State’s most sickening building

JUNE 22, 2010

By KATY GRIMES

The Board of Equalization employees are sick of work. Actually, they are sick because of work. The BOE headquarters building has been making employees sick, and the state has known it for several years.

Broken windows and elevators, mold on every floor, water damage and related employee illnesses are a way of life for BOE employees who work in the state-owned building on N Street in Sacramento.

Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, authored Assembly Bill 151 to begin to address this growing problem, by allowing the Department of General Services to investigate a potential move by the BOE. In a hearing today at the capitol, Jones presented AB151, and several BOE employees testified about the working conditions. Elevators that drop several floors, windows that fall from the building onto the street, and mold growing inside of the building are just some of the problems.

But it appears that DGS is part of the problem. The general services department holds authority over where the taxing agency resides — DGS is the state’s landlord and is the leaseholder for the BOE building at 450 N Street. The bigger problem is that the BOE cannot renegotiate the lease, nor can the BOE move without being forced to pay the entire lease  amount to DGS. So even if the BOE found a new office building, the department would be paying rent to the new landlord, and the remainder of the lease on the moldy old building.

According to Jones, the BOE has spent countless hours and much of its budget trying to repair the moldy, broken building, pursuant to the lease agreement with the general services department. But the BOE argues that as a tenant with no ownership interest in the building, it should not be responsible for the costly repairs needed. There is a current estimate of $68 million to do the mold cleanup and structural repairs.

Described as “hostage tenants,” BOE employees said that this has dragged on since it was brought to the Legislature’s attention in 2008. One BOE employee said that if the headquarter building was an automobile, the insurance company would total it.

Committee Chairman Roderick Wright, D-Inglewood, suggested to Jones that his bill could use more teeth built into it, to provide agencies an exit strategy if the building being leased by a state agency is unsafe or uninhabitable. “It could be the DMV or the EDD,” said Wright. “If this was a building in the private sector and the landlord knew it was unsafe, the lawsuit would be far more than the $68 million to cleanup the BOE building,” added Wright. “People are getting sick. The BOE should be able to go find a space,” said Wright.

Jones said that the general services department has authorized an independent study of the building situation, addressing the costs associated with selling the building, fixing it or the cost to move the BOE. The study is expected to be completed by the end of June.

The Governmental Organization Committee did not have enough members present to pass the bill, and left it open for members to vote.

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