The Capitol Annex Will Soon Be Gone, but Not Forgotten

Dave R. DoerrBy CalTax Chief Tax Consultant David R. Doerr

It has been called ugly, old, inflexible, and not up to snuff with current code requirements, so the California Capitol Annex is awaiting the death penalty. It is scheduled to be torn down within days or weeks and replaced with a new structure that likely will cost more than $1 billion. Yet the old structure (which still is much younger than the other half of the statehouse, the Old State Capitol) has been home to many deals whose impacts will far outlive the quirky building itself.

Governors Warren through Newsom had offices in the Annex, where all state budgets were hammered out. Many monumental laws also were formulated, drafted, and heard in various parts of the Annex.

Construction on the addition was started in 1949, and it opened in 1953. It was attached to the east end of the Old State Capitol, with legislative offices, hearing rooms, and several executive branch offices, including the U-shaped Governor’s Office – “the Horseshoe,” in Capitol jargon. It is a good example of public architecture of the period, and better than most.

Let me give you a tour:

The basement was a parking garage for legislators. For decades, the basement also was home to a Department of Motor Vehicles office, generally unknown to the public, where Capitol denizens could get service without having to brave the lines of the field offices. (The office – the subject of news stories every few years but still described as the “secret DMV office” – was moved in the 1990s to a legislative building across the street from the Capitol, in a room that is inaccessible to the general public.) Next to the garage but in the Old Capitol’s basement, not the Annex, are a bookstore, a cafeteria, and the Legislative Bill Room, where everyone went to get copies of legislation before the Internet rendered paper copies obsolete.

On floor one was the Governor’s Office (occupying the southeast corner), and at one time or another, offices of the state controller and lieutenant governor. Top brass of the Department of Finance occupied much of the north half, and the shoeshine stand was usually at the south entrance. Lining the first-floor hallways were exhibit windows, one for each of the state’s 58 counties. Some of the counties provided very interesting exhibits, and some did not. At the east entrance was a device to measure earthquakes occurring around California. In 2009, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger put an 800-pound bronze statue of a bear outside the entrance to the Governor’s Office (it quickly became known as “Bacteria Bear” in light of all the touches from elementary school kids and others touring the building).

On floors two through five were legislative offices, hearing rooms, and rooms off the Senate and Assembly floor for caucuses and other meetings. In general, Senate offices were on the south side and Assembly offices on the north, although the Assembly managed to set up a few on the south side, too.

On the sixth (and top) floor, there was a cafeteria, which initially was on the north side and then moved to the south side. The food was good, inexpensive, and served without a long wait. There also were a few Assembly offices on this floor – including the infamous “doghouse,” an impossibly small office right next to the loud cafeteria, typically assigned to a lawmaker who was not on the Assembly speaker’s good side. Unbeknownst to many, there was a walkway between the sixth floor and the top floor of the original Capitol. This walkway, covered by rounded plexiglass, offered the best view of the Capitol dome.

In the building was a bank of elevators for the public and two private elevators for members of the Assembly and Senate. Navigating the elevators could be confusing for visitors, since the floor numbers in the Annex did not match those in the original section.

This is not the first attempt to eliminate the Annex. In the late 1960s, Republican-turned-Democrat Senator Randolph Collier of Siskiyou County proposed building two multistory buildings at the east end of Capitol Park, dubbed “Collier Towers.” As Senator Collier was a member of the budget conference committee for several years, there was speculation that he would use his position to jam through the project, but there was not enough support.

I went to work for the Assembly on September 1, 1959, when the Annex was still new. At the time, the committee to which I was assigned (the Government Organization Committee) had just two staff: me and Secretary Sheila Jensen. I had an inside office on the second floor, with one wall completely covered with a wallpaper picture of Grand Teton National Park. This park is not even in California, and I always wondered why it was there.

The next year, an additional staffer, who was an intern, was assigned to the committee. Her name was Rose Bird from Long Island. She later became California’s chief justice.

In 1963, when I became chief consultant to the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee, I got a new office on the second floor with an outside window overlooking the north entrance to the building. During this period, all legislators and their staffs were comfortably housed in the Annex. By 1987, when I left the Assembly, I had occupied various offices in the Annex and my staff had grown quite a bit. Several years thereafter, when the State Board of Equalization vacated its N Street office building, the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee staff was moved to that location and no longer had offices in the Capitol.

This perhaps is one of the main reasons for a new building. The Legislature has many more staffers, including consultants and administrative assistants, than fit in the Annex. There is another reason not generally known. The Annex has undergone years and years of remodeling, which takes its toll. Legislators play musical chairs with offices after every two-year election cycle, and sometimes in between. Higher-ranking legislators seek to move into best offices that have been vacated, then remodel them to fit their needs. The junior returning legislators move to the better offices just vacated, and often remodel them. The first-year legislators then get the worst offices – the ones with no windows and those on the sixth floor.

Many major tax bills had their gestation in the Annex. These included:

    • AB 2117 of 1965, the “Williamson Act” to limit assessment of agricultural property.
    • AB 80 of 1966, the assessment practices reform bill.
    • SB 556 of 1967, Governor Ronald Reagan’s tax bill.
    • AB 85 of 1971, establishing personal income tax withholding and increasing income and corporate taxes, among other things.
    • SB 90 of 1972, the compromise property tax reduction and renters’ credit bill.
    • SB 154 of 1978, the Proposition 13 implementation bill.
    • AB 3802 of 1978, a one-time income tax cut and partial income tax indexing for a few years.
    • AB 1488 of 1979, a comprehensive plan to implement Proposition 13’s acquisition assessment provisions.
    • AB 66 of 1979, repealing the inventory tax.
    • AB 36 of 1983, the income tax conformity-by-reference bill.
    • SB 95 of 1986, the corporate apportionment “water’s-edge” election bill.
    • SCA 1 of 1989, revising the Gann spending limit and the school apportionment formula, and increasing the gas tax.
    • SB 671 of 1993, revising the “water’s-edge” election and establishing a tax credit for purchasing new manufacturing equipment.
    • SB 657 of 1995, reforming assessment of intangibles and making other property tax reforms.
    • AB 858 0f 2000, reducing the car tax rate to 0.65 percent.
    • In 2009, several tax bills and budget gimmicks that attempted to close a recession-caused deficit.

Subsequently, the big tax proposals have been resolved by the voters in statewide elections.

In other areas of public policy, the Annex was the place where major reforms were developed and brokered. Maybe the new building can have a plaque or memorial commemorating the Capitol Annex and all the great achievements that were developed there.