The Andy Caldwell Show

By Andy Caldwell
February 17, 2022


Andy Caldwell: I'd like to welcome you back to the show, it's my pleasure to welcome Milford Wayne Donaldson. He has a phenomenal background as an architect and as somebody who is been lending his expertise to projects of historic preservation at the local, state and national level. He's actually won a lifetime achievement award for his work. He was appointed by President Barack Obama as a Chairman Advisor on historic preservation; and before that, Governor Schwarzenegger also appointed him, dealing with state historic issues. His career spans four decades. He's a graduate of Cal Poly for his bachelors in architect, then he's got a Master of Science and a Master’s in public history and teaching from USD. Wayne Donaldson, welcome to the show.

Wayne Donaldson: Thank you. Thank you, Andy.

Caldwell: Well, thank you for being with us. So, one of the reasons we have you on the show today is the state Capitol Building has what's called an Annex—and I'm going to have you explain all this—and just like the rest of California, that Annex was not maintained. It was not modernized; it was not preserved. And so, the state legislatures solution is tear it down, and spend $1.4 billion to replace it, plus some amenities, including a parking garage. And you don't want them to do this, you have a cheaper solution. But there's also some issues of the historicity of the place. Could you talk about the project and your opposition to it, please?

Donaldson: Sure, you bet. And as you mentioned, when you started out, this Capitol Annex Project calls for $1.4 billion in taxpayers’ money to demolish the Capitol Annex, and build a very extravagant new legislative office, as well as a visitor center, which will impact the historic steps of the Capitol itself; then a huge underground parking garage. So, yes, and I think it's most important that the California Capitol is probably one of the most significant complexes of historic buildings in California. It is where everything is done, where decisions are made, and everything else; and the Annex has been part of that since 1952. It was designed by architect Albert Eichler, who was the state architect at that time, and he really treated it—as we practice in historic preservation today—is to not do harm to the California Capitol, as was. It's kind of unique to find out that when the restoration that we did back in 1976, which was so important because the legislation, at that time, wanted to tear it down the actual state Capitol building, from 1860 to 1874, and build two large twin towers—brand new modern buildings. And of course, the big fight was on, and we were lucky, and we saved our state Capitol and perpetuity. And during that time, a bunch of laws and regulations were written to actually help preserve it.  As you mentioned, the legislation has not complied with the necessary bills, even though they came on, to modernize the Annex. They've let this pretty much go since I was a state historic preservation officer back in 2004. So, it's been like, you know, it's been like 18 years until we've had anything done. However, the building is solid, and it's not like the glass monstrosity that is proposed to go up. If you can imagine an all-glass facade in today's security world and trying to come up with something that would protect our lawmakers. The Capitol was built of permanent materials, and very exclusive materials; materials that you would not be able to buy or could afford in today's environment. You have marble, you've got granite on the outside, you got smaller openings in the windows—although they're sufficient in the offices—but again, you almost have a fortress that was built, you know, 60 some odd years ago—almost 70 now. So, I think it's important to note that the architect back then, frankly, was actually thinking of this. In addition to that, besides losing this incredible building--which can be easily retrofitted. I've done thousands and thousands of other historic buildings over all the last years and also reviewed many more; Where we update these, we make them, and we repurpose them for what we have. They've also had a brand-new building called the Swing Building that has been built-- which can also substitute and supplement the amount of square footage that they think they probably need in the Annex. And, you know, the State Capitol—er—The Nation’s Capital, for instance, back in D.C., does the same thing. They have their Senate and office buildings and stuff, and they basically go to the Capitol to do their business in a way; they didn't basically tear down and tag on this big, all glass building. So, I think when you look at the project overall, you're thinking, "Well, what alternatives can you see? What the voters really want?" We took a poll, and it shows that 76% of the California voters oppose this 1.4-billion-dollar plan to destroy the historic Capitol Annex and build this new, elaborate office space pretty much for themselves, not for the people. They also—

Caldwell: You know, what about the issue of, how much of this was the lack of maintenance? One of my pet peeves, Wayne, is that like, for instance, school districts, probably school districts are the worst; where they build a building and then X number of years later, they say, "well, the roof's fallen apart. The windows leak, et cetera, et cetera," and all of that is a function of maintenance, and they don't seem to have a set budget for maintenance. How much of that is the issue with this particular building versus the need to modernize it?

Donaldson: Well, it's good that you asked that question because, when I was the state historic preservation officer, we worked with DGS, the department of General Services, and they were great in terms of dealing with the Courts and Library building, which was built, you know, even before the Annex was built, the Unruh building, and coming back and not only updating them with all new HVAC stuff, making them accessible for people with disabilities, cleaning out any of the mold that we tend to hear about the Annex building full of it—and not only that, they also green the buildings. This was part of the Green Movement that we had back then that Schwarzenegger started; and he made sure that these buildings were trying to go and become at least what we call leed silver on as all the buildings to come up to speed. So, it can be done, that's not the problem. And even if they haven't had some of the maintenance, which they're claiming has led to this, it can still be done very, very easily. And we figure, instead of $1.4 billion, we're probably looking at around $350 million  to do this and bring it all up to not only standard codes, make the spaces a little bit bigger for each of the legislators, and really make it work. But the problem is—and this is a real problem I have, Andy—This has been done almost in secrecy. There's been three legislators basically, Asm. Cooley has been in charge of this, that have private meetings. We have been asking for information over and over and over and we still haven't gotten it and they just got another extension from the judge for about another 30 days to give it to us. At the same time what's happening--and I don't know if you've been there lately—but, what's happening now is the trees are being removed. They are actually getting preparation and orders to start digging the pits for the parking garage in which the new building will sit over. And they're also removing these wonderful medallions from the face of the building. So, all of this is happening as we're trying to stop this project because, we figure if we can at least stop it or delay it, we'll get a lot more visibility, like you're doing with your group of people. Because it's been a secret—

Caldwell: So, they can spend over a one and a half billion, and they did it in secret?

Donaldson: Yeah, and we can't even get the program. You know, one of the things they keep throwing back at us, "Well show us the design that you would like to come up with using the Annex?" That's not our job first of all, but second of all, we don't even—we can't even get the program out of it. You know, what do they think their spaces are? And when you look at some of the renderings, especially the center portion of this new Annex that's going, it's wide open to the sky, it's four stories tall, clear story at the top—no thought of security and how they're going to do this. So, it bewilders me, because it's not DGS that's doing this, it's the legislators basically controlling the Department of General Services. Department of General Service, when I work with them, they know how to do it right.

Caldwell: All right. We're going to be back with more of Wayne Donaldson again, folks. This is your taxpayer dollars at work. They could save $1 billion and save the historic building, but instead in secret, they've been proceeding with a project that is extremely controversial. You're listening to the Andy Caldwell show. We'll be right back. Stay tuned.  

Caldwell: I'd like to welcome you back to the show. My guest is Wayne Donaldson, he's an architect of renowned and somebody who has done much to preserve our history by way of preserving our architecture. What's happening—and this is a Banana Republic example of government—are some legislators in secret have moved forward, or are moving forward, with a $1.4 billion demolition and construction project at our state Capitol; and they didn't bother telling anybody about it. They kept it secret, and people like Mr. Donaldson are telling them how they could save literally a billion dollars and save the history of that place. And of course, they're blowing you off. When I saw that our good friend, Jon Coupal from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has written about this, is there anybody in the state legislature that said, "Hey, time out here, this is a lot of money. This is a historic building. Maybe we should take the time out and think about this?"

Donaldson: We're sure hoping that somebody will step up on this, Andy. The problem is, is that we haven't found that one legislator that's willing to step out on that plank. You know, of course, they're going to get new offices, maybe they like that; I'm not really sure. But we have not found that person yet. As you know, the money was allocated under the Brown administration, so they figure they got the money. We have a surplus, so they're just going to go ahead and just waste this. Although, they keep asking for more money. You know, once we had the problem with the state Capitol on January 6th—er—the nation’s Capital on January 6th being raided, they came back and asked for millions and millions of dollars more to upgrade their security. But, when you look at the building, it's all glass. It's an all-glass building, and I just can't imagine how they're going to fit into protecting our legislators. One thing I have not talked about that I do want to make sure that everybody understands, at least 100 of these incredible historic trees are either going to be destroyed or threatened and are already doing that, including massive demolition in about two weeks. And we're just hoping that they take a pause on this and try to recirculate the Environmental Impact Report and look at providing a plan, which they have not done under state law, to look at coming back and rehabilitating the existing Annex. They have not done that, and by law, they're supposed to do that, but they have not done it.

Caldwell: Yeah, because folks with the law, CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act, which of course they voice out on the private sector all the time, and then they let themselves skip out of it—but, when you analyze the project, you have to analyze alternatives to the project, including the no project alternative. That's all supposed to been done, and of course, an EIR is supposed to all be public and all the rest; and you know, to me, the fact that they have not pulled the plug on High-Speed Rail--you know? Just what do you say about this government? You know, the issue with the High Speed Rail is people would take it if it worked—Like, I think the High Speed Rail Project between the Inland Empire and Las Vegas is a no brainer, because there is nothing to stop that in between—and yet, you know, and I don't know if that's ever going to be built, but this other one, you know,  it's right now, it's a train to nowhere, and there's no fiscal accountability. As you well know, people sued saying that you know, "You promised certain things on this that the other," and a judge blew us out of court. Do you think you have a chance to prevail? Is anybody going to file a lawsuit against them?

Donaldson: Three lawsuits have been filed, and we haven't personally filed any of these, but three other groups have filed them. And the reason why is because there's more people than just a few of us out there trying to stop this. I mean, this has really gathered steam. Not only that, we have a whole bunch of different groups like, for instance, the California Preservation Foundation, which is the statewide preservation group with tens of thousands of members that have supported our cause. So, you know, and I agree with you, they haven't done under the California Environmental Quality Act, they haven't done that, and yet they're making everybody else; they also, under the California Constitution—I can't remember the articles, I think it's Article four, Section 28 or whatever—but they're supposed, to when it comes to the historic Capitol building, they're supposed to have alternatives. This came out from the 1976 restoration to make sure that nobody screws this up again, and it was put in our California constitution. Not only that, they're trying to use modern codes against the building, and yet we have the California Historical Building Code, which is unique in California that addresses  all historic buildings. And it's like you and me, you know, when we were in high school, we could run that 100-yard dash and I don't know what did you run it in four seconds?

Caldwell: I'd not say. <Laughs> 

Donaldson: But, you know, as we get older, we're not expected to do that. So, it's a performance-oriented code rather than a prescriptive code. They have ignored all of this. It's basically just the Joint Rules Committee, three people, you know, behind closed doors, just pushing this thing through.

Caldwell: Could you real quick, we only have about a minute or two left, can you real quick tell us why it's so important for culture and society to preserve our history through architecture and even trees and landscape?  

Donaldson: Yes, it gives us a sense of place. It gives us a sense of history that we belong in. In fact, we had many of these legislators come up and give us these really incredible, personalized stories of things that happened in the Annex at certain hearings, and important things that have come back in the last 70 years that have really meant something to them. It also is important to note that the mall, that we call it, goes all the way down, to the bridge to West Sacramento, also designed by Eichler. So, we have a mile long of these components that add to our history. Now imagine this. Let's say you're coming up to the front steps of the Capitol, where you can look down and you can see the bridge way down there, and you're going to find a big old glass monstrosity that looks like an entrance to a building in Disneyland. It's the last thing you want. It does not give you a sense in pride of Government like the Capitol building does now.

Caldwell: Alright, Wayne, thank you so much for being with us.

Donaldson: Thank you, Andy, for having me. I appreciate it.

Caldwell: And folks, contact your state legislature, please, and tell them what you heard here today.