By Jim Smith
Why would anyone want to sell our 72-year-old historic post office? The officials at the US Postal Service claim that it is because the quasi-public organization is in deep financial trouble. The USPS currently is $8 billion in debt. It estimates the sale of the Venice Post Office could bring in $4.8 million, a drop in the debt bucket.
The USPS wants to close 2,000 of its more than 31,000 post offices, and cut mail delivery to five days per week. A major part of the problem, like many businesses, is employee health care. This could easily be eliminated by implementing single-payer health care, which is not employer based. In addition, the postal service says it over-contributed $75 billion to federal retirement. A reversal of this account could save the post office for the foreseeable future, while it comes up with a plan to deliver vital communication services such as first-class mail, and to reclaim more of the lucrative overnight mail and package express market, which critics say it gave away because of political pressure.
The National Association of Postmasters has filed a suit against the Postal Service’s new regulations, which include unilaterally consolidating Post Offices without community input, and denying many communities appellate review of Postal Service decisions to close their Post Offices.
The Postal Service, as it now exists, is Nixon’s parting shot to an ungrateful nation. It is neither public nor private, but incorporates the worst features of each. It has an impossible mission of delivering mail to a large part of the globe while making a profit. Its current deficit is made worse by a lasting economic depression that has cut its business significantly. In addition, it gave away most of its most lucrative business -– overnight mail – to corporations. The Postal Service doesn’t have a business plan to speak of and is taking its deficit out on the public by cutting services and selling off valuable property, like the Venice Post Office.
The Postal Service has ignored the shift to electronic mail (email) and the internet in general. In contrast, European postal services have embraced the internet and have offered services such as scanning your mail and sending it to your computer. Some countries’ postal services include providing sales within their buildings of special-issue and historic books and stamps for collectors, computer terminals, international telephone booths, even t-shirts and local curios.
A rational business plan for the postal service may include getting rid of many of its brick and mortar post offices, but it makes little sense to begin with the highly visible “legacy” post offices that are historic. The Venice Post Office is a symbol of our community. Its looming presence gives our community the status of a town, not just a wide place in the road between Santa Monica and the Marina. Further, the building was constructed and paid for many years ago. It, and the annex, do not cost the postal service mortgage payments or property taxes. Utilities and upkeep are the only expenses. From the looks of the post office grounds, very little is spent on upkeep.
Some board members of the Neighborhood Council have expressed the view that moving the post office across the Circle to the annex is acceptable. They have been claiming that the old building and its 1941 mural of Venice would be safe since it has historical status. USPS press spokesperson Richard J. Maher was quoted in an April Beachhead article as saying the building had historical protection. However, this turned out to be not true. Attorney Amanda Seward, who won historical protection for the Lincoln Place Apartments, researched the issue and discovered that the Venice Post Office has no historical status.
Bill Rosendahl’s Council office quickly drafted a motion which he put before the L.A. City Council on May 26 calling for a historical-cultural study of the building and to report to the City Council. The motion was jointly presented by Rosendahl and by Janice Hahn, who is the front-runner in the campaign for U.S. Congress. If elected, Hahn could likely stop the sale, as Jane Harman did when the Hermosa Beach Post Office was up for sale.
Meanwhile, several community meetings are being planned which could rally opposition to the sale. They include the Venice Town Council (7pm, June 16 at the Vera Davis Center), the Venice Neighborhood Council’s task force on the post office, and the VNC Board meeting.
The Venice Stakeholders Association has also weighed in on the side of keeping the Post Office in the old building. It proposes buying the current post office annex from the USPS instead, by means of a bond issue, and using the land for a community center and park.
While many Venetians like their letter carrier and the convenience of the current post office building, hard feelings against the post office as an organization have festered over the years. Moving the post office to the old Safeway grocery store would probably result in even more cut backs in service.
Among Venetians’ pet peeves are the following: 1) Cutting Venice in two by moving the southern part into the Marina del Rey’s zip code, 90292. Many newcomers do not know that the peninsula, Washington Blvd. and the Oxford Triangle are part of Venice, not the Marina. 2) Eliminating the separate slot at the Venice Post Office for a “Venice” post mark on a letter. 3) Removing the “take a number” machine from the lobby, which forces seniors and the disabled to wait in long lines for service. 4) Installing bullet proof shields at the windows, making Venice appear to be a war zone. After the shields were installed, the USPS built a new post office in neighboring Mar Vista without shields. 5) Reducing the number of letter carriers to the point that many residents don’t get their mail until after dark in the winter. 6) Allowing dirty sidewalks, stairways and ramps in front of the post office. 7) Making access to the post office more difficult by allowing a large FedEx box on the porch. (Note to Postmaster: This is your competition, if you didn’t know it.) 8) No bike racks in front of the post office 9) No involvement in the community. The postmaster has not met with community groups, has no office hours to hear complaints and complements, nor does he or his organization participate in community events.
Venice lost its last real Postmaster about 10 years ago, when the Long Beach district, which it was a part of, was dissolved and Venice came under the Los Angeles district, which only has one postmaster, in L.A. While various officials have been called Venice Postmasters since then, they are in reality “Officers in Charge” or OICs. They are neither appointed nor sworn in as postmasters. The days of a Postmaster being appointed by the President or his designee from a group of esteemed members of the community are long gone – to the detriment of the community and the Postal Service. The current Postmaster du jour is Bobbie Harris.
The Venice Post Office could make some more income if it would run, or contract for, a coffee and croissant bar in the far end of the lobby. The post office is one of the main places where Venetians meet their neighbors and friends. It would be nice, and good PR for the post office, to provide a place to sit and have coffee. The host could also sell stamps, eliminating one of the main reasons to stand in line.
How You Can Help Save the Post Office
- Email Janice Hahn. She will likely win the runoff election, July 12, for Congress. Send an email to [email protected].
- Ask her to take action now to ask the Postal Service to delay a decision on selling the historic Venice Post Office until she takes office. Ask her to continue Jane Harman’s ban on the sale of any post offices in CD-36.
- Attend the Venice Town Council meeting, June 16, at the Vera Davis Center. The Post Office will be taken up around 8 pm.
- Attend the Venice Neighborhood Council Board meeting, June 21, at the Westminster School Auditorium. The meeting starts at 7 pm.