By Rosemary Chalmers
KSCO-AM: Good Morning Monterey Bay
February 2, 2022
Rosemary Chalmers: There was a survey done late last year, and this concerns a discussion that I had with Senator John Laird yesterday, about preserving the historic Capitol Annex in Sacramento. I am delighted to welcome to Good Morning Monterey Bay, Richard Cowan. Richard is the former chair of the Historic State Capitol Commission. It looks like we’re not in favor of A) Spending this money, and B) taking out the building. Good morning, Richard, and welcome
Richard Cowan: Well, thank you very much for having me, and I’m very anxious to hear what Senator Laird had to say.
Chalmers: Well, he was talking about the fact that he now, because they have the new building there, that they now have to have the Highway Patrol as they all make their way from the new building to the Capitol itself—where, of course, they used to be. Although he didn’t say it was “a pain in the neck”, he definitely inferred that for sure.
Cowan: Yes, when we think that rehabilitating the current Annex, rather than demolishing it, would allow him to move comfortably back into safe and secure offices in the historic Annex.
Chalmers: Yes, what a fascinating job you had as the Chair of the Historic State Capitol Commission, that’s very interesting. So, when did all of this—because this is the first I’m hearing about this, was when I talked with him yesterday about it, knowing I was going to talk with you this morning about it—when did this all happen, and who organized it?
Cowan: The Chair of the Joint Rules Committee of the legislature, Assemblymember Ken Cooley, is kind of the instigator of the project. Mr. Cooley is a longtime staffer and member of the Legislature, and he perceives that he’d like to have the Legislature work more efficiently by having all of the standing committee staffs under one roof. We agree with him on that, and we agree that the existing Annex is a 70 year old building that needs new air conditioning and fire exiting improved, and fire sprinklers. But, as he instigated this project, he didn’t understand how well rehabilitation of older buildings can make them into modern day functional buildings. The state knows how to do that, it’s done it for two of the buildings right across the street from the Capitol, that are even older than the Annex. But unfortunately, Mr. Cooley got started down the road on demolition, and now I think he’s a little embarrassed to backtrack. We’re trying to convince him that most Californians agree that we could, for half of the money, rehabilitate the Annex and preserve its beautiful architecture, rather than demolishing it.
Chalmers: Boy, look at that. Something that makes sense, and a politician doesn’t understand it. What a surprise there! She says tongue in cheek. (Brief overlapping). I want to know how does the Administration feel about it; how does Governor Newsom feel about this?
Cowan: Well, of course we have to remember that the Capitol building is the property of the legislature, not the executive branch. So, of course, Governor Newsom’s voice could be very important, but he has deferred to the legislature. Although we believe that he is one of the three people who could stop the demolition and removal of about 118 trees for heaven’s sake for this bigger, new building—he’s one of the three. The other two are the Speaker of the Assembly, and the President pro Temp of the Senate. I think those are the only three people who could stop it. So yes, the Governor has a roll, but it’s the Legislature’s building. Over the 70 years, the age of the building, they had the obligation to upgrade its utilities and services, and safety rules—which they didn’t do. And now Mr. Cooley is using the argument that it needs some work. I countered to him that when his hot water heater fails in his home, does he demolish his home? I don’t think there’s any good answer for that other than: no, let’s just fix up the building we have.
Chalmers: Yes, that makes sense especially with the loss of the trees that’s very—we’re realizing more and more Richard, I think all the time, how important trees are not just to an initial area, but the general feeling of what trees can do to the planet. I sound like a tree hugger—I may be one and that’s fine—but if there’s no reason to cut down trees, in my opinion, don’t cut them down. Now, would you there for encourage us to contact our individual Assemblymembers and Senators to let them know how we feel about it? Is that a way that we can do something for this?
Cowan: Yes, that’s exactly the right thing to do. They’ve been armed with a standard, frequently asked question sheet that they may send to your listeners saying, “Well don’t you know that the building needs new air conditioning, and needs better fire sprinklers and so forth, and soon,” but they should be prepared for the fact that it costs half the money, and preserves an architectural treasure—the 1950s Annex—to rehabilitate it, not demolish it. But yes, please contact your members and some of you may have contact with the Speaker of the Assembly, and the President pro Temp of the Senate or the Governor, and if so, those are the three people who could really put a quick turnaround, and at least have them replan and consider how rehabilitation could meet their needs.
Chalmers: Yeah, I mean—and Senator Laird was saying yesterday just how many CHP have to come out and be there so that they can safely walk from the building that they’re presently in to the Capitol itself. That in itself is a waste of time, money and effort because they could be doing something else with their time.
Cowan: Yeah. One of the things that our group urges is that if the existing Annex can’t hold all of the staffers, why not do as our national leaders in Washington D.C., and put some safe, secure tunnels between the different buildings of the legislative campus. That could be done for a heck of a lot less than $50 million.
Chalmers: And when is the plan Richard to move forward on this demolition?
Cowan: It’s urgent, it’s now. In fact, I visited yesterday and found that some trees have already been root-balled up, ready to be moved—that’s contrary to the promise we were given, but it is the fact. It’s happening now. I would say that walls and floors and ceilings might be removed as early as the next two weeks, and I fear that the tree removal is happening right now. Our group, is part of a coalition that is asking a judge to give us an injunction to stop the tree removal, and stop the interior demolition—so it’s right now. It’s happening now.
Chalmers: When do you hope to hear back from that judge?
Cowan: Boy, that’s a great question. Courts move on their own time, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you could cover the news with injunctions being granted within the next 10 days.
Chalmers: Good, that would be good. What is the website that people who may not have heard this entire interview, or who would like to look at the entire picture in one place—what website should they go to?
Cowan: There are two. SaveOurCapitol.org has lots of info and a way to automatically send an email to your member—although I caution that phone numbers and written letters get counted better than emails.
Chalmers: That’s right, yes.
Dick: Another website is SaveCalCap.org and there one can make a contribution to us help cover the costs of out lawsuits and the injunctions.
Chalmers: Alright, so that’s SaveCalCap.org orSaveOurCapitol.org. I’m glad to have this information, and hopefully I will get more information to tell me that you’ve been successful with your injunction and that hopefully our listeners in the audience will be motivated—and although you’re not there, ladies and gentleman, this is a great deal of money that can be saved by reimagining the existing building, rather than knocking it down, removing the trees and having a brand new fancy building. John just said “I just want to get back into the Capitol.”
Cowan: Yes, and rehabilitating it would be faster than demolishing rebuilding a new building.
Chalmers: Lovely. I thank you very much for your time again this morning. Richard Cowan, former Chair of the Historic State Capitol Commission from Sacramento. I do appreciate it, thank you so much.
Cowan: Thank you Rosemary, and thank you all of Monterey
Chalmers: There you go, we learn about these things you see! I didn’t know they wanted to do that. Why don’t we save a few million dollars—that would be great!