Post Office Goes Private?

July 1, 2012

By Jim Smith

What sort of a country do we live in that allows the government to take an important historic building that is part of the public’s accumulated wealth and turn it over to the super-rich 1 percent for private use?

That is exactly what is happening with the building that has been Venice’s Main Post Office since 1939. And, it is being virtually given away over the loud protests of the organizations and people of Venice.

Our battered but beautiful post office has been closed since June 15. No one has seen Abbot Kinney gazing down on us since then.

I visited the mini-post office that has been carved out of the old Safeway building that is now used to sort mail. The Postal Service must be ashamed of the place since they have given it a fake address, 313 Grand Avenue. Anyone going to 313 Grand will be confronted with a cul-de-sac that does not give access to the mini. Instead, by auto or bike it can only be reached from Riviera Avenue in Central Venice. Walkers can climb over a curb along Windward Avenue and walk through a small parking lot to reach it.

Once inside, I was struck by the contrast with our old post office. In the mini, there is no artwork on the walls, no soaring ceilings, deep varnished wood or expensive tile floors. Instead, we see painted plywood, cheap tiles on the floor and a low ceiling with ugly acoustic tiles. The overall appearance is that of a low-income commercial business in a mini-mall. This is what the Postal Service thinks is good enough for the people of Venice!

Movie mogul Joel Silver, who is now in escrow to buy the Venice Post Office, is reputed to have a net worth of approximately $350,000,000. The Post Office was for sale for $7,500,000. This represents a little more than 2 percent of his wealth. For a person with an annual income of $35,000, 2 percent would be $750. Even if you have an income of $100,000 per year, 2 percent would be just $2,000.

This exercise is to show how skewed income distribution has become and to show that a member of the top 1 percent can buy a major asset with petty cash. Is anything called a public building or public space safe if the government (also owned by the 1 percent) can so willingly bestow our national treasures on them?

If and when Silver moves in, the public will move out. The operation will be private. Visitors who want to look at the historic mural and lobby will be allowed in according to his whim. We will have no recourse if the Edward Biberman mural is visible only once every two weeks. Nor will we be able to object if the lobby is substantially altered. As in the Middle Ages, it’s all up to the good will of the Lord in his castle, in this case Silver.

The Coalition to Save the Venice Post Office is scrambling to get an injunction to stop the sale. At this point, a legal action is about the only thing that can save the post office. But going into court places a severe financial burden on even a group of average income people.

We are forced to resort to legal action because of the failure of our(?) representatives to intervene. Here is the rundown: City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl – supportive but powerless at the federal level; Member of Congress Janice Hahn – supportive, but now campaigning for a seat in Congress from the L.A. Harbor area; Senator Dianne Feinstein – aides were friendly and sympathetic, but no action from the Senator; Senator Barbara Boxer – aides were friendly and sympathetic, but no action from the Senator; Member of Congress Henry Waxman – unwilling to get involved while campaigning to represent us. Waxman was also one of the sponsors of the 2006 bill that forced the USPS to make huge advance payments for future retiree health care, thereby forcing retrenchment by the Postal Service.

The plight of the Venice Post Office is being repeated thousands of times across the country as more and more historic buildings are put on the sell list. There is currently a moratorium for many of these, but not Venice, while Congress deliberates a new postal bill. However, it is unlikely that anything Congress passes will help people across the country to save their post offices. If anything, it will probably make the situation worse, as Congress bows to 1 percents who want to snatch up prime real estate at bargain prices throughout the country.

Only a handful of Democrats and no Republicans seem interested in saving our historic legacy that stems mostly from New Deal days. One of the most vocal supporters of public post offices, Dennis Kucinich, was defeated in his primary election.

In addition, the mass media, also owned by the 1 percent, seems not interested in covering what has become a large movement to save the post offices. If it had not been for our necessary effort in Venice to save our post office, most of us would not have become aware of the extent of government’s actions to unload post offices and lay off hundreds of thousands of postal workers in the middle of a recession/depression. Since our struggle began, we’ve been in contact with people in other parts of the country who are also trying to figure out how to stop this juggernaut. We now have our own information resources, such as www.savethepostoffice.com and http://www.savethevenicepostoffice.facebook.com

What do we need to do about it:

1. We need a good lawyer versed in federal regulations to join our fight at bargain basement rates.

2. We need to spread the word to everyone about the massive looting of public resources now taking place.

3. We need a new Congress that is responsive to protecting the public from the vultures in Wall Street and elsewhere. Our local problems have merged with national issues.

4. We need millions to take to the streets, and stay in the streets, until we have a revolution that turns government priorities right side up.


Post Office Picket Planned For June 22

June 1, 2012

By Greta Cobar

The whole-in-the-wall new mini Post Office (PO) at the site of the current Annex is scheduled to open June 22, and the Coalition to Save the Venice Post Office plans to protest the inauguration with a picket line.

PO box service at the current post office is set to end Friday, June 15 and access to PO boxes at the new location is set to start Monday, June 18. Neither the zip code nor the PO box numbers will change.

Starting June 16 there will no longer be postal retail services available on Saturdays. Those of us who cannot make it to the PO Monday through Friday between 8:30 am and 5:30 pm will be out of luck.

Although the United States Postal Service (USPS) is moving forward with the sale of our Post Office as quickly as it can, it might be forced to move right back by current ongoing litigation in Washington DC.

Furthermore, the sale of the building currently housing our post office might not be completed due to USPS’s failure to create a covenant protecting the historic 1939 Works Project Administration building and the “Story of Venice” Edward Biberman mural that it houses.

“Section 106 must be concluded … prior to the transfer of the PO out of federal ownership,” stated Caroline Hall, Assistant Director of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, in a letter to Dallan Wordekemper, Federal Preservation Officer of the USPS. The Section 106 process ensures that the building and the mural will suffer “no adverse effects” as a result of the sale of the federal building.

In a phone conversation with Mark Ryavek of the Venice Stakeholders Association, Hall agreed that the USPS did not properly conduct the Section 106 consultation process. She noted that under that process the USPS is required to make formal submissions to the Advisory Council explaining their “undertaking” and their determination of whether there will be an adverse effect from the undertaking (in this case, sale of the Venice PO).

The covenant drafted by USPS was deemed to be “vague and virtually unenforceable” by John Henning, Attorney at Law, in a letter addressed to Hall and Wordekemper. Henning went on to state that the current covenant “has no beneficiary that is able or willing to take on the role of enforcing the covenant.”

Adrian Scott Fine, Director of Advocacy for the Los Angeles Conservancy, also wrote a letter to Hall and Wordekemper. In his letter, Fine points out the fact that although the covenant drafted by the USPS requires the California Office of Historic Preservation to accept, monitor and enforce the covenant, that office does not currently hold any covenants and has repeatedly stated to the USPS that it will not accept a covenant for the Venice PO building.

Hall stated to Ryavek over the phone that for a finding of “no adverse effect” to be made, a credible third party must accept the covenant and in that process the third party can negotiate the level of protection in the covenant. She went on to say that the National Trust for Historic Preservation has litigated such matters in the past and has expressed an interest in the Venice PO if the covenant and beneficiary issues are not resolved in the consultation process.

So far the USPS has refused to amend its draft covenant, which appears to indicate the agency’s acknowledgement of the precedent-setting potential of such an action for historic post offices nationwide.

Henning drafted an alternate covenant as a replacement to the useless covenant that the USPS has drafted, but the USPS has not accepted the terms of the new covenant. Among other things, Henning’s preservation covenant states that the buyer “shall fund a permanent endowment in the amount of $75,000 to fund the monitoring and compliance with this covenant.” It also regulates the use, repair, preservation, maintenance and inspection of the building and mural.

On May 7, Jim Smith submitted a series of questions to Diana Alvarado, USPS Pacific Facilities Service Officer, on behalf of the Coalition to Save the Venice Post Office. Simple questions such as when services plan to be moved to the new location; what the names of the bidders on the PO building are; are the bidders required to accept the covenant, have yet to be answered. However, a case file was open as a response to the inquiry.

The hope is that there will be no need for a picket line come June 22, by when the USPS should realize its foolishness in going against a strong, united community like Venice. However, in the unfortunate case that the USPS proceeds with the unpopular decision to move PO services to the Annex, please join forces with signs, slogans, instruments, microphones and lots of hoopla. See you all there!


POed at the PO

May 1, 2012

Song by Suzy Williams

 

COME AND SEE!  A TRAGEDY!

THE VENICE POST OFFICE BY THE SEA

THE BRIGHTEST JEWEL IN OUR CROWN

NOW THEY WANT TO SHUT IT DOWN

TAKE THE HEART FROM OUR COMMUNITY!

 

Since 1939, the Venice Post Office

Has been the place to meet and greet and mail

It’s a classy destination in a circular location

and now they want to put it up for sale!

 

For years we ‘ve been adorin’

The brass Terazzo floorin’

And the walls of a rich mahogany

And our pleasure has been plural

with that Abbott Kinney mural

He’s our special visionary deity!

 

Just look how this is angled

We are slowly being strangled

Cutting window clerks and janitors

and stamps

With no intention for success,

no wonder it it is such a mess

And sadly, it’s a common circumstance

 

If you read the constitution,

there’s a postal institution

And a militia to protect us night and day

We get billions for the latter,

but the former doesn’t matter

And they want to take our Post Office away!

 

LET THIS NOT BE A  TRAGEDY!

THE VENICE POST OFFICE BY THE SEA

THE BRIGHTEST JEWEL IN OUR CROWN

WE WON’T LET THEM SHUT IT DOWN

WE’LL KEEP THE HEART OF OUR COMMUNITY!


No one ever said it would be easy: Saving the Venice Post Office

May 1, 2012

By Jim Smith

In spite of a lawsuit brought by the Coalition to Save the Venice Post Office, the Postal Service has plowed ahead with efforts to sell the historic building and substitute a “hole-in-the-wall” facility in the old Safeway store, now a postal distribution center.

There was a flurry of activity of would-be buyers of the current post office building before the April 23 deadline for bids.

Several Coalition members were courted by the buyers who promised an open lobby so the public could still view the Biberman mural or a basement set aside for community use. In the end the buyers all failed in getting endorsements from the Coalition activists, all of whom are committed to keeping the building as a public post office.

The most visible prospective buyer was Hollywood producer Joel Silver, who arrived to inspect the building in his $400,000 plus Maybach limousine. Silver told us, individually and at a Neighborhood Council meeting, that he wanted to relocate his office to the building, if it were not possible to keep it as a post office.

On April 26 Deadline Hollywood, a blog from Nikki Finke, reported that Silver Pictures and Warner Brothers have broken off their long-time partnership. Silver must vacate his office at Warner Brothers by the end of the year. He must also pay back sizeable loans to Warner Brothers, according to Finke.

Finke muses, “Some might wonder why Joel at age 59 doesn’t take early retirement from the movie biz and go out on top.”

Whether this will have a bearing on Silver’s lust for our Post Office is unknown.

Another bidder, possibly The Ale House on Ocean Front Walk, wants to put in a restaurant and brewery. Jackson Browne, who toured the Post Office, reportedly wants a restaurant. Another group wants to buy the Post Office on speculation that they can sell it later for more money.

Judges and Politicians 

Our lawsuit is still sitting in the in-box of the Third Circuit Court in the District of Columbia. This is not necessarily a bad thing since it keeps the USPS lawyers on their toes. When the judges will decide to hear it is known only to them. There is no timetable to which judges must adhere.

In addition to pursuing legal action, our intrepid save the post office crew have been visiting our lawmakers. Congressmember Janice Hahn didn’t have much clout with the USPS, but she was willing to write letters on our behalf. Then, redistricting put her in a universe far, far away.

Next we went to our U.S. Senators. We actually had meetings with Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer’s designated representatives. They expressed sympathy and said they would see what they could do. So far, it’s been nothing.

Now it’s up to Henry. The man who stopped the “Subway to the Sea” for 20 years, can probably at least get a moratorium on closing the Venice Post Office.

That is, if he wanted to. Unfortunately, Waxman has said he can’t do a thing because it’s still Janice Hahn’s district until the next Representative is seated in January 2013. Meanwhile, Waxman is running to represent us in the next Congress. Am I missing something here?

You can express your views to Waxman at 8436 W. Third Street, #600, L.A. 90048 or 310-652-3095. His official email form will not allow messages from 90291, but you can contact Waxman through his chief of staff, Pat Delgado at <Patricia.Delgado@mail.house.gov>.

While politicians are doing everything they can to avoid taking action, a bill, S1789, has passed the Senate. It might help the Postal Service with its financial problems, but it may do more harm than good.

Meanwhile, the self-appointed Postal slayer, Darrell Issa has a competing bill in the house that would virtually dismantle the USPS. If his bill passes as expected, the House and Senate will get together and come up with a – probably dreadful – compromise. In any case, legislation is unlikely to help us save our post office.

Rallies at the Post Office

Meanwhile, Venetians are proceeding as if their opinions mattered. A third rally was held in front of the Post Office on April 17, Tax Day.

More than 100 letters to our Senators were signed (hope springs eternal). Since there was a big turnout of postal police and LAPD, who lurked a block away, we gave them something to do when rally participants, each bearing a Senator’s letter, crammed themselves into the lobby, causing the specter of a civil disorder. All ended well, except the postal police got a parking ticket on their SUV.

The presence of the postal police is useful, since they have to write a report up the chain of command about all the problems Venetians are causing in defense of their post office.

The Coalition to Save the Post Office is now meeting weekly to plan how to keep the pressure on the Postal Service. If you would like to get involved, please email savethevenicepostoffice@gmail.com or call 424-246-8676.


Post Office Sale Terms Omit Historical Protection; Rally Scheduled for Tax Day, April 17

April 1, 2012

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.


Fighting back against a faceless bureaucracy

March 1, 2012

By Jim Smith

Nancy Williamson lives a few blocks from the Venice Post Office. For the past 10 years she has visited the building several times a week.

“I’ve never gone into that building without looking up at the mural of Abbot Kinney, which I recently learned is called “The Story of Venice,” says Williamson.

When she heard about the plans to close the post office, Nancy was aghast. “Everything is changing in Venice, but I can’t imagine that building being anything but a post office,” she mused.

Instead of accepting the dictates of the postal service, Nancy started attending meetings of the Coalition to Save the Post Office. Soon she was going door-to-door handing out flyers, collecting petitions to save the post office, and attended rallies.

Before the Feb. 18 Rally, Williamson took posters to Abbot Kinney Blvd. merchants. “The local merchants, like Carol Tantau, put them up immediately. Those from out of town weren’t very interested,” she reports.

Williamson said that at the rally, people asked for blank petitions to take to their neighbors. By the end of the rally, the table staffed by Williamson and Emily Winters had been cleaned out of flyers and blank petitions. Even signs became souvenir items.

Does the United States Postal Service (USPS) care about how Venetians feel about their post office? Probably not. But they may care about a lawsuit announced at the rally to overturn the decision to sell our post office.

On behalf of our Coalition to Save the Venice Post Office, Washington Attorney Elaine Mittleman marched into federal district court on Feb. 22 to file a Petition of Appeal against the Postal Regulatory Commission, which refused to hear our administrative appeals opposing the sale.

Then on Feb. 27, a Venice delegation consisting of Amanda Seward, Jonathan Kaplan, Jed Pauker, Mark Ryavec, Emily Winters, Karl Abrams, Linda Lucks and Jim Smith, met with an aide to Senator Dianne Feinstein.

The result of that meeting was agreement that the Senator would be asked to request that the USPS include our post office in a “no sale” moratorium. That moratorium, which includes a number of post offices around the country, currently expires in May. It was created to allow Congress to find an alternative solution to the closures.

If Congress is still working on a bill in May, the moratorium may be extended. If Congress fails to act at all, then we will be back asking Feinstein to specifically exempt the Venice Post Office from closure and sale.

The same group is going to Senator Barbara Boxer’s office in downtown Los Angeles on March 5. Efforts are also underway to get Rep. Henry Waxman to step into the fray, since Venice has been redistricted into the Congressional area he is running to represent.

Congress has several post office reform bills in front of it. Most of them would release the USPS from the unheard of obligation to prepay 75 years of retiree health benefits in just 10 years. This heavy burden plus the decline in business activity in this depression has pushed the postal service into a multi-billion dollar deficit. Without this requirement, it would be making a profit, or at least breaking even.

Those who want to destroy the post office, as we know it, will likely fight these bills to the end. The hard-core right-wing politicos want to end nearly all public services, with the post office being a prime target. They would like to adopt the European model –which is strongly opposed by many Europeans – to close post offices and sell stamps only in grocery and drug stores. This model would allow FedEx and UPS to grab even more of the lucrative package business.

Meanwhile, postal management is beginning work on bringing a mini post office into the Annex. However, they are doing the work without first taking out permits with the city’s Building and Safety Dept. This could be dangerous for the public, since the old annex building may not be up to earthquake standards or other current safety requirements. It also is not handicap compliant nor does it meet the parking requirements of the Venice Specific Plan.  We would like to see the City Attorney’s office and our elected officials – Rosendahl, Waxman, Hahn, Feinstein and Boxer – demand compliance.

In addition, post offices have been hamstrung in their ability to make money. They are not allowed to compete in any way with corporations.

Some readers may remember when the Venice Post Office had a small copying machine which was convenient for making one or two copies before mailing a document. It was removed because it violated the no-competition rule.

There are numerous postal and communications services that our post office could offer, if it were allowed to do so. They include rental time on computers and printers, postcards, books and newspapers, coffee, copying services, pay phones (not everyone has a cell phone), stamp collecting services, writing tables, etc.

Here is a bold alternative to selling post offices and cutting back services proposed by Dr. Michael I. Niman, professor of journalism and media studies at Buffalo State College. Niman points out that the original purpose of the postal service was not simply to deliver letters and packages, but to deliver democracy. “The Founding Fathers realized that a large nation must communicate through media, and that privately funded media would skew the national debate toward the interests of the rich,” says Niman.

Today, the internet delivers messages for about 60 percent of the population. Why shouldn’t the postal service continue its mission in the new media? Unlike with postal mail, our communications via the internet are controlled by a few giant corporations. Why shouldn’t the USPS provide a postal internet that would bring broadband communications to all Americans, no matter where they live? And do it as a public service, not a profit-making business.

Of course, Wall Street would scream bloody-murder. But the Occupy movement has shown that it is not too late to millions of us to get out in the streets and change the country in profound and positive ways.

Whether it is saving the Venice Post Office or saving ourselves from rapacious corporations, it’s up to us.

See Professors Niman’s full article at: http://bit.ly/ySBfbm   


Venice Post Office

March 1, 2012

By Terry Stoller

The postal service is going to “relocate,” meaning to sell and close this beautiful Venice Main Office; and move across the street to the Annex. There is a line inside and there are only two clerks here today, and they are overworked due to continual understaffing. Furthermore, during each week there are often even longer lines, also due to understaffing.

At the same time, this is going on across the United States. Last September, the postal service announced plans to close 252 mail processing plants, including the plants in Long Beach, Pasadena, City of Industry, Bakersfield, Midway in San Diego and others – each of these plants employs hundreds of people. Also, the postal service has previously announced plans to close more than 3,000 post offices and stations.

A few days ago, the postal service indicated, in its “Return to Profitability” statement, that will not even wait for the advisory opinion of the Postal Regulatory Commission due out in September, and will not only begin closing processing plants in May, but also will reduce service standards this April throughout the country, which will end overnight delivery of first class mail in “local” areas, such as Southern California, and from two day to three day delivery, and so on.

Yet, they are not going to reduce the cost of a first class stamp by half! This is like the CEO of Amtrak coming up with an idea to “restore profitability” by instead of today’s two day ride from L.A. to Chicago, to make it four days instead!

So, for decades mailing a first-class letter from Venice to Long Beach was delivered overnight; but, starting in April, a first class letter will now be delivered in two days. I could walk there, or ride a pony, and deliver it myself in two days! Like in any other type of business, delaying service will hurt business and drive customers elsewhere with their business.

All we hear in the news lately is that the postal service is “nearing insolvency.” This is a manufactured crises!

Many members of congress have proposed that the postal service should no longer have to pre-fund future health care benefits 75 years in advance, and pay for it in just 10 years. And, many pending bills propose to relieve the postal service of this $5.5 billion burden (now estimated at $13 billion). No other agency or corporation must meet this type of unreasonable burden. In addition, there are varying estimates of between $50 to $70 billion the postal service has overpaid to the two retirement funds.

The public may not be aware that the postal service doesn’t need, or take taxpayer money to operate; but is virtually self-supporting, from the sale of stamps and other postal products and services. What other government agency does this?

And, the postal service generated more than $65 billion in revenue last year? What other federal agency can say this – Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense?

While it is true that the postal service had large losses since the near depression that began in 2008, but it is also clear that nearly all corporations had large losses as well, including multi-nationals, the homebuilding industry, the auto industry, to name a few.

But, they want the public to believe that it’s “the internet” and other forms of electronic communication that have “destroyed” the financial viability of the postal service. But, there was an internet in 2006 wasn’t there? The postal service business has been hurt by the internet, but only to a much smaller degree than most of the public has been led to believe. The postal service business is very economically sensitive and will improve as the economy recovers.

The postal service did not “fall apart” when the telegraph came along, or when the telephone came along either, but actually survived and advanced. The postal service can take advantage of new technologies, and will continue to expand as the package business, priority mail and business mailings of letters and flats, increases. But, large and powerful corporate interests do not want the postal service to survive at all, and the postal service must not allow these powerful corporations to destroy it.

If the postal service is so poverty stricken, then why are the great privatizers – the corporations, such as Pitney Bowes, Fed Ex, UPS, pre-sort houses and the large mailers, waiting in the wings, salivating for a chance at the lucrative postal business? They don’t think that the postal service is a “dying business.” The US post office is named in the United State Constitution. Not only is this building up for sale, but so is the entire postal service, to the highest bidders - not to those with the highest purposes.

In 1939 the Venice Post Office was constructed and has been the center of the Venice community ever since. In the same year, 1939, a great movie was released, “Mr. Smith goes to Washington.” When Jimmy Stewart, as Mr. Smith, arrived in Washington DC as a Senator, he wanders around, inspired and in awe at the architecture, especially the Lincoln Memorial. Those structures still stand and are meaningful to all Americans.

This Venice Post Office still stands, and is as genuine and meaningful to this community today, as it was during the great depression when it was constructed. And, in that great movie, Mr. Smith was a new Senator with idealism and strength of character, and because of those qualities, he was attacked and framed. But he didn’t give up, and he rose in the Senate chambers in a marathon filibuster, and told everyone who would listen, that when it comes to “lost causes,” that “they were the only causes worth fighting for.”

In the end, Mr. Smith won what nearly everyone else felt was a lost cause. The saving of the Venice Post Office is not a lost cause either, but is a worthy and noble cause that must be won. Let’s put a stop to this nonsense closure, and embrace this post office, so that it and this community can thrive and prosper for decades, and decades, to come.

Terry Stoller is the President of the California Local of the American Postal Workers Union.


‘Save the Post Office’ Enters Critical Phase

February 1, 2012

By Greta Cobar

The Asset Manager of the postal service (USPS) is getting the Venice Post Office building ready to sell, according to an email from Diana Alvarado, Facilities Vice President.

Appeals challenging the closure have been rejected by the USPS. The Postal Regulatory Commission granted the USPS motion to dismiss. Although the plan is to sell the historical building that now houses our post office, both the USPS and the PRC classified the closure as a relocation, since services will be moved to what currently is called the Annex.

Venice residents, organizations and the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher sent in appeals arguing that the Venice post office classifies as a closure, not a relocation, and therefore qualifies for a hearing.

Ruth Goldway, chairperson of the PRC and a Venice resident, chose to recuse herself from the vote because it involved her own neighborhood. The other three members of the PRC unanimously voted to grant the USPS motion to dismiss the appeals.

In a phone conversation with the Beachhead, Goldway stated that the law clearly defines the move of retail operations to the Annex and the closure of our post office as a relocation, and that the PRC does not have jurisdiction in the matter.

The move of the post office to the Annex is a temporary consolidation that will not be able to provide enough service windows or parking for the customers and not enough room to sort the mail for the postal employees. According to Alvarado, eventually we will end up with a storefront or a drugstore selling stamps and other post office services.

The PRC order granting motion to dismiss states that on April 26 “the Postal Service held a public meeting to share information about the proposed move and to hear comments from the community,” which is not true.

Currently Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the law firm that has been representing us pro bono, is assessing the possibility of a legal challenge before deciding whether it will continue to represent us.

Amanda Seward, attorney at law and Venice Neighborhood Council Board member, is working to put the post office building on the National Registry of Historical Buildings. Being on that list would not stop the USPS from selling the building, but it would prevent the buyer from tearing it down.

Our community continues to stand strong against the closure of the historic post office housing the beautiful Edward Biberman mural, “The Story of Venice.”

Thousands of individuals have signed petitions, attended rallies and volunteered their time to this cause that has, probably for the first time, brought the community together with a common goal.

Many local organizations have come together to stop the sale of the post office building. They include the Venice Peace and Freedom, SPARC, the Venice Arts Council, the Venice Stakeholders Association, the Venice Neighborhood Council, the Free Venice Beachhead, the Venice Chamber of Commerce, Venice Town Council, the Edward Biberman Estate, the Los Angeles Conservancy and the New Deal Preservation Association.

All over the country 3,700 post offices are scheduled to close or have already been closed, and that does not even take into account the relocations, as is the case in Venice. This is a perfect example of Wall Street strangling a federal self-sufficient institution with a strong labor union and a reputation for providing reliable service. By handing the mailing business off to private companies such as FedEx and United Parcel Service (UPS), the rich businessmen become richer while the poor, disabled, elderly, rural populations are most negatively affected.

Although the culprit for the post office closures, relocations and consolidations is said to be loss in revenue, the USPS has not taken any taxpayer money since 1971. However, the federal government owes the USPS between $50 and $70 billion in excess retirement benefits payment. Furthermore, the USPS is the only business in the country that is required to pre-fund its employees’ healthcare benefits for the next 75 years in a ten year period. Putting any business in this type of situation in the middle of a great recession would probably disable its operations.

It is only a myth that people do not use the post office anymore because of the Internet. In fact, the USPS experienced its highest profit in 2006, and revenues have declined only slightly since then and in pace with the overall decline of the economy.

Remember that even though purchases are made online, the Internet cannot ship them and the USPS’s rates are cheaper than FedEx or UPS. Furthermore, only the USPS delivers a letter anywhere in the country for less than 50 cents. If a package is sent to rural Alaska through FedEx or UPS it is then taken to the USPS, which charges less and is the only company that even delivers to remote, rural areas.

It seems that Wall Street, in its efforts to please more businessmen, bought out the higher-ups at USPS, who have been intentionally suppressing revenue. For example, on January 22, when the price of stamps changed from 44 cents to 45 cents, the Venice post office did not have one cent stamps for sale. It consistently has had only a limited selection of stamps, which is a major deterrent to stamp collectors and picky customers.

Furthermore, for the past two years only two of the five windows have been open for customer service regardless of the length of the line or the waiting time. The USPS’s own provision to provide service in less than 20 minutes has been ignored on a daily, hourly basis. Overworked clerks have to constantly deal with frustrated customers, which only increases their poor morale.

Take the billions of dollars the federal government owes the USPS, the requirement that the USPS pay for the health benefits of people that have not been born yet, its own efforts to suppress revenue, the discontinuation of next-day delivery and Saturday mail, and add to that the thousands of closures and relocations. What we are looking at is a continued decline moving in a fatal downward spiral.

The Constitution states postal service and militia are two services that the country must provide. Although the war in Afghanistan is going strong at a price tag of $2 billion a week because of the military-industrial complex, the postal service is being purposely annihilated to switch profit to private businesses that will put more money into Wall Street.

In other countries the post office offers a myriad of cards, postcards, gifts, paper goods and writing instruments. Here in Venice, a major tourist attraction, the post office doesn’t even sell postcards. And one has to go to a store and then the post office to send a birthday or Christmas card. Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if we didn’t have to make two trips? Goldway herself has officially proposed about a dozen ways to increase revenue.  However, both Goldway and common sense have been ignored by the USPS higher-ups.

Few know that the Postal Saving System was a non-profit bank operated by the USPS until 1966, when it was abolished because of banking industry pressure. Apparently Wall Street has been involved in the annihilation of the USPS for quite a while.

Now that 99 percent of us are ready to take a stand against Wall Street’s oppression, just as many would be delighted to switch banks to the Postal Saving System, which would hire more employees, provide fast and courteous service with a smile, and use the money to pay whatever debts the federal government is demanding for the health benefits of people who have not been born yet.

It’s time to stand up before we are stepped over. By sitting comfortably and doing nothing we will allow them to proceed with the sale of a beautiful, historical building and further cripple a service provided for in the Constitution.

We are collecting petition signatures (www.change.org, search Venice Post Office), selling custom-made first class stamps featuring the beautiful Edward Biberman mural in the lobby, have held two rallies and are planning a third for Saturday, February 18 (see advertisement, back page).

Please make your voice heard and your point of view known. Write letters to Senators Feinstein and Boxer urging them to use their political power to stop the sale of our post office, come out to the rally with signs, and contact the Beachhead to buy beautiful Edward Biberman stamps or to help in any other way. If you are a lawyer and would like to help with legal strategy, please contact the Beachhead.

We can only win if we continue the fight and increase our efforts and your participation. Get involved!


Can we all just get along?

January 1, 2012

By Jim Smith

Rodney King, who uttered that famous question – “can we all get along?” – after being brutalized by police on video, would be proud of the unity displayed by many Venetians who have come together to save the post office. But lately, some discordant voices have complained that some of us are working with people they have identified as the enemy.

Here’s what’s going on. Back in October the Beachhead sponsored a showing of the film, Brush with Life about Edward Biberman, the artist who painted the mural in the post office lobby. Nearly everyone who was concerned and involved in keeping our post office from being closed and sold was there. The audience included Amanda Seward, who heads the Neighborhood Council’s task force on the post office; Mark Ryavec, founder of the Venice Stakeholders Association; Debra Padilla, executive director of SPARC (the mural project); Karl Abrams, chair of Venice Peace and Freedom; Linda Lucks, president of the Venice Neighborhood Council; Jonathan Kaplan, who works with the Los Angeles Conservatory; Suzanne Zada, head of the Biberman Estate; Jeff Kaufman, the producer of Brush with Life; and many more, including several Beachhead Collective members.

We proposed that the group continue to meet, and set a date for an initial coalition meeting, which most of the above attended. A short time later muttering began that we shouldn’t be working with certain members of the coalition, specifically Mark Ryavec and/or Linda Lucks.

Most of the fire directed at Ryavec was because of his role in having “no oversized vehicles” signs put up around Venice, and his presumed role in pushing Rosendahl and others to begin police towing of RVs.

The Beachhead has long argued that homelessness is a social problem, not a police problem, and that a solution must include housing, jobs, medical care, income, etc.

However, on the issue of saving the post office, Ryavec’s position corresponded to that of the Beachhead and the other members of the Coalition. He had the lawyer for the Venice Stakeholders, John Henning, look into the legal rights of Venetians to their post office.

The attorney filed an appeal, which the post office told us couldn’t be done, but which was accepted by the Postal Regulatory Commission.

Several of us followed with our own appeals, which were also accepted. The USPS took the Venice Post Office off the market.

Without Henning’s appeal it might have been sold by now. Ryavec then secured the pro-bono involvement of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, one of the largest law firms in the country.

Meanwhile, other community personalities, who have not been involved in the effort to save the post office, began telling me that we should have nothing to do with Ryavec in the coalition. One person even told me that it would give him prestige (as if). Oddly, none of the naysayers have clean hands. One takes money from the Bank of America and other 1 percent corporations for his social service organization. Another gladly accepts food from Whole Foods Market, an $8 billion corporation that tried to torpedo Obama’s health care plan, does not believe in pensions for its employees, and hates unions.

Some people would say that it’s ok to wheedle money and sustenance out of big corporations, and maybe it is. But by the same token, shouldn’t it be ok to try to unite everyone in Venice around a cause with which we all agree?

We are living in the age of the 99 percent, an ingenious way of looking at the world. According to the 99 percent doctrine, we have more in common than we have separating us. This doesn’t mean that we have no divisions or differences of opinion, just that our differences with the ruling elite are much more profound.

I’m convinced that much of the division in Venice comes from our old friends in Los Angeles. They have a vested interest in keeping us divided so that we don’t decide to act in our own interest and rebel against the downtown oligarchy.

Even the hubbub with the RVs, which nearly tore Venice apart, can be traced to the city’s Dept. of Transportation which moved on its own to establish overnight parking districts. The resulting publicity made Venice a Mecca for RVs, who began making Venice their home. Attitudes on both sides hardened as the city bureaucracy and its elected officials took punitive actions against the hapless mobile campers. Today, we’re back to pre-frenzy numbers of people living in RVs, many of whom are long-time Venice residents.

No one in Venice benefited from this division among neighbors more than the city of Los Angeles which is more than happy to keep looting Venice of its tax revenue while giving little in return to compensate for the glut of tourists we welcome every day.

Greater unity in Venice is not impossible. It should be obvious to any impartial observer that the only beneficiary of old grudges alive among Venetians is the city of Los Angeles, which can claim that we are incapable of governing ourselves.

Since this is the month that we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr., we should ask what he would do. A partial answer might be found in his quote: “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” Indeed, we’re all in the good ship 99 percent, now.


Fight to Save the Post Office Continues

January 1, 2012

More appeals were sent to the Postal Regulatory Commission in early December to save the Venice Post Office. It is not known at press time when the appeals will be heard.

Individuals in Venice and the law firm of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher are handling the cases for our side. One of the issues is whether the sale of the Venice Post Office constitutes a closure that can legally come before the Commission or whether it is simply a relocation to the Postal Annex. Arguments from Venice are that of course the post office is being closed, and sold, no matter where the service is being moved. We are contending that the closure will cause irreparable harm to the historic building and the historic mural within, as well as to the Venice community which would lose its center of gravity.

The mural, painted in 1941 by renown artist Edward Biberman is now on a stamp (above), produced in Venice. The stamp which is legal first class postage is being sold at cost by the Save the Venice Post Office Coalition. Members of the Coalition have set up a table in front of the post office on several days a week, where they are collecting petition signatures against the closing and selling sheets of 24 stamps for $12. The price of a first class letter is increasing from 44 cents to 45 cents in January. Stamps can also be obtained by calling 310-396-2525 or emailing savevenicepostoffice@freevenice.org.


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