Restore, Protect, Manage

New natural resources building speaks to agency’s mission

By Gary Delsohn
January 2023

If you’re a cynic convinced government rarely gets anything right, walk to Seventh and P streets and check out the new headquarters for the California Natural Resources Agency. Then let me know how you feel.

You enter a different kind of state building when you step into the light-drenched lobby, see a quote from poet Gary Snyder emblazoned over the outline of a grizzly bear—“Nature is not a place to visit. It is home”—and learn part of the wall is covered in wood salvaged from the deadly Paradise Camp Fire.

California is resilient. This 834,225-square-foot, 21-story office tower makes a powerful statement about resiliency and the role natural resources play in the state’s mythology and our hearts and minds.

Produced by the design-build partnership of Turner Construction, architect AC Martin and the Department of General Services, the building does so much right it’s hard to know where to start with highlights.

It’s already won numerous awards despite being only partially occupied 18 months after opening, thanks to the pandemic and the bureaucracy’s hybrid work model.

As someone who spent 11 years in the public sector following my stint at The Bee, I’m most impressed with how the building shows appreciation for its employees.

In addition to the Natural Resources Agency, the tower is home to eight state departments, among them CalFire, Water Resources, Energy Commission, Parks and Recreation, Fish and Wildlife, and Conservation.

Interiors are bright, filled with natural light and open spaces. The building includes a health and fitness center, 300-seat auditorium that Gov. Gavin Newsom used for his annual budget presentation, multivendor food court and pedestrian plaza.

As the agency says in a statement that requires just a little imagination, “The building’s silhouette mimics rock formations found around California, and spaces between columns in the building produce images of naturally formed slot canyons.”

Outdoor pavers highlight some of California’s threatened species to remind visitors what’s at stake. Signature public art pieces underscore what a miraculous state we live in, challenges notwithstanding. My favorites: the two-story media wall of digital public art and the oversized mosaic of loomed “beads” of new and recycled skateboard wheels called “Here.”

The artist for the multi-colored beads project is Los Angeles-based Ishi Glinsky of the Tohono O’odham Nation. The gorgeous piece pays homage to our original inhabitants.

A 130-child daycare facility was constructed on top of an existing state office building across the street, with a landscaped playground that includes synthetic turf, rubber surfacing, sand boxes and two play structures.

Projects like this are never easy. With a price tag of $596 million and a three-year construction schedule, state officials and the design-build team had to contend with civil unrest, pandemic, supply chain disruptions, massive wildfires that distracted future tenants and more. But the project came in on budget and seven weeks early.

Before skeptics gripe about the cost or amenities that include outdoor terraces and cool soundproof phone booths for people needing to make a call, I’ll just say the state payroll has some of the hardest working and devoted public servants I’ve encountered.

Those charged with protecting and enhancing our natural resources should work in a place that’s inspired, functional and uplifting.

The old resources building across the street is now being renovated. Opened in the early 1960s, it was a bleak outpost with so many deficiencies a state survey declared it to be in the worst shape of any state office building in Sacramento, which is saying something.

State buildings for high-profile agencies and departments are about more than making workers feel comfortable and prideful. This building shouts to the world: California values its natural resources.

That’s the story the building tells. It speaks with grace, beauty and harmony as it follows the agency’s mission to “restore, protect and manage” our natural and cultural resources for current and future generations of all backgrounds and cultures. That should mean a lot to everyone.

Gary Delsohn can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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