As legislative hearing rooms go, the second-floor space in the state Capitol is among the smallest, with witnesses, lobbyists and others frequently forced to stand at the back of the room or wait in the hallway.
But at a recent budget hearing, state Sen. Richard Pan directed people’s attention to what he called an example of a much more pressing problem.
“We have all these visitors coming here, second only to Disneyland, and yet, when you look up, there’s something missing – fire sprinklers,” said Pan, D-Sacramento, pointing at the room’s ceiling. “We have all those people walking through here, but if there’s a fire, we’re in big trouble.”
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Pan’s remarks touched on an issue the Brown administration, legislative and other officials consider a major concern but are reluctant to discuss publicly: the specific shortcomings throughout the 65-year-old building known as the Capitol annex.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s $1.5 billion State Office Infrastructure Plan would pay for a new resources building, a new O Street office building, and renovate or replace the Capitol Annex.
The workhorse appendage to the historic old Capitol, the annex houses two constitutional officers, most of the 120 legislators, 1,400 legislative and executive branch staff. It also hosts more than 1.5 million people who visit the building annually for work or pleasure.
Yet a building once praised for its “luxurious appointments” has never been significantly renovated, with a recent state report calling the building “aged, outdated, inefficient and deteriorated.” Records show several million dollars worth of repair and other work orders in the last few years.
Now the annex is part of state budget negotiations. Gov. Jerry Brown’s January proposal included the annex in a three-building, $1.5 billion proposal to begin upgrading the capital region’s state office stock.
The governor’s proposal takes no position on whether the annex should be renovated or replaced, but different scenarios have been floated privately. If officials opted to renovate the building, workers would be placed elsewhere, possibly in a new office building eyed for what is now a parking lot across from the secretary of state’s office.
Under a different scenario, a new annex would be built in Capitol Park. The annex’s occupants could stay put during construction and, after moving into the new space, the old 365,000-square-foot annex would be demolished and the land added to Capitol Park.
Whatever lawmakers decide, they will have more of a stake in the issue than with hundreds of other budget line items. The governor’s suite occupies most of the first floor, along with the lieutenant governor’s office, and the Legislature takes up the rest of the six-story building.
Officials acknowledge that many state offices buildings are old. None of those, though, has anywhere close to the Capitol’s foot traffic, they said.
“This building is not just for legislative staff and members,” Daniel Kim, director of the Department of General Services, recently told the Senate’s state administration budget subcommittee. “The vast majority of the people on any given day who are at the state Capitol are the public. It is the people’s building.”
$7,461,456 Original cost of the Capitol annex
No lawmaker has yet embraced the totality of Brown’s proposal. Some share concerns raised by the Legislature’s nonpartisan fiscal analyst that the plan, which would continually allocate money outside the normal budget process, would reduce the Legislature’s oversight. Other lawmakers have questioned the wisdom of tying up that much cash and suggested financing might be a better approach.
Lawmakers also are aware of public perception – an “appearance problem,” as state Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, described it – if they commit hundreds of millions of dollars to replace or renovate their offices. The two other projects in the governor’s $1.5 billion plan – a new state resources building and a new O Street office building would cost an estimated $530 million and $226 million, respectively – leaving $744 million unspoken for.
“It’s going to be very uncomfortable for me to vote to replace facilities that I, or my staff, or legislative staff might occupy without a much better objective analysis of why we’re deserving of that,” Glazer said at the hearing.
Built between 1949 and 1951 for $7.5 million, the annex responded to years of demands for more space. Hundreds of workers installed the granite columns, wood-paneled governor’s office and a $639,000 ventilation system for a building “designed to be the showcase of Sacramento,” according to a media account at the time.
Annex drinking fountains were made of marble. “It will be a bigger thrill for junior to take him to the Capitol for a drink of water than to buy him an ice cream soda,” an annex worker told The Sacramento Bee in late 1950.
Many governors, lawmakers, staff members and other visitors later, the annex drinking fountains have been removed because of persistent leaking. Many other problems afflict the building.
“Its deficiencies include electrical and building systems that have far exceeded their useful life expectancy, the presence of hazardous materials and limited compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act,” the Department of General Services said in a January budget change proposal, which mentions asbestos, lead-based paint and the toxic compound known as PCB.
The governor was very much pleased with the floor plan submitted and with the care and thought that had gone into the arrangements suggested by your division.
Beach Vasey, legislative secretary to Gov. Earl Warren, in a 1949 letter to the state’s public works director about the proposed Capitol annex
Offices in the annex are small and too few to meet demand. On busy legislative days, a shortage of restrooms highlights a lack of air circulation, and those that do exist are too small by the standards of the disabilities act. Then there is the lack of fire sprinklers. Some parts of the old Capitol building are missing them, too.
Annex hallways above the first floor are narrow and often crowded, with low ceilings that reflect architects’ strategy of connecting the annex to the old Capitol. Visiting groups, meanwhile, have few places to gather besides a sixth-floor cafeteria that quickly fills up.
Electrical systems in the annex are almost maxed out. While California lawmakers have approved bills in recent years to encourage installation of solar panels, the flat roof of the Capitol annex has none because the building’s wiring cannot handle the load.
Similarly, while Brown and legislators have urged the public to conserve water, officials say it would be prohibitively expensive to upgrade the building’s plumbing to install water-efficient fixtures. Much of the plumbing is encased behind walls.
Pipes drip water into the basement garage. Last summer, on the eve of a key fiscal deadline, a broken pipe soaked carpets in the offices of the Assembly Appropriations Committee, with the water cascading into floors below.
And in the home of Silicon Valley, workers have struggled to meet the annex’s information-technology demands. A building designed for rotary phones, typewriters and carbon paper now has copy machines in the hallways and multiple computers in every office. Stacks of data and phone cables spill out of cable racks in the annex basement, entering the floors above through multiple core holes that have been drilled in the basement’s walls.
Notwithstanding state officials’ 1950 promise of a ventilation system offering “940 varieties of comfort,” lawmakers and staff members routinely complain about offices being either too warm or too cold. Central fans have undergone months-long repairs costing millions of dollars. Compounding the problem, remodeling of lawmakers’ offices over the years has damaged duct work.
365,000 Estimated number of square feet in the Capitol annex
There also have been concerns about what the vents bring in.
Former state Sen. Mark Wyland, who spent 14 years in the Legislature, complained to Senate administrators about a vapor that soaked into his clothes.
Workers spent days trying to fix the problem, Wyland recalled, but he is unsure if they ever identified a clear cause. “I was concerned that it was toxic. It obviously was some kind of gas,” Wyland said. On another occasion, vents blew in black particles that dusted desks in the office.
“You think, ‘Am I breathing that stuff?’ ” Wyland said. “If it were my building, I’d for sure replace the HVAC system.”
Records show that the state has spent $8.3 million on repairs to the Capitol annex during the past two fiscal years. The repairs covered the electrical systems, plumbing, water intrusion and public safety.
Renovating or replacing the Capitol annex would be completed during the 2022-23 fiscal year, based on a tentative construction schedule presented at an Assembly budget hearing last month. Officials have not prepared any detailed renderings of what a new or renovated annex might look like.
But under one early possibility, a new two-wing building would extend from the existing annex into Capitol Park. The old annex would be torn down and, without that obstruction, someone looking west from Capitol Avenue and 15th Street could see all of the historic Capitol, possibly with a rebuilt apse that came down in 1949 to make way for the annex.
Tunnels would connect the building’s parts to one another as well as to the historic Capitol.
Of the $1.5 billion Brown proposed putting into a new State Office Infrastructure Fund, about $10 million would be spent in the next year to begin work on the projects. That includes $2.9 million to assess the safety and capacity needs of the Capitol annex, the first step in what would be a years-long process.
Pan, who is midway through his first Senate term, noted that he likely would be out of office before any work is finished.
“This is not about me. This is about all the visitors and all the public who come here to participate in government,” Pan said, “and having the kind of facility that’s going to be safe for them to come visit and participate and engage in democracy.”