By Jon Coupal
Southern California News Group
February 13, 2022
It’s a safe bet many Californians would love to update their homes or businesses if they could. New windows, a new roof, perhaps new furniture and equipment are needed, but the inflationary cost of goods, coupled with the financial strain many are experiencing due to California’s COVID restrictions, have put desired upgrades out of reach. Except, of course, for our Legislature, who have no qualms about spending more than $1 billion in taxpayer dollars to build themselves a new office space.
You read that correctly, more than $1 billion in taxpayer dollars is slated for a new office building for state politicians, all while the people who paid those tax dollars struggle to make ends meet. It’s no wonder that, according to a recent poll, 76% of voters – including majorities of Democrats, Independents and Republicans – reject the Legislature’s over-the-top and unnecessary building project.
The lawmakers’ billion-dollar boondoggle was born out of the need to upgrade the historic Capitol Annex, the legislative office building added to the state’s Capitol in the 1950s. Maintenance of the Annex was largely ignored by the state over the years, leaving it long overdue for health and safety improvements, the cost of which is pegged at around $500 million. But rather than rehabilitate the Annex, the Legislature is bulldozing ahead with a demolish-and-rebuild plan to erect swanky new digs fit for a tech titan. Their plan includes soaring exterior glass walls, as well as a 200-space underground parking garage (for their sole use) that will require up to 100 rare and historic trees in Capitol Park to be uprooted, and a new visitor center that will excavate the iconic West Steps.
So much for the environment.
The price tag of the Legislature’s princely quarters stood at $543 million in 2017 but has since ballooned to more than $1.2 billion, even before the wrecking ball has been dispatched. With the state’s track record of historic cost overruns on taxpayer-funded projects (see high-speed rail), it’s anyone’s guess what the final cost to taxpayers will be if the project is not halted.
Adding insult to injury, a $450 million “swing space” office building was erected across the street from the Capitol to house the Legislature and their staff while the Annex is being demolished and their ode to excess is being built. Adding the cost of the “swing” building to the Annex project puts taxpayers on the hook for nearly $2 billion thus far.
In a move indicating they knew their plan would be unpopular, decision making around the Annex plan was done behind closed doors. The Legislature even kept details of their plan from the Historic State Capitol Commission, a body created by the Legislature in 1976 to ensure that the historical and architectural integrity of the Capitol was preserved. As a result of the Legislature’s lack of transparency and consensus seeking, two commissioners resigned in protest. Turns out, voters share the commissioners’ outrage, with nearly 70% of those polled saying they oppose the lack of transparency around the project.
A coalition of taxpayers, preservationists, environmentalists, and small businesses are calling on state leadership to halt demolition of the Annex and open the project to further review and input. And the majority of California voters agree – in a poll commissioned by the coalition, more than 60% say they would rather see the historic Annex rehabilitated, saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
So far, the strong and broad voter opposition to the Legislature’s extravagant plan for the Capitol Annex has not deterred the project, with wrecking crews poised to descend upon the historic building. Sadly, California taxpayers are about to be bulldozed as well.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.