By Greta Cobar
Escrow is ready to close on our historical post office building in disregard to the United States Post Offices’s failure to protect the building from being modified or torn down by its new owner.
Historical protection is just one of several procedures that the USPS failed to follow when disposing of our post office and hundreds of others nationwide.
The battle is not over. As a matter of fact, the Coalition to Save the Venice Post Office is getting ready to file an injunction to stop the sale before escrow with Joel Silver closes.
Without a beneficiary in charge of enforcing a covenant, any such covenant would provide no historical preservation or protection. The USPS’s initial covenant appointed the California State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) as beneficiary of the Venice post office.
“The SHPO is not authorized by California state law to accept covenants or easements,” stated Reid Nelson, of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), in a letter to Dallan Wordekemper, Federal Preservation Officer of the USPS.
Although the City of L.A. has never acted as a covenant enforcer, Ken Bernstein, Principal City Planner and Manager for the Office of Historic Resources, writes: “City staff have reviewed the draft preservation covenant originally prepared for the SHPO, and have inserted the City in place of the SHPO” in a July 20 letter to Wordekemper.
The sale of our post office cannot be completed without Section 106 compliance, which involves a covenant ensuring historical protection and a beneficiary responsible for enforcing that covenant, according to Caroline Hall, of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, in a letter addressed to Wordekemper.
As Jim Smith pointed out in a letter to Bernstein on behalf of the Coalition, the “historic preservation covenant has been found severely deficient by individuals, preservation groups and at least one State Preservation Office, so far.”
Besides being unenforceable because of its lack of a beneficiary, it does not provide for public access to the lobby and the 1941 Story of Venice mural by noted artist Edward Biberman. As Mark Ryavek, of the Coalition pointed out, “the covenant is still hopelessly deficient and does not include the right of any public access, so preserving the foyer and mural is for naught from the public’s perspective.”
“The Postal Service will initiate the Section 106 consultation process when it develops plans for the reuse or disposal of the property, and the City of Venice will be a consulting party. The Postal Service will include measures to ensure the mural will remain available for public viewing in any plan for reuse or disposal of the Post Office property,” wrote David Williams, Vice President of Network Operations with the USPS, in the Final Decision to sell our post office. The current covenant, however, does not allow public access to the mural.
Another procedural failure on the part of the USPS involves its negligence in providing adequate community notification and input consideration during the process. For example, the USPS held a public meeting at Hama Sushi on a Monday, at 1 pm, which was attended by five residents. If the meeting would have been scheduled outside of work hours and publicly announced, attendance would have been higher.
The other two public meetings claimed to have been held by the USPS were actually Venice Neighborhood Council meetings attended by USPS representatives. The hundreds of residents attending those meetings were unanimously and loudly against the closure of our post office.
Which brings up another procedural failure on the part of the USPS: input consideration. Shouldn’t the public have a say when it comes to a public institution?
Yet another procedural failure in a row: not disclosing plans to reduce retail service at the new location, specifically the elimination of Saturday window services. Originally the USPS had planned for only two service windows at the new facility, and increased the number to four only after the public and Congressperson Janice Hahn pointed out the long waiting lines, which were in clear violation of the USPS’s own mission statement.
For a post office to be sold, the USPS has to determine and declare the building as “excess property,” which requires paperwork specific to each property. The USPS has not provided such paperwork for Venice, and they might just not have it. There is no proof that the building was ever established as excess property.
It is also important to note that Works Project Administration (WPA) buildings, such as our post office, were created with the intent of merging universal access to mail, art and architecture. By changing the purpose of the building and denying the public access to the foyer and mural, the USPS is violating the intent of the WPA.
Interestingly enough, the WPA was a depression-era effort on the part of the government to decrease unemployment while creating public buildings and services. It goes to show how much our government has changed since, as we are selling these WPA buildings and eliminating a service provided for in the constitution in favor of private businesses that will cost more and deliver to less. Once again the big corporations win while negatively affecting mostly the rural, elderly, poor and disabled members of our society. What a perfect example of the one percent further increasing its share of the wealth, while the rest of us are put at a further disadvantage.
Venice is joining hands with efforts throughout the country, from Berkeley to Northfield, from La Jolla to Santa Monica, to stop the USPS’s efforts to cash in on our historical post offices. If you would like to become involved with the Coalition’s efforts to save our post office, please contact the Beachhead. We currently have the grounds to file an injunction to stop the sale.