines the message legislators should be sending to their constituents – namely that they are listening.

The fact is, that while the Capitol belongs to the people of California, the new visitor center is designed to keep people out of the same building’s halls. And, the damage done to the WestSteps will block access to a location where constituents regularly gather to rally and petition their government for change. Californians have long valued exercising our Constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly, but sadly, the new design will remove and limit gathering places historically used for this purpose.

Who Approved the Project?

The project was originally introduced by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and greenlit via AB 1826 when Governor Jerry Brown signed off on the bill in May 2018. Although the Legislature originally approved $755 million from the general fund for this project – when the state was bursting with billions in surplus cash – the cost grew to over $1 billion after Assemblymember Ken Cooley, who inherited the project in 2017 as chair of the Joint Rules Committee, suggested the project be funded through bonds and not the general fund coffer in case of a fiscal emergency. Unfortunately, we’re experiencing a fiscal emergency right now. Due to funding the project by selling bonds, rather than dipping into the general fund, the cost of the project significantly increased to take into account interest owed. The cost is simply being shuffled out of the general fund but will still be taken out of the pockets of Californians.  

In addition, intentions behind this project should raise eyebrows – the plan was devised largely behind closed doors with little outside input. In fact, the Historic State Capitol Commission – established in 1984 for the express purpose for reviewing maintenance, restoration, development, and management of the historic State Capitol – was denied project information, resulting in the resignation of two commission members. Tribal leaders have also indicated that they have not been engaged in or included in the process, as required. In a project hearing on September 9, 2020, the United Auburn Indian Community Tribal Council shared during public comment that they were “promised that this project would be the ‘Gold Standard’ for respect in consultation with area tribes,” yet the state has failed to uphold this pledge.

What Does Save Our Capitol! Propose to Fix This?

Save Our Capitol! believes there are alternative solutions that would improve the safety and function of the Capitol Annex, while preserving our collective history, protecting our constitutional rights, saving trees, and prioritizing environmental protections. Some solutions include:

What Can I Do to Help Stop This Wasteful, Billion Dollar Project?

You can help stop this billion-dollar boondoggle by communicating your concerns and opposition to your elected officials. Just click here to send to an email to your legislator or go to our home page and click "Take Action."