Lawsuit brings California State Capitol Annex project to a halt

CBS Sacramento
By Laura Haefeli

SACRAMENTO — The California State Capitol's project aimed at rebuilding the outdated building has come to a halt after grassroots organizations filed a lawsuit claiming the environmental impact report was inaccurate and the public never had a say.

For months now, the entire state Legislature has worked out of a nearby swing space while the Capitol building prepared for construction. But now, a fence line, barricades and bulldozers are for nothing after a lawsuit stopped this project in its tracks.

Koda Monty and their dad walk the State Capitol grounds daily taking advantage of the treelined sidewalks and parks. Both are frustrated by the recent influx of construction equipment.

"If our state is pushing environmentalism then why are we destroying all these trees?"

It's all in preparation for the start of the State Capitol Annex project, which would demolish a portion of the Capitol building and replace it with an ADA-compliant facility, visitors center and parking garage after first removing 100 trees.

"It was a very wonderful building designed by the employees of the State of California," said Dick Cowan, the former chair of the Historic State Capitol Commission. "There's a need now for our 1950s building to be rehabilitated."

But after grassroots organizations including the Save The Capitol campaign raised money for lawyers and lawsuits, the project has come to a stop.

"Unfortunately, the joint rules committee got an idea into its head that instead of doing that restoration or rehabilitation, it should demolish this historic building [by] ripping up a lot of trees in Capitol Park, adding a visitor center to the west facade, which is a protected view corridor and doing a very bad project," Cowan said.

The state appeals court agreed that the project didn't fully consider the building's history and that the public didn't have a sufficient understanding of the project's outcome.

"The court ruled the state has to cancel its approval of the EIR, its approval of the project and go back and rethink things," Cowan said.

Cowan is a retired member of the Historic State Capitol Commission, which has proposed its own plan: instead of demolishing and rebuilding, they plan to keep the building exterior while updating the inside to comply with fire safety regulations and ADA laws. It's a plan Cowan said will be faster and cheaper.

"This isn't just an office building. This is our State Capitol, and it's the symbol of the greatness we can achieve in California," he said. "Had the courts not stepped in and pointed out the mistakes made in the planning and review process of the project, we fear demolition might have started right after the first of the year. As it is, we have a chance now to save the building, save the park."

We did reach out to the Department of General Services but they said they won't comment on litigation. Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said they are reviewing the decision and considering available legal options

Read more from CBS Sacramento here.