By Charlie Simons
February 6, 2022
Charlie Simons: Hello Richard Cowan, how are you?
Richard Cowan: I’m doing great! How are you, Charlie?
Simons: I’m borderline amazing, thank you for asking.... No response, I don’t get anything? I get nothing from that?
Cowan: <Laughs> I don’t want to step on a good question that’s probably coming my way.
Simons: No! You obviously don’t know me very well. Anyway, it’s a pleasure meeting you. What is wrong with our Capitol building? It’s a beautiful, beautiful building, and the history of it is fantastic—I love it. I’ve been there for many events; most of them demanding things be opened up during the whole COVID shutdown…but other than that it’s just a beautiful place. Beautiful grounds.
Cowan: It is.
Simons: What’s going on?
Cowan: It is a beautiful place. The building itself, as you’ve probably noticed, has got two sections. The original section built in the 1860s, I helped restore when I came back to the Sacramento area in the 1970s as a young project engineer. The second half, the newer half, is about 70 years old, and has not been well treated by the Legislature, which owns that building. It needs some new stuff, air conditioning, power, lighting, exiting, so forth—
Simons: What do you mean they own it? I could have sworn we own it.
Cowan: Yeah. Well, okay you’ve deputized the Legislature to own only that building. The Executive Branch controls and maintains all the other buildings. The Legislature has kind of let the building get out of date, and now they think that because it needs new air conditioning and new exiting that the right thing to do is to tear it down rather than rehabilitate it like they’ve done with the older buildings across the street.
Simons: Excuse me a quick second. I guess I need to know exactly where this is. I’m thinking about the dome—to me the Capitol building is the dome. Right? You’re not talking about that.
Cowan: The dome sits in the 1860s building, which is brick—and to the East of that is the 1950s addition, what some call the Annex. The Annex is what the Legislature wants to tear down and take with it about 180 of the trees in the Capitol Park, and then dig two stories down and put in an underground parking garage for legislators.
Charlie: Oh, for them! Yes, so they don’t have to deal with the rest of the public. Right, they don’t have to interact with us; with any of us unwashed masses. That’s silly. So, this sounds like a tremendous waste of money, is what this sounds like to me.
Cowan: Depending on what you count. The Legislature and executive branch partnered up and built a brand-new building they call “the swing building” at 10th and O, and so the Legislature has just moved in there—and if you add in the cost of that temporary swing building, the whole project they’re proposing is about $1.3 billion —with a b. We think that not only should they just use the parking that they just paid, and are currently using today in the Swing Building, but they ought to rehabilitate the Annex, and preserve its lovely architecture for about half the cost of tearing it down and building a better, bigger, bolder, wider, taller, longer building.
Simons: Can I throw out another suggestion for our Legislature? Can we just move them to another state?
Cowan: Probably difficult. Who would take them, right? Ah, we shouldn’t say things like that.
Simons: Too late, I already did.
Cowan: Our Legislature is a good group of people. I’m sure you know your legislator.
Simons: Yes, you’re right, I do like mine.
Cowan: Yeah, I feel the same. We’ve formed a volunteer group of people who want to save trees, people who want to save historic architectural buildings, and taxpayer associations and Chambers of Commerce who want to save some money. So, we’ve got a couple of different organizations who are trying to convince the Legislature “don’t do it this way—preserve the building, use the parking you’ve already paid for, save the trees.”
Simons: Well that just makes too much sense. That’s your problem right there, sir.
Cowan: Well, perhaps one of them. Actually, two different groups have filed lawsuits.
Simons: Ooooh, here we go! That’s the only thing they respect unfortunately.
Cowan: You know, it’s a sad thing, but it does seem that once you get in front of a judge and explain your argument.
Simons: Especially if it’s a jury trial? Oh, forget about it, because they’re going to look nothing but dumb. How can we help? Where can we find out more? What do we do? I’ve never even heard about this. Is the media talking about this at all?
Cowan: Isn’t that amazing? Well, that’s partially because the Joint Rules Committee of the Legislature has required all the people—many of whom probably live in Placer County—if they’re working on this project, as either a consultant or employee of the state, they’ve had to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements so they can’t talk to you about it. Isn’t that awful?
Simons: Perfect, that’s just perfect.
Cowan: But, to answer your question; if your listeners would write or call the Governor, or the Speaker of the Assembly, or the President pro Temp of the Senate—we’re told emails don’t get counted much—but if they will call or write, and they can get some help on the addresses by going to the website SaveOurCapitol.org; and, if they want to help pay for the lawsuits which are asking for injunctions to stop the tree damage which started about 4 days ago, unfortunately, that website is SaveCalCap.org.
Simons: Hang on a second, we’re going to have to back up here because I’m still looking up Save Our Capitol—and that is C-A-P-I-T-O-L.org, and what’s the other one again?
Cowan: SaveCalCap.org; S-A-V-E-C-A-L-C-A-P.org
Simons: Got it, alright.
Cowan: Lots of information there, and our suggested alternatives.
Simons: Look at that, this is great! I like this SaveCalCap.org very much because you have not only a petition you can sign, but you also have each legislator. Where do you live? Here’s how to contact your own Legislator; there’s a link to the suit and an explanatory press release and everything and donate. There you go, everything is right there.
Cowan: Right there.
Simons: So, which one do you recommend? Why do you have two?
Cowan: Oh, there are two different organizations—we’re united in our purpose. One was formed initially just from the people who were the architecture and tree advocates. Another one was formed by the chamber, business, taxpayer associations, and we kind of discovered each other at some of the hearings and so we’re helping each other as best as we can.
Simons: Well, I believe that is a brilliant idea and—this is embarrassing to me that local media is doing nothing about this because this is a huge stinking deal right here.
Cowan: You know, we have to give credit to—
Simons: What a tremendous waste of money in a state that is really broke.
Cowan: Well, there’s a lot of other things we could spend money on, wildfire preparations for example—
Simons: Good point.
Cowan: Boy, we really need to spend some dollars there. It’s a tough time for the press, they’ve been covering little things like elections and international issues. We did get some good coverage out of SacTown Magazine. We have had some coverage by the Sacramento Bee—but it is, you’re right, it’s surprising how little the public has heard about this.
Simons: It’s awful. It’s absolutely unconscionable to me. I sure appreciate you taking the time to let us all know about it. I think we need to get a little progress report from you. How much time do we got? When are they making this decision supposedly?
Cowan: So, they’re convinced that they want to do the demolition and tree removal and parking garage. Our lawsuits are saying “well, you didn’t go through the right legal process. You should have considered and given evidence of the cost and the benefits of rehabilitation, and since you didn’t do that, we want you to stop and go backwards." But unless we get an injunction, they’re moving forward.
Simons: <Interrupting> As anybody would if there was a great big business in downtown Sacramento, in an area where they’re really trying to do a beautification and turn the whole thing around—and these people are talking about destroying up to 70 trees? In the Capitol Park? No, that’s this side of crazy; and they just literally were trying to bulldoze this through—pardon the expression—it sounds like to me.
Cowan: Yeah. Call your reps, call the Governor, call the pro Temp, call the Speaker, and reach into your wallet and help us get an injunction to stop it.
Simons: I hope so. It’s SaveOurCapitol.org. Save OurCapitol C-A-P-I-T-O-L, not A-L, O-L SaveOurCapitol.org, and the other one is SaveCalCap.org.
Simons: And this is Richard Cowan. Well, I want to have you on again real soon, let’s get a little update, okay?
Cowan: Alright, Charlie, thank you; and thanks Placer County!
Simons: Alright, and thanks for coming on.