The entrance to Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom’s office in the California state Capitol has marble walls and an elaborate tile mosaic on the floor. It sits just across the hall from the Governor’s office. This real estate doesn’t come cheap. Newsom says he was surprised to find out he has to pay about $110,000 a year to rent the space.
"Absolutely surprised," he says. "Tried to get a reduction in rent, didn’t work so well."
With a budget of just about $1 million Newsom had to find savings in other places. So a few years back he closed his satellite offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles and rented a desk at a co-working space for tech startups in San Francisco called The Founders Den.
That’s where we found him. Amidst people huddled over computers, hoping theirs will be the next billion dollar app, Newsom showed off a desk he rents for $500 a month. There’s also a chair and a filing cabinet, but no computer.
"I have no computer, I have a smart phone," he says. "Laptops seem so 20th century."
It may be novel that Newsom rents space in a shared work space. But it’s not unusual that he has to pay California rent for his Capitol office. Brian Ferguson is with the Department of General Services. He says renting office space is standard practice and the rates for state buildings are set by statute.
"Constitutional officers and other state departments all pay rent to the Department of General Services or whoever their landlord is," he says. "Whether it be the Attorney General who has a big beautiful building or the Secretary of State."
But those offices have a lot more money to work with. In his proposed budget Governor Jerry Brown allocates nearly $125 million for the Secretary of State. The Attorney General gets just under $800 million. Of course those departments have elections and a justice system to run. The Lt. Governor’s official role is more limited, which has prompted people to ask what he does. Newsom himself has suggested the office should be restructured. Still, he says he stays pretty busy.
"I serve on the UC Board of Regents, the CSU board of Trustees. I serve as chair of the State Lands Commission. I serve on the Ocean Protection Council. I chair the Economic Development Commission in the state," he says. "We have day in, day out constituent work that I’ll put up against anyone in terms of people coming in and expecting that we can solve their problems."
Newsom divides his time between San Francisco, Sacramento and traveling the state. He’s usually in the Capitol about one day a week, which can make that $110,000 a year rent seem pretty high. But he says he’d never give up that office.
"No, because I love going up there. I don’t like it, I love it. I mean I really do," he says. "It’s so much fun for me. And, you know, blessed to be Lt. Gov and to be able to walk the halls and have an office right there."
A lot of political observers think Newsom would really like to move into the office across the hall, which, aside from its other obvious benefits has another selling point - the Governor doesn’t have to pay rent.