Capitol Alert

Wrecking ball for part of California Capitol on the table

The six-story state Capitol annex, right, is connected to the historic California Capitol building. Shown here on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016, the annex houses legislators’ offices, committee rooms and the Governor’s Office.
The six-story state Capitol annex, right, is connected to the historic California Capitol building. Shown here on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016, the annex houses legislators’ offices, committee rooms and the Governor’s Office. The Sacramento Bee

Gov. Jerry Brown’s downtown renovation plan includes the possible tear-down of part of the state Capitol, officials said Tuesday, as the Legislature’s nonpartisan fiscal analyst raised concerns with the administration’s overall building proposal.

The Capitol Annex, which extends east from the historic Capitol rotunda, houses Brown’s office as well as those of Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, rank-and-file lawmakers, and some legislative committees.

Built between 1949 and 1951, the six-story building’s systems increasingly are out of date even as the numbers of tourists, committee witnesses and other Capitol visitors continue to increase. That prompted officials to include the annex in the administration’s $1.5 billion building upgrade proposal included in his spending plan released last month, even though the annex was not part of a state assessment last year of millions of square feet of office space.

It became clear Tuesday in a report by the Legislative Analyst’s Office that replacing and demolishing the Capitol Annex is among the options on the table pending discussions between the administration and the Legislature, the building’s main tenant.

“It is a facility that is aged, ancient, and has significant needs,” Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer said. “Given the fact that there are thousands of visitors, not the least of which are thousands of schoolchildren who are on Capitol tours every day, it was decided that the shortcomings of the existing facility be addressed as part of the infrastructure proposal.”

Bryan Ferguson, a spokesman for the state Department of General Services, added, “It’s been well-used and well-loved.” There are no estimates of how much it would cost to renovate the building vs. building a new, and likely larger, replacement and demolishing the existing annex.

Brown’s budget proposal calls for taking $1.5 billion in general fund money and putting it in a new State Office Infrastructure Fund. Besides the Capitol Annex, a new $530 million, 650,000-square-foot natural resources office would be first on the list, followed by a new building for the Food and Agriculture Annex on N street.

The state would spend $10.1 million on planning in the budget year that begins July 1, with $1.5 million of that earmarked to begin planning for Capitol Annex work.

In its review of the plan Tuesday, the analyst’s office said the idea of replacing or renovating aging state buildings makes sense. But the report noted a lack of information about the proposal and the fact that the money could be spent in a way that minimized legislative oversight.

“Without this information, it is impossible for the Legislature to understand what these projects entail much less to determine their merits relative to other potential projects,” the report said.

The review also questioned the administration’s pay-as-you-go plan. Getting the $1.5 billion through bonds, a traditional way of raising money for major public works projects, would free up money for other priorities, it noted.

Palmer, though, said the administration’s proposal would save an estimated $1.3 billion in interest costs. Treasurer John Chiang has signed on to the approach, as well. “I congratulate the governor on making a down payment on this issue,” he wrote in a recent report.

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