The Phil Cowan Show

By Phil Cowan
February 24, 2022


Phil Cowan: Good morning and welcome, it's 4 minutes past 8:00 at AM 1380, The Answer. Welcome to the Phil Cowan program. I am very pleased to welcome back to the show another Cowan, Dick Cowan returns. Welcome Dick, how are you doing?  

Richard Cowan: Hey, Phil, I'm great. Good to hear your voice as always.

Phil: A pleasure to have you on the show. For those who may not recall, Dick came into the studio--gosh, what's it been, Dick, six months close to a year ago?

Richard: I think I think six months is about right, Phil.

Phil: Yeah. And we were talking about this Capitol Annex Project. Dick is the former chair of the State Historic Capitol Commission and was making the case then that there was--there were other options besides doing it the way they're doing it. And Dick, I'm kind of curious as to what's going on down there because it sounds to me as though they are forging ahead. The Department of General Services and the Legislature with this Capitol Annex plan that is going to really seriously alter the character of both the West side of the Capitol and Capitol Park. They're moving some huge trees around. There's an event today at 10 a.m. to talk about what is going on down there. Tell us about it.

Richard: So today at 10:00, we've invited your colleagues in the press to join us for a walk around as we explain what is happening now, which is relocating trees, and what is imminent, which is removal, which is sawing down trees. We are afraid that could happen as early as next week. That's what's going on outside in Capitol Park. Inside, we don't know for sure. There are some barriers up in the Annex, but we hope we can get a peek inside today. And if we do, then I'll get back to you and let your listeners know what's happening today. But there's hope on the horizon. I shared with you last time that two different groups have filed four lawsuits, and we have four opportunities to ask the judge to issue a stay or an injunction until our lawsuits are heard, and so that's in process, right as we speak.

Phil: Well, and in the meantime, they are continuing apace with this Annex Project. I know you passed along in a couple of pictures of them digging up some enormous trees to relocate them. Dick, I don't even know how you begin to try and relocate heritage trees like that. Is it...what's the success rate? Are we going to lose these trees do you think?

Richard: Well, we will absolutely lose some. For the big palm trees that surround the perimeter of Capitol Park, the last time the city of Sacramento attempted to move some of those, the loss rate was 50 percent. So far, the relocation trees that are being moved are smaller, and we hope we don't lose trees. The judge has kind of taken the opinion that relocating trees is not irreversible or irrevocable, and therefore they could always be put back in the same spot. So, this work they're doing doesn't yet rise to the level that has gained a halt, but the removal of trees not ever to be put anywhere, that would rise to that level of irrevocable damage. So that's what we're trying to stop; along with the damage to the historic fabric—the experts call it the marble and terrazzo and aluminum work that graces the Annex architecturally.

Phil : Well, that is one of the things that I'm really surprised by about this entire affair is that DGS, and the California Legislature-- and I would have thought those were entities, Dick that valued historic preservation, but they seem to be kind of thumbing their nose at it, aren't they?

Richard: Yes, that's so sad, because in the past, the Legislature did, of course, support the restoration of our 1860s Capitol when an alternative new building with demolition of the old was on the table. So, our Legislature was brave in the 1960s, and of course, the executive branch is continually renovating our historic buildings. They won national awards for their renovation of the Library and Courts building—which I would urge your listeners to visit—It's fabulous inside and it's older than the Annex and needed more desperate work than the Annex; But the Executive Branch knows how to do that work, and they're just about to start doing the same work for the Unruh Building, which faces the Library Courts Building right across the street from the Capitol. So, yeah, they know how to do it. But the Legislature did not want to consider the historic preservation. Really sad.

Phil: Why do you suppose that is? Why have they pushed so hard for this plan?

Richard: I believe Mr. Cooley, who's a veteran lawmaker, was given some bad advice early in the thinking about the project that he couldn't meet his needs with rehabilitating the Annex. So, our historic State Capitol Commission met with him and said, "Listen, please, please hire one of the architects, probably from San Francisco, where rehabilitating buildings older than this into fabulous, useful projects is done every day, bring them up and ask them the hard question: How many of my goals can I meet doing a rehabilitation?" But he declined our advice, and when he went around winning support among his colleagues for funding improvements, or reconstruction, or demolition of the Annex, he automatically began describing it as a demolition project. So, it would be embarrassing for him to now face the truth that the options and the alternatives work well and, Phil, for half the cost well.

Phil: And I was just about to ask you, Dick, remind us once more what are they intending to spend on this project?

Richard: So, if you include the cost of the building that was erected for them to live in, the Swing Space the experts call it, then the price tag of the project is 1.4-Billion-dollars, with a B.

Phil: Wow.

Richard: Yes. Wow is the right word, exactly.

Phil: Well, on a happier note, you do say there is still an opportunity to hopefully change this project. How many cases are currently pending, and how hopeful are you that some judge is going to come to their senses?

Richard: Yes. Four cases have been filed. We believe—Let's see, two of them have been assigned to the same judge, possibly three--I'm not exactly sure of that—and we think, if we're able to articulate to the judge that, while the judicial clock is slow, the work ongoing on in the Capitol is chip, chip, chipping away at the historic fabric inside and chip, chip, chipping like a beaver at the trees on the outside. And so, we must have a stop. I'm optimistic that this argument is so compelling that we will find a way to have the judge understand that.

Phil: I'm also a little surprised that given the stakes here--we are talking about historic preservation, and once it's gone, it's gone--that somebody hasn't honored an injunction to say, "Listen, put a stop to this while we adjudicate it." But clearly, they have not done that. Why do you think that is?

Richard: Well, the Legislature was very clever when it passed the funding bill for this project, it said "And by the way, if someone asks a judge to stop it, they have to meet these higher, more restrictive narrow tests." And that was really not fair to the preservation community. The attorneys who were working on this are really excellent preservation attorneys, but now they face this little pinhole of an argument they have to make in order to get the injunction. So, it's kind of like the Legislature stacked the deck rather than allowing for a full public hearing of this matter. But we think we're going to be able to get through that pinhole. You know, it'll take some excellent writing, but I think we have the photographs of the trees, we have hopefully some information on what's going on inside, and we think we're going to get there. But I'll tell you, it's a footrace. It really is because irrevocable damage could be occurring within a week. 

Phil: Well, and they're going to reach the point where they take this project so far that their argument will be, we can't go back now.

Richard: Oh, my gosh. Wouldn't that be a terrible situation to be in? That we've made such a mistake that now we have no choice but to continue it.

Phil: Right. And I think the point you're making is once the damage is done, it's done. That's why this needs to be stopped now. Any estimated timetable for when these cases are going to be heard and decided upon?

Richard: So, I would say count two weeks, and we should be able to come back, hopefully with better news.  

Phil: Well, I am hoping that is the case, Dick, when you were in before and you talked about the sensibility of what it is that the preservationists wanted to do, I just—when the conversation was over and the show ended—I was just kind of shaking my head that a sensible and sadly, I think that happens all too often with the relationship between voters and government these days, sensible proposals are never even considered.

Richard: Well, that's the sad part is that I'm sure, had Mr. Cooley been brave enough to follow our advice and really test it, he would be hailed as a hero of preservation; because as you know, you've visited other big cities in America, historic buildings put to modern use with modern safety features-- really a wonderful thing. Wonderful for cities, wonderful for our children that we honor and revere the work of the past.

Phil: I could not agree more. Dick Cowan, I do hope here in a couple of weeks when we find out something in our courts, you've got some good news to report, and I hope you come back and tell it.

Richard: I sure will, Phil, thank you very much.

Phil: Appreciate it, Dick, thank you. A.M. 1380 The Answer. Once again, it's at 10 o'clock this morning. Down at the Capitol, it's going to take place at the Civil War Memorial Grove, just east of where the Annex is near the intersection of 12th, and N they're going to take a full outdoor lap of both the entire building and the 50s East Annex. So, I encourage people, especially those in the press, because I know you all listen to the Phil Cowan show, get down there and cover this, would you please? 16 past 8, we'll be right back.