Public Accountability for our Capitol AB 706 Opposition Letter

The Honorable Bill Dodd
Chair, Senate Governmental Organization Committee
Via Senate Committee Portal
Re: AB 706 (Cooley) Oppose

Dear Chair Dodd:  

Public Accountability for our Capitol (PAC) is opposed to AB 706 (Cooley). PAC is a volunteer organization of environmentalists, preservationists, and government transparency advocates committed to a less-costly, environmentally sensitive Capitol Annex Project.

We oppose the governance structure established for the Capitol Annex Project, as authorized by AB 1826 (Chapter 40, statutes of 2018). That governance structure is expressed in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), adopted 11/9/2018, between the Joint Rules Committee, the Department of Finance, and the Department of General Services. The MOU authorizes a three-person Executive Committee of Joint Rules Committee Chair Cooley, Senate representative Hertzberg, and Erin Suhr, Director of Operations of the Governor’s Office, to make all major decisions about scope and expenditures of the entire Capitol Annex Project.

The only vote the Joint Rules Committee has taken on the massive Capitol Annex Project was in September 2019, when JRC voted to approve the “Project Overview and Sequencing Report” (POS) outlining the Project, in draft form. The POS has been kept from the public, despite several Legislative Open Record Act (LORA) requests.

The nearly $1 billion Capitol Annex Project is being decided in private by only three voting members: two legislators and one Governor's representative. This governance structure prevents the public from knowing what decisions are being made and how they are made. Most legislators are also left out of the process. The Executive Committee meetings are held without public notice and there are no records of the meetings available to the public. Would this Committee vote to support this governance structure in any other agency?

We believe that the Project that has resulted from these secret sessions would shock most Californians if they were aware of it:

  1. At least 60 historic trees removed or otherwise endangered to build an underground parking garage for Members and executive staff.
  2. Excavation of the West Steps Plaza to build a massive visitor center, whose structure will block forever the use of the west plaza for public events and demonstrations.
  3. A huge structure to replace the current historic Capitol Annex without any adequate study of the preservation option. The most recent designs call for a glass-clad “crystal palace” that is totally out of keeping with the historic restored Capitol.

AB 706 in its current form is designed to correct a major error: the appropriation in AB 1826 fails to comply with the State Constitution. Constitutional provisions of Proposition 3 (1980) are quite clear: an urgency bill cannot make an appropriation affecting the historic 1860’s Capitol. Arguably, AB 1826 is rendered void requiring cancellation of all contracts awarded under the Bill, and disgorgement of funds paid from an invalid appropriation. Then the project could start anew and correct other problems with its planning, its governance, and its CEQA process. AB 706 admits this error, but does not correct it fully, dragging the Legislature deeper into the problem.

Your vote is a referendum on the Governance Structure of the Capitol Annex Project. This committee has a rare and important opportunity to take a stand on this Governance Structure. It will be one of the last times that the Legislature will have such an opportunity. Please vote no on this bill. Ask the author to work with the Legislature and public to develop a less costly, safe, secure and modern Capitol Annex. Thank you for your attention to this letter.  


Dick Cowan
For Public Accountability for our Capitol