California Legislature Ignoring Environmental Laws While Renovating State Capitol and Removing Historic Trees

In September 2020, with the state still suffering from Governor Gavin Newsom’s oppressive restrictions on closings and closures of businesses and schools, the Joint Legislative Committee on Rules held a hearing on 1 $.2 billion from the State Capitol while ignoring the state’s real business emergencies.

Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Granite Bay) told the Globe, “Issues we should be holding hearings on are not happening. But the legislature can embellish its own digs.

The State Capitol Annex project involves a lot, and it’s expected to be $1.2 billion. According to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA):

“The project would demolish and reconstruct the existing 325,000 square foot Capitol Annex building with a new building of approximately 525,000 square feet. The project would address many deficiencies in the existing building including: life safety and building code deficiencies, non-compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards, overcrowding, aging and failing infrastructure, and insufficient public and working space. A new underground visitor center would be located between 10th Street and the west steps of the Capitol. The existing parking lot in the basement under the annex would be abandoned and replaced by a new underground parking lot (approximately 200 spaces) on the south side of the Capitol.

In an interview with The Globe, according to Paula Peper, a retired urban ecologist for the U.S. Forest Service and appointed member of the Historic State Capitol Commission, there are 860 trees with 210 different species types in the California State. Capitol Nationally Registered. Historical park. The first plantations began in 1874 and continue until today.

This underground parking lot sacrifices 150 to 180 trees surrounding the Capitol, including two huge southern magnolias with a circumference of 61″ and 31″ each. Peper says trees of this size and maturity cannot be transplanted. And the cost to try is $100,000 each.

Peper, an award-winning and nationally recognized ecologist, tree expert, historian, author and urban forest researcher, served as a member of the State Capitol Historic Commission for many years, appointed by Sen. Toni Atkins (D-San Diego). The commission is required to inform the Joint Rules Committee of all matters relating to the grounds and the Capitol building. “But we have not been able to inform the Legislative Assembly,” Peper said of their many concerns about the removal of so many historic trees on the grounds of the Capitol, especially after losing 10 % of trees in Capitol Park during the drought that ended in 2014.

“The Capitol people who came to our public meetings were all under nondisclosure agreements.” She said that as the process continued, the commission was legally unable to speak to the public about the destruction the Capitol Annex project would cause on the ground.

Peper said she had resigned from the Commission and the very next day Chairman Dick Cowan also resigned. Peper said their protest was that the Legislative Assembly had failed to appoint people to fill vacancies on the commission, and that their resignations and lack of replacements rendered the commission obsolete — which, in retrospect, seems to have been the goal.

Peper and Cowan are now working to complete the Capitol Annex renovation project.

Peper said he discovered that in May 2021, the Legislative Assembly signed a memorandum of understanding to go straight to demolition and then construct the new building, without informing members of the State Capitol Commission. historical.

“It affects trees on all four sides of the Capitol,” Peper said.

She explained that of the 860 trees in Capitol Park, many are very old and were given to California as gifts from foreign countries or other states. “The city of Sacramento only has a 50 percent success rate with moving palm trees around the city,” Peper said. “The trees were planted between 1898 and 1903. I have never seen palms of this size move successfully.”

The dying Senegal date palm should be kept in a box until construction is complete. (Photo: Paula Peper)

Today, 150 to 180 trees are directly affected.

Iconic Saucer Magnolia moved to the Capitol parking lot. (Photo: Courtesy Paula Peper)

Peper said the workers moving the trees are not following the American National Standards Institute’s (ANSI) A300 guidelines, which state that the box this tree is to be moved into must be 8 times larger than DBH or at least 21. feet wide. It is 12 feet wide.

Canned tree too small. (Photo: Paula Peper)
The Magnolia saucer has moved to the Capitol parking lot. (Photo: Courtesy Paula Peper)

The following image shows sugar maple roots cut and torn, then put back into an undersized box.

Tree roots are cut too close. (Photo: Paula Peper)

This image represents some of the 46 palm trees to be moved.

Some of the palm trees to be moved. (Photo: Paula Peper)

Peper said the Joint Rules Committee headed by Assemblyman Ken Cooley is ignoring the environmental impact report and circumventing California’s Environmental Quality Act in the process.

What’s wrong with moving 150 to 180 trees?

According to Peper, who conducted a study in 2017 and presented it to the Historic State Capitol Commission and legislative representatives present at the HSCC town hall meeting:

  • These trees provide shade, beauty, historical context and perhaps, most importantly, the ecosystem services they provide each year.
  • 210 unique species, of which 97 have only one representative and 66 with 2 representatives each.
  • They remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, the same amount released by the 804 gas tanks of our cars each year.
  • In their wood and roots, they store 4.1 million pounds of carbon, which is important for climate change.
  • Their cooling and shading save enough electricity to power 1,856 homes for 24 hours a year (135 megawatt hours/year).
  • They intercept and stop 1.3 million gallons of water, the equivalent of 34,000 bathtubs full of rain, from flowing down gutters and then polluting our rivers every year.

Peper fears that within a decade Capitol Park will have lost 27% of its trees.

Peper said they presented an overall plan for the park to the joint rules committee and committee chairman Cooley five years ago. “We were told we had to wait until the Capitol was finished,” she said. “In the plan, there was the overall management of the trees. We met Cooley and he told us we had to wait.

The state government exempts itself from its own laws.

Capitol Park and the Capitol Building are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Peper said. “Yet the Joint Rules Committee never submitted any renovation plans to the State Historical Commission’s state preservation officer,” Peper said. “She had already questioned them: ‘Are we going to have 4 or 5 EIR coming to us?’ »

“Cooley didn’t answer. We said to him: “We assume that you are going to follow all the parts of the CEQA and look at the renovation, the rehabilitation,” said Peper. “And he didn’t answer. He already knew.

“It’s all been so sneaky and secretive,” Peper said. And she said Cooley and the committee denied their request for information under the California Public Records Act.

As a historic building, they are supposed to work with State Historic Preservation Officer Julianne Polanco and do a consultation on what can be done with the old building. But the legislator bypassed this step.

There are four lawsuits currently filed seeking to stop the Capitol’s renovation, some of which will be heard in Superior Court next month. Two of the cases are environmental impact report cases, and one accuses the legislature of not taking advantage of the opportunity to reuse the historic building. says, “California lawmakers are bulldozing ahead with an expensive plan to demolish the East Annex, block public access to the West Steps, and destroy Capitol Park. California is beleaguered — by a pandemic and catastrophic wildfires — and faces another $54 billion budget shortfall. Now is not the time to burden taxpayers with a $1 billion debt for the next 30 years. It’s time to restore, increase public safety and preserve the Historic East Annex, not tear it down and replace it.

The West Steps of the State Capitol is where most rallies, rallies and demonstrations take place. Many opponents of the Capitol Annex renovation say it was intentional.

“If a court rules against the Legislative Assembly, it must restore it (Capitol building and grounds) to the way it was,” Peper said.

Ironically, Peper said “you can sign up for the newsletter on the Capitol Annex website, but there are no newsletters.” The Globe signed up for the Capitol Annex newsletter a long time ago, and hasn’t received one.

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