The State Worker

Report: Here’s why California Board of Equalization should get new HQ

Scaffolding covers the sidewalk outside the California Board of Equalization building on Aug. 26, 2015. The scaffolding was installed several years ago after windows from the high-rise began popping out, threatening pedestrians below.
Scaffolding covers the sidewalk outside the California Board of Equalization building on Aug. 26, 2015. The scaffolding was installed several years ago after windows from the high-rise began popping out, threatening pedestrians below. The Sacramento Bee

Forget the Board of Equalization tower’s history of mold, water leaks, falling exterior glass panels, corroded waste-water pipes, unreliable elevators and bat infestation.

There’s a better reason to move the tax-collecting agency’s headquarters from the 24-story, scoffolding-skirted, running joke that has cost taxpayers $60 million to repair so far: The building is terrible for business.

A new state report says that the 450 N St. tower is too small and poorly configured to efficiently process the $60 billion in taxes and fees it collects each year. New tax and fee mandates, such as collecting taxes on commercial medical cannabis, will continue to grow the agency’s workforce.

Instead of a high-rise office tower, the report states, the agency should move into a campus of low- and mid-rise buildings that better facilitate its work and communication among employees. It could make the move in phases, ultimately consolidating headquarters with several annexes now spread around Sacramento and West Sacramento into a one place.

$60 millionTaxpayer money spent fixing the Board of Equalization tower’s defects. The building needs tens of millions of dollars more to overhaul its plumbing system and exterior glass panels.

That finding, said Department of General Services spokesman Brian Ferguson, “clearly rules out the 3rd and Capitol Mall site,” recently touted by board member Fiona Ma as a spot to move operations.

“We do think it is a great site for urban infill,” Ferguson said, “but was never a fit either financially or operationally for BOE.”

The report also acknowledges that the building’s tortured history weighs on employees. Lawsuits are in the courts claiming that agency leaders hid from staff that the 23-year-old building is a hazardous work environment. Another $30 million in repairs is planned.

“The perception of BOE employees relative to health and wellness in their workplace would be much improved in a new facility,” the report says, “the stigma of 450 N Street’s history of recurring problems will prevent BOE employee confidence in the facility regardless of renovations.”

As the board moves out of the N Street tower, repairs would be effected and smaller state tenants could be moved in. The plan would take “several years” the report notes, and depends on the Legislature to approve funds. The report does not estimate the cost of new facilities.

As an alternative, the state could demolish the tower’s attached parking garage and expand on site. The addition would house employees who process tax returns.

Another option, the report notes, would keep the agency in the tower and simply add more leased annexes as needs warranted.

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