Dan Walters

Opinion: State lets buildings decay

The historic Senator Hotel at 1121 L St, across from the State Capitol.
The historic Senator Hotel at 1121 L St, across from the State Capitol. lsterling@sacbee.com

This column is being written in an office building near the Capitol, originally built about 45 years ago.

The building’s owners have remodeled its lobby, restrooms and other features periodically and updated elevators and other mechanical systems to maintain its “Class-A” status and thus keep its office suites leased.

Two blocks to the east, there’s another high-quality office building, The Senator, that’s much older, built in 1924 as a hotel. Two blocks to the north is the Citizen Hotel, a luxurious hostelry that also began life in the 1920s as headquarters of the California-Western States Life Insurance Co.

The point of this commercial real estate tour is that if well-constructed buildings are conscientiously maintained, they can be indefinitely viable.

Think of the centuries-old buildings in European cities that continue to serve their purposes. They still function because governments, churches and other owners did what was necessary.

That makes a new report on the shabby condition of some state buildings in Sacramento quite disturbing.

At the behest of the Legislature, the state Department of General Services commissioned a major engineering firm, HOK, to analyze 29 state-owned office buildings. HOK found nine of them to be in poor condition and four more to be “fair.”

The worst is the Resources Building, just a few years older than the one in which this column is being written. Some others in need of major rehabilitation or replacement are even newer, including the 34-year-old Gregory Bateson Building that was Jerry Brown’s pet project during his first governorship.

No. 12, incidentally, is the state’s most infamous office building, which houses the state Board of Equalization headquarters. Just 23 years old, it has been literally falling apart while hundreds of occupants are subjected constantly to leaking water, mold and other dysfunctions.

The 24-story building was poorly constructed, and even though state officials knew of its many deficiencies, they purchased it from CalPERS and have since spent at least $60 million in vain to make it functional.

There is one notable exception to this lackadaisical attitude: the Capitol itself, where politicians reside, is maintained in tip-top condition.

The consultant’s report does not ascribe blame for the buildings’ poor condition, but the clear implication is that those entrusted with their care fell down on the job.

They failed to perform routine maintenance and rehab that any responsible property owner does. With captive tenants, no competition, no bottom line and uninterested political overseers, bureaucrats apparently felt no pressure to do their jobs correctly.

This is the same attitude that allowed California’s once-magnificent highway system to deteriorate so badly. This is the same political/bureaucratic system that built a wildly expensive, flaw-ridden bridge over San Francisco Bay and wants to build a statewide bullet train and drill two new tunnels in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Good luck with that.