What Else Are Our Elected Officials Doing In Secret?


Paula Peper
Author, Urban Ecologist U.S. Forest Service, retired
Historic State Capitol Commission, 2015-2020

Richard "Dick" Cowan
Historic State Capitol Commission, Chair 2014-2020
Capitol Bicentennial Restoration, Project Engineer 1977-1982

Paula Peper

The whole point of developing this park was in 1868 they decided they wanted it to be a place where rare trees from all over the world grew. And they did it. You know, they had 81 species at the time that came from all continents of the world except Antarctica.

Nowadays, you have a really hard time doing that because of quarantine and that, but we've been working with UC Davis arboretum to grow some replacement trees for these rare trees. There are 864 trees, 210 unique species, and as I said before, 188 of those are threatened by this.

We have 43 palms. There's some 20 on this side and 20 on the L street side which are going to have to be moved.

The problem is, no one in California, that I have ever spoken to, has ever tried moving palms that are so large, and there's only been a 50/50 success rate in moving palms at all in downtown Sacramento. The normal way to even attempt to do this would be to move every other palm first, and then you would band the tops to a palm that's already stable.

And we have no idea who's gonna be doing this how they're gonna do it. But they're going to move all of them on both sides. You know how our north south winds are? They can go down like dominoes.

The CHP has been so generous to us in letting us have these tours, but everything is permitted. And we did actually ask, or I asked, if we could put price tags around every tree. But we can't attach anything trees, but we can kill them, but we can cut them down.

Our national capital is based on a campus approach, and so, everybody is in different buildings. And there are underground tunnels that lead them to legislative office buildings. There are numerous underground tunnels here. There used to be one from the bar at the old Senator Hotel to the main conference room. They could build a tunnel much cheaper. And stay where they are 


Oh, yeah.


And stay where they are. There were originally 37 trees. They were, they came from every major battlefield of the civil war. And this was established in 1908. Today there are five trees left and there just has never been an effort on the part of the Legislature, the Joint Rules, that's in charge of this park to develop a tree management plan so that there's replacement.

There’s professional pruning done. It was only in 2014 after years of never having a certified arborist examine their trees that the trees were in such bad shape that they had to call a certified arborist. And Brian Hill came in, and he called me afterwards, and he said, ‘Paula, I can’t believe nobody has died because the risk associated with so many of these trees is immense.”

I don't know how they're going to preserve the Moon Tree let alone some of these others because  the root systems on Redwoods are all intertwined, you know, and they grow together. So, if they damage one tree, there maybe will damage two other trees. And you can see where the sprouts at the base of the tree to grow.

That's because they think they might have to clone the tree if the tree dies. So, they’ll take tissue, hopefully get UC Davis to, and we'll have a second-generation Moon Tree––not the original.


The decision to build in this style was made by the architect Alfred Eichler who was a state employee. Today the state contracts out its building design. But in those days, the division of the state architect, has a different name now, department, the division did its design in house.

And Eichler didn't want to, didn't want to imitate the ornamentation style of the 1860s work, but   he wanted to build a building a little more narrow, a little less tall, and as short as he could make it to meet the requirements of the legislature. He chose granite for the base, and plaster for the top, to match the capital so, it would be harmonious but deliberately not copying it.

This end of the building is a good place for us to talk about what the new building might look like. You can see the aluminum freezes up on this facade of the building, and the aluminum work inside the portico.

Those are sculptures done by Olaf Malmquist who is probably the most famous architectural sculptor in Northern California.

He did the palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco––just wonderful work––and we don't know what's gonna become of that if the building is demolished. I just can't stand the idea of losing that. We saw a slide of the replacement building, and it's a glass skin entirely glass, completely inharmonious with the 1860s capital.

And from a security standpoint glass skin provides no concealment, or no cover if the Highway Patrol is trying to hurry you and I to a safe place if there were a terrorist out here doing bad things.

So, why would we think that's an improvement in security over what we have now? It's not. It's a terrible idea, inharmonious, and expensive.  

We're having to guess at the timeline because no one is telling us anything. When we can ask a specific question if we wait long enough, we get a specific answer to that  question only. This is probably the most secretive project I've been associated with, including I built hangars for the Stealth Fighter in the middle of Nevada. There was more knowledge about that project than there is about this one.

This one is really a secret.