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.