Why $1B renovation at California Capitol could uproot history

By Jeffrey Schaub and Greg Wong
KCBS Radio
May 3, 2022

The California State Capitol area will be receiving a major makeover and it could come at the expense of nearly 200 historic trees.

The state is preparing to tear down the old east annex building at the Capitol — which houses the governors and legislators offices — and construct a new $1 billion replacement building, underground parking garage and visitor's center.

As a result, arborists and environmental leaders claim 193 historic trees will be uprooted during the construction.

"Anyone who's listening who has seen Capitol Park knows it's basically an arboretum of historical beautiful trees that were planted 127 years ago," Kate Riley, member of the environmental group "Public Accountability for our Capitol," told KCBS Radio. "So these trees are going to be at risk in this process. Many of them will be cut down."

She and arborists said that transplanting mature trees is risky and many don't survive.

"What is going on right now is the state is trying to remove some of the trees and we're seeing that they're not following the guidelines, so those trees are sitting in the process and basically many of them dying already," Riley explained.

She predicted many of the trees scheduled for transplantation won't survive, including 49 stately palms.

"Those big stately palms are extremely hard to move," she explained. "We've already seen some of the smaller trees right around the Capitol literally die."

Public Accountability for our Capitol, a team of environmental, preservation, taxpayer and business organizations opposed to the process, has been reaching out to legislators to inform them of the tree plans and Riley said many were completely unaware of it.

Capitol Park already lost over 100 historic trees during the last severe drought, according to Riley.