Taxifornia: California's Capitol Annex Project

By Jim Lacy, Don Romano, and Dick Cowan
January 30, 2022


Jim Lacy: Well, we have an extra special, extra guest today, we have Richard Cowan on the line. He is the former Chair for the Historic State Capitol Commission, he’s got some startling information for us for Sacramento; this is stuff you need to know, listeners. And you need to take action on it. I’m now going to turn it over now to my partner Don Romano to bring this in, here you go, Don.  

Don Romano: Mr. Cowan, welcome. What is the Capitol Annex Project?

Richard Cowan: Thanks for having me Don and Jim. This is a project that’s designed to tear down half of the State Capitol, the 1950s addition, and put a bigger, wider, taller, glass-skinned building to replace it; dig up Capitol Park for a two story underground parking structure for the legislators; and rip up the West side of the Capitol—where the Christmas tree and all the political gatherings are—to make room for a visitor center. A forth piece of the project is already complete, that’s the swing building where the Legislature can work while either this demolition occurs, or if we win our four lawsuits, the rehabilitation of the Annex could happen as an alternative.  

Romano: Would demolishing the existing historic building and park destroy state history and a historical landmark?

Cowan: Yes. The entire building, both the 1860s and the 1950s portion are together listed on the National Register of Historic Places—and worse, tearing out and excavating for a parking garage would damage and/or remove about a 118 of the 840 trees in our Capitol Park arboretum.

Lacy: Wow, wow. I can’t imagine the environmentalist would like that.

Romano: Wouldn’t it make more sense to perhaps turn over a part of the Capitol to a historical organization, create a museum for something like this? Why do we have to, you know, lasso the taxpayers with all these demo costs and the rebuild?  

Cowan: Well, we think we could save half of the money that the legislature currently plans to spend on the three elements of this project by doing a rehabilitation project. The Legislature still needs a place to work, we want them busy, we want them effective, right? We want to give them a good, safe, healthy place to work, right? But the state knows very well how to rehabilitate its old buildings—to put in the modern fire protection, and ADA exiting, safe energy conservation heating and lighting, air conditioning… The state knows how to do that. We could save half the money if we rehabilitate the Annex we’ve already got, and use the parking space that just got built in the new swing building that the legislators are using right now.  

Romano: I’m going to turn this back onto Jim, but I think I disagree with you on one point Mr. Cowan. I’m not sure that we want to keep the legislators busy.

Lacy: Okay, I can see Don on my Google Meet, and he definitely has his tongue in cheek in making that comment. I think you guys have a poll, don’t you? How do Californians feel about this?  

Cowan: You know, it’s so interesting. Just as Senator Melendez pointed out that the public are united on doing more to oppose fentanyl, Californians by 76.6% oppose this Capitol Annex Project. But unfortunately, the legislators have gone quite mum about it. In fact, I would hope Senator Melendez would lead the charge in raising the question again. The whole legislature got to vote on AB 1826 in 2018, passed the bill to do the project, considering rehabilitation. But then the Joint Rules Committee took one vote, adopted a program to turn the project over to only three people: Assemblymember Ken Cooley leading the charge, Senator Hertzberg as the Senate rep, and a representative from the Governor’s office—and that was the last public vote. The project went dark and behind closed doors and has emerged now at way over budget, and expanded scope, and just completely out of control.

Lacy: Richard, give us just a little background on yourself. I know that you have been the former chairman of the Historic Capitol Commission, but I know you had some very significant input on California history and California politics. Tell our listeners a little bit about yourself.  

Cowan: I am a native Californian. Born in Auburn, and grew up in the Citrus Heights suburb of Sacramento. Like Senator Melendez, I went into the Navy, but a little bit older than her, I think. I served in the Vietnam Era, and when I came back to Sacramento, I was privileged to be a part of the construction team that restored our 1860s Capitol. Years later, I volunteered to serve on the Historic State Capitol Commission, and my fellow commissioners and I begged Assemblymember Cooley to thoroughly study the rehabilitation option, and to document all of the trees and how they would be saved before he started designing this project that has now grown to a demolition and build back bigger kind of a project.

Lacy: It’s just that, with that $1.4 billion price tag, it just seems to us—Don and I were talking about this pre-show—$1.4 billion to knock down some buildings and take away our history, it just doesn’t seem right. Tell us, how can our listeners take action to try to be helpful.

Cowan: We would ask two things from your listeners. We think there are only three people who can stop Mr. Cooley’s project: the Governor, the Senate President pro Tempore, and the Speaker of the Assembly. We urge your listeners to go to where they can find information on how to contact these state leaders. The second thing we can ask them to do is donate to help us pay the cost of the lawsuits we are filing to make sure this project doesn’t do that terrible damage, doesn’t waste that money. For that, a different website would be

Lacy: Alright, we’ve been talking with Richard Cowan, the former chair of the State Historical Capitol Commission, and he has his group, Save Our Capitol, who is trying to help maintain the history of California, our beautiful State Capitol and its grounds. This is Jim Lacey and Don Romano, we are live in Taxifornia Radio KABC 790AM. Thank you very much Mr. Cowan, we really appreciate it. Don before we go out to commercial, I just wanted to ask you. How do you sum this up, what we just heard?  

Romano: You know, it’s extraordinary. I just think that is shows the arrogance, the grandiosity of these so-called leaders we have in California. That’s about all I have to say about that.

Lacy: It sure seems self-serving.