The post office on Fifth Street is slated to be closed. (File photo)

DOWNTOWN — Appeals made by residents and city officials to save the New Deal-era post office on Fifth Street from being shuttered have been rejected, according to a letter released Friday by the U.S. Postal Service.

The post office, which has served residents since 1937, is expected to be sold and all services moved to the Santa Monica Carrier Annex located on Seventh Street at Olympic Boulevard. A date for the move has not yet been determined, postal officials said.

The Postal Service is selling scores of post offices across the country in an effort to cut costs as it struggles with significant losses — more than $25 billion over the last five years as more people move away from “snail mail” and do most of their communication via the Internet.

The recession didn’t help, nor did a mandate passed by Congress in 2006 that the Postal Service pre-pay health benefits for future retirees for the next 75 years, and do so within the next 10 years at a cost of $5.5 billion annually.

Those fighting to save post offices said if that mandate was reduced, the Postal Service could be operating with a significant surplus instead of a drowning deficit.

Postal officials dispute that, saying even if the mandate were lifted there would still be deficits because of the drop in mail volume.

When Santa Monicans learned of the decision to shutter the post office, many feared that if it were sold it would be demolished or historic features would not be preserved. They also said that moving to the carrier annex would limit access by foot and that the location is inconvenient and potentially dangerous as those walking would have to cross the future Exposition Light Rail Line tracks.

City officials argued that the decision to close the post office should have been conducted under a different procedure, providing more time for public input.

In the letter distributed to those who filed appeals, Tom Samra, vice president of facilities for the Postal Service, said he reviewed those concerns, “but the objections expressed do not outweigh the practical and operational benefits for both the Postal Service and its customers, as well as the financial exigencies facing the Postal Service.”

Samra said that while the post office is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, the Postal Service is not required to continue operating there. He also said that the National Historic Preservation Act does not apply to the relocation because the move will not alter the character of the post office building, nor does it change the uses that can be made of the property.

However, the act could come into play when the Postal Service transfers ownership to a private party. At that point it is expected that the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission will fight to preserve the structure.

With regards to accessibility, Samra argued that the annex is less than a mile away from the Fifth Street post office and is accessible by foot and by public transit. He said that the Expo line will not impede access and that the facility will provide ample parking for customers who drive, something which is not available at the Fifth Street post office.

He went on to say that the annex is more energy efficient, accommodates the retail counters and post office boxes without expanding the building and has a safer area for large trucks loading and unloading packages.

By moving to the annex, the postal service will save $336,179 annually.

“While the Postal Service is not insensitive to the impact of this decision on its customers and the Santa Monica community, the relocation of the Santa Monica post office is in the best interest of the Postal Service and its customers,” Samra wrote in the letter. “This is the final decision of the Postal Service with respect to this matter … .”

That decision is sure to disappoint many Santa Monicans who have grown fond of the Fifth Street location.

After the move, there still will be three facilities serving customers; the Seventh Street office, the Ocean Park Station at 2720 Neilson Way, and the Will Rogers Station at 1217 Wilshire Blvd.

 

kevinh@smdp.com