By Greta Cobar
The Venice post office is currently for sale for $7.5 million, and the closing day for bid submissions is April 23. The draft covenant regarding historical preservation would allow the future owner to destroy the mural and the building with no penalty.
Venetians have repeatedly demanded that the 1939 Works Project Administration building and the Edward Biberman mural in the lobby be under historical preservation protection in the event of a sale. According to the drafted covenant, however, a future owner would only have to follow the National Park Service (NPS) Guidelines, which are not sufficient to protect the historic resource.
The draft covenant states that the future owner must make a written request to the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) before doing any construction, alteration or rehabilitation to the building. But if permission is not granted within 30 days, the owner can go ahead and perform the work simply by following the recommended approaches of the NPS. Thus, it doesn’t matter whether the SHPO grants permission or not.
Furthermore, there is no provision for the SHPO or anyone else to monitor whether the NPS Standards and Guidelines are being followed. Therefore, if the mural inside the building (or the building itself) is destroyed, there is no legal remedy or penalty to the owner. Also, there is no provision that allows any future public access to view the mural.
John Henning, attorney representing the Venice Stakeholders Association (VSA), filed an official request for Section 106 consideration, which mandates a historic preservation review process. According to Henning’s letter, sale of the post office under the current draft covenant “would result in an ‘adverse effect’ for purposes of Section 106.”
The sale and closure of the Venice post office is considered to be a relocation, with services moving across the street to what is currently called the Annex. All closures are under a moratorium until May 15, while the Venice post office is for sale because it is labeled “relocation.”
A month ago the Venice community came together and raised the funds to finance an attorney, Elaine Mittleman, in Washington DC, to appeal the sale of the post office. The lawsuit was filed, demanding that the PRC (Postal Regulatory Commission) does have the power to decide whether the sale of a post office be classified as a closure instead of a relocation.
This last lawsuit is our third appeal. The previous one asked that the PRC classify Venice as a closure instead of a relocation. The PRC responded that it does not hold the power to make that decision. The current lawsuit demands that the PRC does have that power.
In a best-case-scenario situation, the court will decide that the PRC does have the power to decide what is or is not to be considered a closure. The PRC would then decide that the Venice post office classifies as a closure. The USPS would then conduct its own investigation, at the end of which they would decide that the Venice post office is indeed a closure. Again, this is a best-case scenario.
Would the Venice post office be saved, then? No, it would just be taken off the relocation list and put on the closure list, which would take the building off the market at least until May 15. It is speculated that the moratorium will extend until after the November elections to avoid delaying absentee ballots.
When asked why the building is for sale while still in litigation, Michael J. Elston, attorney working for the USPS in Washington DC, stated that whether the PRC has the power to decide if it is a closure or a relocation is in no way related to the sale of the Venice post office. However, as already mentioned in the best-case scenario, it could.
Mark Ryavek, of VSA, asked Council District Representative Bill Rosendahl to bring a motion to compel City Attorney Carmen Trutanich to file suit in District Court. The lawsuit was to demand that the USPS obtain building permits for the renovation work currently being done at the Annex.
“The federal government is not subject to city planning and zoning code or city building and safety regulations,” said Norman Kulla, Rosendahl’s legal council. Therefore the USPS is exempt from building permits.
Although probably enacted to prevent the dismantling of the postal service, a service provided for in the constitution, these exemptions are now being used by the USPS to dismantle itself.
Unofficial reports are that the USPS is planning to sell the Santa Monica post office, a 1936 structure, and move customer service to a smaller annex nearby. We hope to consolidate our efforts with Santa Monica and pressure our politicians to step up and take a strong stand reflecting the wishes of the communities they serve. However, Santa Monica has the advantage of city-hood, which Venice does not. It has the benefit of large resources to preserve its historic building.
The Coalition to Save the Venice Post Office has met with representatives in both Feinstein’s and Boxer’s offices, and although the reps were first eager to immediately draft letters of support for our plight, they later backed out. Just another example of our politicians being subservient to the bureaucracy.
There are bills floating through Congress that would save all post offices and postal services throughout the country by easing the requirement that the USPS pre-fund its employees’ health benefits for the next 75 years in a ten-year period. However, the first bill to be debated in the Senate following Easter recess is S1789, not S1853, the one most favorable to preserving postal services and offices.
Congressperson Janice Hahn wrote a letter to Patrick Donahoe, Postmaster General, asking that the sale of our post office be placed under the May 15 moratorium that all closures are now protected by. However, because of redistricting, she is not too motivated to continue this effort, as we will not be in her district come next elections.
Henry Waxman, who is the most likely candidate representing us and our new district, is not our current representative, and therefore is unwilling to take a stand. As he put it, “I don’t represent Venice.”
However, facilities in Maine, New Jersey and other states are currently being defended in Congress by legislators driven to act by their constituencies. Write letters or emails to your representatives urging them to stop the sale of our post office.
Quite suspiciously, the real estate listing of the Venice post office recently deleted the building’s historical status. Maybe because it would be a deterrent to possible buyers. Creating deterrents for future buyers might be a good strategy right about now.
Are those expressing an interest in buying the building informed about the pending lawsuit and the possibility that they will have to sell it back at cost, minus buying and investing costs?
Do they know how small this town is and how unpopular and hated they will be? Do they really want to move in under these unfortunate circumstances?
We are having a rally Tuesday, April 17, tax day, to occupy the post office. Please join us from 3 to 5:30 pm with signs, slogans and lots of enthusiasm. Let’s let any interested future buyers know how we feel and that we are not ready to give up!
Last but not least, let’s not forget that that post office crisis is a manufactured lie that has the ultimate goal of killing all government institutions in favor of increasing the profits of big, private companies. A survey conducted by the USPS itself regarding its Network Rationalization plan shows that the cuts, such as the closing of our post office, will save the USPS $2.6 billion, while causing it to LOSE $5.2 billion. All while the USPS higher-ups take home over half a million dollars each. Common sense is just so outdated.