Capitol Alert

California budget pact cuts review for Capitol annex project

The new state budget package lawmakers began approving Wednesday gives the project to renovate or replace the aging Capitol annex a special provision designed to speed up judicial review of any environmental lawsuits challenging the work.

The provision mirrors language in a 2013 bill that helped accelerate the construction of a downtown arena for the Sacramento Kings.

Yet the budget pact’s state government trailer bill leaves unanswered one key question about the future of the annex: renovate or replace the six-story building?

Housing the governor, the lieutenant governor, most of the 120 lawmakers, and 1,400 legislative and executive branch staff, the annex is a destination for more than 1.5 million tourists, lobbyists and others per year.

The building, though, has never been renovated. A state report earlier this year called the annex “aged, outdated, inefficient and deteriorated,” with problems ranging from hazardous materials and a lack of fire sprinklers to a balky ventilation system and overmatched IT system.

State Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, said the state needs decent workplaces for its employees to ensure a well-functioning government.

“There are the people who are doing the work to make sure that businesses can be successful and protect the people of California,” Pan said. “But if they don’t have appropriate work settings, that work just gets slowed down and harms our economy, as well.”

This week’s budget compromise fleshes out the January office building proposal by Gov. Jerry Brown, who wanted to put $1.5 billion into a new state resources building, a new office building on O Street, and a project to address the annex’s problems.

The agreement allocates $1.3 billion into a special fund that would pay for the work. On the annex, oversight of the project would be shared by Brown’s Department of General Services and the Legislature’s Joint Legislative Budget Committee, amid lingering concerns Wednesday about which branch of government would have the upper hand.

The environmental lawsuit language emerged this week following talks between the Legislature and Brown administration. As with Senate Bill 743 for the Kings arena in 2013, it would streamline environmental clearance of the project by speeding up the handling of court challenges. The bill also reportedly includes parts of the legislation that governed the renovation of the historic Capitol in the mid-1970s.

Under a scenario that’s been floated, a new two-wing annex would extend from the old annex into Capitol Park. Tunnels would link the new building’s parts to one another as well as the rest of the state Capitol. The old building would then be torn down.

Lawmakers did not discuss those details Wednesday during a short hearing on the 291-page state government trailer bill. Both houses are scheduled to vote on the measure Thursday.

Republican lawmakers on the panel objected to the measure, in part because of the state office building language. State Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula, whose district is some 500 miles from downtown Sacramento, said the $1.3 billion should be put into highway and other public works projects.

“We have an infrastructure crisis going on and you talk about how to spend money that can really impact the greatest number of citizens,” Stone said. But the panel’s chairman, state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, said the $1.3 billion would be “a drop in the bucket” in the state’s estimated $57 billion infrastructure backlog and “wouldn’t complete much of anything.”