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Historic Santa Monica Post Office in Jeopardy
By Jason Islas
August 6, 2012 -- The Santa Monica Landmarks Commission will explore designating as a landmark the 74-year-old Main Post Office building the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) plans to shut down and possibly sell to pay its growing debt, The Lookout has learned.
While the commission will meet August 13 to discuss its options to help save the iconic 1938 Works Progress Administration (WPA) building at Fifth Street and Arizona Avenue, it must wait until a sale to a private party because it has no jurisdiction over federal structures.
“As a Federal building, the City doesn’t have the power to landmark the building,” said Carol Lemlein, president of the Santa Monica Conservancy Board.
She added that every consultant who has looked at the building -- which along with Barnum Hall is one of Santa Monica's few examples of WPA structures -- has recommended that it be put on the National Registry for Historic Buildings.
“One would assume that it would meet Santa Monica criteria,” Lemlein said. As a result, should the building pass into private hands, the Landmarks Commission could make quick work of giving it landmark status, she said.
With the postal service shuttering and selling off many of its valuable buildings around the country to help stem its hemorrhaging budget, Santa Monica’s downtown post office could end up in private hands, postal officials said.
“The postal service is in a very, very serious financial situation,” said Richard Maher, a spokesperson for the USPS in Los Angeles.
Postal officials said that closing the Santa Monica Main Post office would save the agency $3 million in ten years, despite an initial cost of consolidating the operation with the postal depot at Seventh Street and Olympic Boulevard.
“Plus it would generate revenue after the sale of the property,” Maher said, adding that the property's price tag “would be in the millions of dollars.”
“We’re looking at doing everything we can to generate cash and save money,” he said.
On August 1, the USPS defaulted on a $5.5 billion payment to the Federal Government for employees’ future pensions. At the end of September, the USPS is expected to default on another $5.6 billion payment, Maher said.
Local residents are organizing to oppose the proposed plan to consolidate all postal operations at Seventh Street and Olympic Boulevard.
The Seventh Street building, said Reinhard Kargl, who is spearheading an effort to petition the Federal Government to spare the building, “is a drab, concrete box (that) looks like a bunker.
“It’s located in an area where nobody lives and its cut off from the community,” he said.
Many residents agree that the Seventh Street building is in a much less convenient location and voiced their concerns at a July 19 meeting at Ken Edwards Center.
“The pleas of the senior citizens not to move the building to the other side of Downtown were moving,” Lemlein said.
At that meeting, however, Post Office officials said that they had looked into consolidating services at the Fifth Street location, but that it wouldn’t be feasible.
Kargl, however, isn’t convinced the move will save the $3 million projected by the agency, which under a law passed by Congress in 2006 must prepay 75 years worth of employee pensions in a 10 year period.
“The savings projected by the Postal Service does not include potential loss of business,” said Kargl. “From what I’ve heard from the community, loss of business would be quite significant.”
But Maher is confident most current customers will remain after the move.
“Customers are going to use the postal service as much as their needs dictate,” said Maher. “There’s always a chance that some customers may go to another location or private postal business, but most customers will continue to use the post office.”
The plans are far from final. Maher said that a committee in Washington D.C. would consider all of the factors involved in relocating the post office, including community input, before anything is finalized.
“So far, we’ve received over 100 comments from the community,” said Maher. “And we’re expecting more.”
If the City loses the Fifth Street post office, Kargl said, “it will lose one of its important anchors.”
For more information visit saveourpostoffice.pen.io.
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