By Uriel Espinoza-Pacheco
November 30, 2021
Sacramento’s core is being transformed by an array of construction and infrastructure improvements — much to the ire of detour-weary motorists.
But the centerpiece of the building has nothing to do with the city —it’s the state Capitol’s annex, which contains a hive of government offices.
The overhaul of the granite annex, a six-story appendage to the Capitol that opened in 1952, and the accompanying construction of a new office building a block away carry an estimated $1.3 billion price tag — reflecting an increase over the amount originally projected.
The annex has long been denounced by lawmakers and others as crowded, antiquated and dangerous, a fire trap in violation of rules to protect the disabled.
Legislative and executive employees are being temporarily located in the newly built building at 10th and O, until the Capitol annex renovation’s projected completion in three years. When those workers head back to the Capitol, the newer building also will serve to house state workers now toiling in older structures. The new building alone has a projected cost of $423.6 million.
The annex has long been denounced by lawmakers and others as crowded, antiquated and dangerous, a fire trap in violation of rules to protect the disabled. For years, they have called for new construction.
While migration to the new “swing” office at 10th and O is already underway, opponents have still been trying to put a halt to the construction project.
The most vocal opponents are environmentalists, conservationists and fiscal critics, who point to the potential damage to trees in Capitol Park and the high price tag.
They have sued the state –twice — to block the project. They have targeted the Department of General Services, which manages state contracts; the Joint Rules Committee, the two-house panel with jurisdiction over Capitol Buildings; and the Finance Department, the state agency that writes the governor’s budgets. An initial suit was dismissed, the second remains active in the Sacramento County Superior Court.
“California lawmakers are bulldozing ahead with a costly plan to demolish the East Annex, block public access to the West Steps, and destroy Capitol Park,” the group contends.
Key lawmakers disagreed.
“The new space will improve accessibility for all Californians who visit the Capitol,” noted an earlier statement released by the Joint Rules Committee.
Construction first commenced here in 1860, six years after Sacramento was named California’s permanent capitol, and since then a lot has changed.
“It will include wider corridors, removal of bottlenecks, spaces for informal conferencing outside of path-of-travel corridors, more welcoming spaces that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), additional committee hearing rooms that hold more people, and modern technology to increase civic engagement in a secure and welcoming People’s House,” the statement added.
“Yes, it’s a 70-year-old building. But the state knows how to rehabilitate old buildings,” said Richard Cowan, a former chair of the Historic State Capitol Commission, told the Sacramento Bee. “The Legislature, they’ve been a poor steward. And it’s always been too inconvenient to do that upgrade. To me, it’s a little wrong to say now, ‘We should tear it down because of these needs, which we’ve ignored over the years.’”
California’s Capitol has been gone through its share of wear and tear.
Construction first commenced here in 1860, six years after Sacramento was named California’s permanent capitol, and since then a lot has changed. The Capitol housed the Legislature, the executive branch and other officials, such as the Treasurer and Secretary of State.
Hazardous materials like lead, mold and even asbestos have to be addressed as well as its lack of accessibility under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act
But nine decades later, the the growth of government outstripped the building. The annex was built to provide space, and it did: Before the expansion, Assembly and Senate members had to carry out business on the floor of their respective chambers, or any other place they could find.
But in recent years, the popularity of the annex has declined. In 2018, then Gov. Jerry Brown approved the annex project.
The annex functions with an aging mechanical system that was largely built from materials commonly used in the 1950’s. Over the years its problems have piled up. The failing plumbing system has led to leaks that have caused damage at the point of the leak and to the floors below.
Hazardous materials like lead, mold and even asbestos have to be addressed as well as its lack of accessibility under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Because of this, and more, legislators in 2018 approved demolishing and rebuilding the annex.
At the Capitol, current plans include relocating the underground parking structure and adding a visitor’s center.
In order to adequately provide for the housing of the Legislature and the Executive Branch during the construction of a new capitol annex, in July 2018 the Department of General Services was authorized to pursue the design and construction of a “swing” state office building located on O Street, between 10th Street and 11th Street.
The building will have approximately 472,600 gross square feet and be subject to the Capitol View Protection Act height limit of 150 feet.
The building will include 10 floors of office space, and will incorporate functional space for committee hearings, caucus meetings, general meeting rooms, and legislative and Executive Branch offices, with integrated parking.
At the Capitol, current plans include relocating the underground parking structure and adding a visitor’s center. Based on the space requirements, the preliminary estimate for the annex replacement is about $507 million, $6.4 million for the relocated parking structure and about $30 million for the visitor center.
The O Street building will temporarily house approximately 1,250 legislative and executive elected officials and staff from the Capitol Annex until the new Annex project is completed. The building will then be jointly used as office space for approximately 2,200 legislative and executive employees.
On Nov. 17, Save Our Capitol supporters gathered on the west steps of the Capitol to protest the construction.
“Initially only 20 or 30 trees would be removed — that is concerning,” project opponent Anne Fenkner told people at the rally, “but now we are learning that 60 trees will be permanently removed. Additionally, 74 trees will be transplanted including 49 historic palms on N and L (streets).”
Editor’s Note: Uriel Espinoza-Pacheco is a Capitol Weekly intern from The Met Sacramento.