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!