(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) -- Save Our Capitol! applauds "Save the Capitol, Save the Trees," for filing an environmental lawsuit against the California Department of General Services (DGS), Joint Committee on Rules of the California State Senate and Assembly (Joint Rules Committee), and California Department of Finance (DOF). The public-interest association filed the Petition for Writ of Mandamus on Friday, July 9, to enforce existing environmental laws and protect the legacy of the Golden State's historic Capitol Annex and Park. The Sacramento County Superior Court case number is 2021-80003674.
As stated in the "Save the Capitol, Save the Trees" press release on July 9, 2021, the California Legislature authorized and approved funding for "construction… restoration, rehabilitation, renovation, or reconstruction" in 2016 and 2018 to improve the facility and function of the State Capitol Complex. At that time, the Legislature required that the Capitol Annex Project undergo a prescribed California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process. "Save the Capitol, Save the Trees" alleges that DGS, in collaboration with DOF and the Joint Rules Committee, have together generated bureaucratic and financial momentum pre-committing to the demolition of the historic Annex, in direct violation of CEQA.
"How tragic that after the Joint Rules Committee failed for decades to properly maintain and upgrade our world-recognized Capitol Annex, Californians are now asked to accept a needless demolition to make it safe and useful again," said Richard Cowan, former chair of The Historic State Capitol Commission and an engineer involved in the 1976-1982 California's Bicentennial Restoration of the 1860 Capitol. "What the State is doing is illegal, and we cannot allow it to happen. CEQA is a citizen-enforced statute, and its protections must be applied to the Capitol Annex Project so that the famed Capitol Complex retains its stature and character."
CEQA protects California's historic resources such as the Capitol Annex and treasured natural resources like the monumental and historic trees in Capitol Park. An environmental impact report (EIR) process is mandated by CEQA to study, mitigate, and avoid significant environmental impacts if feasible. The Recirculated Environmental Impact Report (REIR) for the Capitol Annex Project is pending at DGS.
However, "Save the Capitol, Save the Trees" argues that before considering viable choices of "restoration, rehabilitation, renovation, or reconstruction" within the public EIR process, DGS, the Joint Rules Committee, and DOF entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in 2018. This MOU only included an option for demolition, excluding the other viable choices. Without notice to the public and absent CEQA compliance, the MOU commits to a "new, ... 500,000 gross square foot State Capitol Building Annex" after "demolition of the current Annex .…" The contents of the confidential MOU only became public in April 2021.
"Although the EIR is pending, there is no question that the planned demolition of the Capitol Annex and destruction of Capitol Park trees would result in significant environmental and ecological damage," said Architect Milford Wayne Donaldson, FAIA, emeritus California State Historic Preservation Officer [2004-2012] and emeritus Chairman of the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation [Obama, 2010-2019]. "The proposed destruction signals the beginning of the end of serious preservation activity in California. There are much better ways to accomplish necessary improvements, particularly for buildings honored with a listing in the National Register of Historic Places, as I know well from the recent visitors center renovation of the U.S. Capitol, in which I was involved."
"Save the Capitol, Save the Trees" urgently petitioned the Superior Court of California, County of Sacramento for a peremptory Writ of Mandamus calling for the Respondents to set aside their actions effecting an unlawful pre-commitment to the Capitol Annex Project, including the MOU and other actions disclosed in the to-be-certified record.
About Save Our Capitol!
The purpose of Save our Capitol! is to preserve the site of the historic Capitol and its surrounding Park as the center and symbol of Californians' right to truth, transparency, and trust in self-governance. Follow Save Our Capitol! on Twitter and act to #StopTheDemolition by visiting www.saveourcapitol.org.
About Public Accountability for Our Capitol
Public Accountability for Our Capitol is a coalition of nonprofit organizations and advocates with expertise in historic preservation, legislative advocacy, and environmental issues, working together to protect and preserve our State Capitol and its surrounding Park. Learn more by visiting www.SaveCalCap.org.
About "Save the Capitol, Save the Trees"
"Save the Capitol, Save the Trees" is an unincorporated association formed in June 2021 to promote preservation of the restored California Capitol and its entryway, west steps, and plaza; retain and renovate the historic East Annex; and minimize any damage to the State Capitol Park and its trees. Susan Brandt-Hawley, the attorney for "Save the Capitol, Save the Trees," represents community associations and environmental nonprofits which want to preserve community treasures. Her record includes over 45 historical and environmental preservation cases that have led the state Supreme Court and Court of Appeal justices to publish precedent-setting opinions.