Environmentalists sue to block demolition of Capitol annex

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california capitol annex rendering
Rendering of the proposed Capitol Annex project site

An environmental group says it is suing several state agencies to block the demolition of the California Capitol annex. The executive and legislative offices on the east wing of the statehouse are to be overhauled in the next four years in a $1.2 billion initiative, The Sacramento Bee reports.

The Save the Capitol, Save the Trees coalition argues in its lawsuit that the California Department of General Services, the California Department of Finance and the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Rules must reconcile environmental review discrepancies in their plans to update the decades-old annex before demolition begins.

In 2018, the state’s legislature voted to build a new downtown office for lawmakers to use temporarily during construction, while the  the east side of the Capitol is renovated. The Bee reports the plan was part of a larger effort by former Gov. Jerry Brown to modernize state government buildings.

However, the environmentalists argue that since the Department of General Services released an original environmental review plan in 2019, changes to the project’s outline now include “previously-unforeseen environmental impacts.”

The complaint also alleges that the state agencies didn’t consider alternatives to bulldozing, and instead “generated bureaucratic and financial momentum” in favor of destruction, in violation of environmental review standards.

“They said current plans, which include a modern, glass building with an underground parking garage and visitor’s center, would destroy a historically significant building and a variety of important trees that outline the annex,” the published report says.

“How tragic that after the Joint Rules Committee failed for decades to maintain and upgrade our world- recognized Capitol Annex, Californians are now asked to accept needless demolition to make it safe and useful again,” Richard Cowan, former chair of the Historic State Capitol Commission who has previously worked on Capitol restoration efforts, said in a statement. “We cannot allow it to happen when alternatives are feasible.”

Project proponents assert that the current annex is an outdated structure. The building is littered with hazardous material like asbestos and mold, and the hallways are so outdated that they violate American Disabilities Act rules, they say.

“Maintenance of the current building’s antiquated and failing systems are costly, difficult to repair, and fail to provide the public with a safe and accessible venue to engage with their government,” Assemblyman Ken Cooley, a Rancho Cordova Democrat who has spearheaded the project’s plans, said in a previous statement. “The annex project has emerged from consideration of these perils by three administrations and, as it puts dollars into the regional economy, it will specifically address these vital health, life safety, accessibility and security deficiencies.”

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