Recent Legislation Threatens Historic Resources and Undercuts Public Rights
We were notified of an alarming action that undermines the authority of the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) to consult on the Capitol Annex Project. On November 12, 2021 Save Our Capitol (SOC) filed a lawsuit challenging the Legislature’s and the Department of General Services’ (DGS) failure to follow the law requiring consultation with the Office of Historic Preservation before destroying the historic Capitol Annex and portions of the Capitol Park.
On June 26, 2022, amendments were slipped into SB 189, one of the many budget trailer bills, including one that amended the Capitol Annex Project Act. Language specified that the Joint Rules Committee, not DGS, was in charge of decisions over the project. The amendments also exempted the project from SHPO consultation. The bill did that by adding SHPO consultation (PRC 5024 and 5024.5) to the Annex Act’s original list of statutory exemptions (Government Code Section 9112). The budget committee's analysis of SB 189 did not mention or analyze the SHPO exemption. SB 189 amendments became law on June 30, 2022.
On July 12, 2022, the judge issued his final ruling stating "…the Legislature has gutted the plaintiff's suit like a fish." The Judge concluded "... there is no question that the Court must apply the version of the Government Code section 9112, as amended by SB 189…." The result was to render the SOC suit unwinnable.
Amending the law after the lawsuit was filed sets a dangerous precedent to nullify laws meant to protect historic resources.WHAT IS THE THREAT?
1. The State Capitol Historic District, comprised of the historic 1870 Capitol, East Annex, and the State Historic Park, is a premier state historic resource. The Legislature's project would demolish the nationally registered Capitol Annex, destroy or remove as many as 180 Capitol Park trees and disrupt the landmark protected front of the 1870 historic Capitol looking west toward Tower Bridge. In the face of a lawsuit, the Legislature exempted the project from review by the State Historic Preservation Officer.
If this project can be exempted from State Historic Preservation Officer's (SHPO) consultation, then any historic building in California could be likewise exempted through future legislation.
2. The Courts are often the last resort for the preservation community to save historic resources. Influencing a Judge's tentative decision before it becomes final undermines the judicial process.
3. The Annex exemption sets a precedent for those seeking to destroy both private and public historic buildings by requesting a legislative exemption – any powerful person could seek relief by going to a Legislator.
4. There are three spot bills introduced by Assemblyman Ken Cooley. Coincidentally, there are three pending lawsuits dealing with the Annex Project and CEQA. Two suits argue that DGS and JRC failed to adequately consider alternatives and the project was not clearly identified, among other things. A third lawsuit argues that DGS and JRC entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in 2018 that only listed demolition of the Annex and the construction of a new 525,000 square foot building in the scope of work. This agreement was before the EIR process began - a pre-commitment not allowed under CEQA.
WE NEED TO ACT. WHAT CAN YOU DO?
1. Send a letter to the Legislature and condemn this trailer bill process because it weakens preservation laws. Eliminating the State Capitol from SHPO consultation sets a bad precedent which would allow future exemptions for any private or state historic project.
2. Call and meet with legislators to voice opposition to this process that weakens historic preservation laws. Ask your Board members to do the same.
3. Submit opposition comments to the Governor, their Assembly member and Senator. We have provided sample letters here and on our website.
4. Ask your members to contact their State Assembly Members and Senators to:
· Go on record opposing the exemption of the Capitol Annex Project from the State Historic Preservation Officer's review.
· Strengthen State Historic Preservation laws by blocking future exemptions for state or private projects.
· Oppose amendments to Joint Rules Committee Chair Ken Cooley's pending legislation (AB 2519, AB 2209, and AB 709) which, if amended, could again block pending lawsuits before the Court makes a decision on the arguments.
For more information on the Capitol Annex Project and the timeline on this ruling, please see https://californiapreservation.org/advocacy/sb-189/