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AGLO 1978 No. 30 - September 13, 1978
AGO Opinion Header Image
Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

OFFICES AND OFFICERS ‑- STATE ‑- STATE CAPITOL COMMITTEE ‑- CHANGES IN USE OF STATE BUILDINGS IN THURSTON COUNTY

(1) While the approval of the State Capitol Committee is not required by RCW 43.82.020 in connection with the reallocation of office space assignments as between state agencies within an existing state‑owned building in Thurston County, the committee's approval is required prior to any change in the basic use of such a building or its demolition and replacement by a new facility regardless of when the underlying real estate was acquired by the state.

(2) The term "acquisition," as used in RCW 43.82.020, does not include either the renting or leasing of real estate in Thurston County.

                                                                 - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                              September 13, 1978

Honorable Vernon L. Barnes
Director
Department of General Administration
218 General Administration Building
Olympia, Washington 98504                                                                                                               Cite as:  AGLO 1978 No. 30

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you requested the opinion of this office on several questions involving the powers of the State Capitol Committee with respect to certain activities of the Department of General Administration.  Specifically you asked:

            (1) Is the approval of the State Capitol Committee required by RCW 43.82.020 with respect to the following events involving real estate located in Thurston County:

            (a) A reallocation of office space assignments as between state agencies within an existing building owned by the state for office purposes;

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] (b) A change in the basic use of such an existing building from that of office use to, for example, use as a storage or warehouse facility;

            (c) The demolition of an existing state office building coupled with the replacement thereof by, for example, a parking lot;

            (d) A change in use of any kind involving real estate acquired by the state prior to the effective date of chapter 184, Laws of 1961?

            (2) Does the term "acquisition," as used in RCW 43.82.020, include either the leasing or renting of real estate in Thurston County?

            We answer your first question in the manner set forth in our analysis and your second question in the negative.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            The authority of the State Capitol Committee and its history were extensively reviewed in AGLO 1973 No. 110 [[to A. L. Rasmussen, State Senator, on November 27, 1978, an Informal Opinion, AIR-73610]], a copy of which is attached hereto for your information.  In summary, it was there concluded that except for some residual authority with respect to certain bond issues the powers and duties of the Capitol Committee are limited to those set forth in RCW 43.82.020 and RCW 79.24.530.  Then, with reference to these statutes, we concluded (at p. 9 of the opinion) that:

            ". . . Any projects that would constitute amendments or modifications of that plan [East Capitol Campus Master Plan] would thus also require the over-all approval by the capitol committee because of the provisions of RCW 79.24.530,supra.  In addition, the provisions of RCW 43.82.020 would require the approval of the capitol committee for any acquisition of real estate, or the use thereof, in Thurston County."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]   Of the two, RCW 43.82.020 is the statute with which you are concerned in your present questions.  It reads as follows:

            "The acquisition of real estate, and use thereof, shall be subject to the approval of the state capitol committee when the real estate is located in Thurston county."

            Question (1):

            Your first question turns on the meaning of the phrase "and use thereof" as it appears in the statute, and particularly the word "use."  In interpreting words in a statute we, like the courts, rely on certain rules of statutory construction.  Two such rules are particularly applicable to your question.  They are (1) that the words of a statute, unless otherwise defined, must be given their usual and ordinary meaning (Marino Property v. Port of Seattle, 88 Wn.2d 822, 567 P.2d 1125 (1977)); and (2) that in determining the meaning of a word as used in a particular instance, regard must necessarily be had to the subject matter in connection with which it is used, and also to the context of the statute wherein it may be employed (Cady v. Kerr, 11 Wn.2d 1, 10, 118 P.2d 182 (1941)).  See alsoRoza Irrigation Dist. v. State, 80 Wn.2d 633, 497 P.2d 166 (1972).

            The word "use" in RCW 43.82.020 is a noun rather than a verb.  The noun "use" has twelve separate definitions in Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary, Second Ed., Unabridged, at p. 2012.  However, the context in which "use" is used in RCW 43.82.020 is the regulation of the use of real property and given that context, the particular definitions which would seem to be most appropriate here are:

            ". . .

            "5.  way of using.

            ". . .

            "7.  the object, end, or purpose for which something is used.

            "8.  function; service.

            ". . ."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]   While we have been unable to find any cases in this state in which the court has interpreted the noun "use," it has been the subject of frequent judicial decisions in other states.1/   One of those decisions of particular significance is American Sign Corp. v. Fowler, 276 S.W.2d 651 (1955), a Kentucky case.  There the court stated, at p. 654:

            "Although the noun 'use' does not lend itself to the making of nice distinctions, we think that in one of its meanings it furnishes a basis for distinguishing between a zoning statute and a mere building code statute.  Zoning has as one of its main purposes the regulation of the use of property.  (Citation omitted.)  This means regulation of the purpose or object of the use, rather than the mere conditions or circumstances of the use."  (Emphasis supplied)

            On the basis of the foregoing, it is our opinion that word "use" as used in RCW 43.82.010 means the object, end, or purpose to which the property is put rather than the details of its use.  With this definition in mind we may now turn to your specific concerns regarding the necessity for Capitol Committee approval relative to the following events involving real estate located in Thurston County:

            "(a) A reallocation of office space assignments as between state agencies within an existing building owned by the state for office purposes."

            Our answer to this question is that such approval would not be required for a reallocation of office space assignments in such a building since the use or purpose of the building is for offices of state agencies.  Reallocating space for office purposes does not change the use to be made of the building,i.e., offices, but rather is a detail of that use.  Moreover, this answer is not only dictated by the interpretation we have given to "use", but it is also consistent with the authority given to the department of general administration in RCW 43.19.125 to "designate rooms in the capitol buildings to be occupied by various state officials."  If "use," in RCW 43.82.020 included the specific details with regard to which agency uses which building, there would be a conflict of authority between the department of general administration and the State Capitol Committee.   [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] In construing statutes, however, such conflicts are to be avoided and, if possible, effect given to each statute.  Davis v. County of King, 77 Wn.2d 930, 468 P.2d 679 (1970).  Therefore, we here conclude that while the Capitol Committee is to approve the general use to which real estate is to be devoted, the department of general administration is then to manage the real estate in accordance with that use, including assignment of space to agencies.

            "(b) A change in the basic use of such an existing building from that of office use to, for example, use as a storage or warehouse facility:

            "(c) The demolishment of an existing state office building coupled with replacement thereof by, for example, a parking lot."

            In each of these instances, as contrasted with (a) above, the general use to which the real estate is to be devoted will change materially.  Therefore, any such change would require Capitol Committee approval.

            "(d) A change in use of any kind involving real estate acquired by the state prior to the effective date of chapter 184, Laws of 1961."

            RCW 43.82.020 was enacted in its present form by § 2, chapter 184, Laws of 1961, in conjunction with various other amendments to the original provisions of chapter 255, Laws of 1959 relating to the acquisition of property for state purposes.  It would appear to us that the true intent of the legislature with regard to its effect, prospective or retrospective, can best be ascertained from a reading of the 1961 amendment in bill form, with new language underscored and deleted language lined out.  In this form the amendment to RCW 43.82.020 reads as follows:

            "The acquisition of ((sites, the final plans, and the construction))real estate, and use thereof, shall be subject to the approval of the state capitol committee when ((a proposed building)) the real estate is ((to be)) located in Thurston county.  ((When the proposed building is for the purpose of housing a branch agency of state government outside Thurston county, the acquisition of a site, the final plans, and the construction shall be subject to the approval of the agency or agencies for whom the building is being constructed.))"

             [[Orig. Op. Page 6]]   In essence, as a simple matter of grammer, we believe that the legislature intended this amendment to apply to the use of all state‑owned real estate in Thurston County and not merely to that acquired after its effective date.  In context, the phrase "and use thereof" relates to the antecedent noun "real estate" and not to the verbal phrase "[t]he acquisition of real estate"‑-for clearly, one uses real estate, not "acquisition."  Again, however, we should emphasize our previous conclusions to the effect that RCW 43.82.020, insofar as it vests a power of approval in the State Capitol Committee with regard to changes in the use of real estate in Thurston County, only encompasses the object and/or purpose to which the property is put‑-as opposed to the details of its use.

            Question (2):

            In addition, you have asked whether the term "acquisition" as used in RCW 43.82.020 includes the leasing or renting of real estate in Thurston County.

            "Acquisition," like use, has not been the subject of judicial interpretation in Washington.  However, it does have a well established meaning, both in the law and in the common meaning of the term.  Thus, for example, Black's Law Dictionary, 4th Ed., p. 41, defines "acquisition" as "[t]he act of becoming the owner of certain property; the act by which one acquires or procures the property in anything"; and "acquire" as "[i]n law of contracts . . . to become owner of property; to make property one's own."

            The pertinent rule of statutory construction is found in New York Life Ins. v. Jones, 86 Wn.2d 44, 541 P.2d 989 (1975), at p. 47:

            "Words of a statute not particularly defined are to be given their ordinary, everyday meaning.  If the legislature uses a term well known to the common law, it is presumed that the legislature intended it to mean what it was understood to mean at common law.  State v. Dixon, 78 Wn.2d 796, 479 P.2d 931 (1971); Fransen v. Board of Natural Resources, 66 Wn.2d 672, 404 P.2d 432 (1965)."

            In applying this rule to the definitions cited above, we conclude that the term "acquisition" implies ownership and thus would not include leasing or renting.  Moreover, such an interpretation is also consistent with the administrative construction given to the statute by the department of general administration since its inception.  Specifically,  [[Orig. Op. Page 7]] according to the real estate division of the department, the approval of the Capitol Committee has never been sought or obtained for the leasing of real estate in Thurston County while, at the same time, it has always been so obtained when such property has been purchased.  And, significantly, the department of general administration leases a substantial amount of real property in Thurston County every year.2/

             The courts will give considerable weight to such administrative construction.  Thus, inBall v. Smith, 87 Wn.2d  [[Orig. Op. Page 8]] 717, 556 P.2d 936 (1976), the court stated at p. 723:

            "In interpreting a statute or ordinance, of course, the court should give great weight to contemporaneous construction placed upon it by officials charged with its enforcment, particularly where that construction has been accompanied by silent acquiesence of the legislative body over a long period of time.  Morin v. Johnson, 49 Wn.2d 275, 300 P.2d 569 (1956)."

            In this instance, the agency responsible for all leasing by state agencies has never felt it necessary to have leases in Thurston County approved by the State Capitol Committee even though it has deemed it necessary to have purchases of such real estate so approved.  Given the weight to be placed on such an interpretation and the common law meaning of acquisition as meaning ownership, we therefore conclude that the Capitol Committee's approval is not required for the leasing or renting of real estate in Thurston County.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

SLADE GORTON
Attorney General


RICHARD A. HEATH
Assistant Attorney General

                                                        ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/91 C.J.S.  Use, pp. 513-514.

2/Records kept in this office show that 55 leases were entered into in Thurston County for the year 1977 alone.

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