FIFTH STREET — City and federal officials have announced their intention to fight plans by the United States Postal Service to close the New Deal-era post office on Fifth Street and relocate operations to a carrier annex three-quarters of a mile away on Seventh Street.
The relocation of postal services and sale of the building, which was announced Friday, is part of a nationwide response by the Postal Service to reduce costs, streamline operations and increase efficiency in the face of dramatic reductions in mail volume and revenue, said Richard Maher, a spokesman for the Postal Service, which said earlier this month that it ended its third fiscal quarter with a net loss of $5.2 billion.
That isn’t good enough for local officials who feel that the decision was too sudden and will replace a heavily-used facility beloved by the public with one that is more difficult to get to and does not serve local residents.
For their part, residents registered their distaste for the idea with over 100 first-class letters in the two-week, public comment period that ended Aug. 3.
Mayor Richard Bloom has already asked staff to begin the appeals process, and Congressman Henry Waxman (D-Santa Monica) released a statement in support of the appeal.
“It is as much a part of the community as Palisades Park, Santa Monica Pier and City Hall,” Waxman wrote. “While I understand USPS is under enormous pressure to cut costs, closing this iconic building which has served the residents of Santa Monica since 1938, will do little to improve the Postal Service’s long-term financial position.”
That could be a difficult pill for the Postal Service to swallow, particularly coming from a congressman.
Approximately $3.1 billion of the Postal Service’s third-quarter losses and $20 billion over the last five years can be chalked up to a requirement to pre-fund postal retiree health benefits put in place by Congress.
It’s the only company in the country required to do so.
Those expenses, along with the continued decline of first class mail, more than offset the 9 percent growth in revenue from shipping services and package delivery in the most recent quarter, Maher said.
Although the Postal Service has come out with a business plan to help close the vast deficit on its books, which includes transitioning to a five-day mail delivery schedule and a refund of $11 billion of pension plan overfunding, Congress must approve any plan. Until then, one of the few ways the business can raise capital is by selling real estate, which is why it is in such a hurry to offload the property in Downtown Santa Monica.
The public’s reliance on the Fifth Street facility isn’t enough to sway the postal decision-makers from the dollar signs.
Although the Downtown location is both popular and profitable, the move will shave over $336,179 per year off the cost of operations in Santa Monica for a total topping $3 million over the course of a decade after an initial $400,000 cost to make the Seventh Street annex customer-ready, said Diana Alvarado, a spokeswoman for the Postal Service.
In a community meeting held July 19, residents told postal officials that they would feel unsafe walking to the new location, which is sandwiched in a little-traveled area between Interstate 10 and the OPCC Access Center.
They threatened that many would stop going to the facility altogether and find other means by which to send their mail and packages.
It’s unlikely that would make much of a dent in the Postal Service’s already weak financial armor.
Over 40 percent of the Postal Service’s revenue comes from online purchases or stamps and other products sold in local grocery stores, meaning that many of the over-the-counter sales which take place at a post office can and do occur at other places, Maher said.
Those that threaten to take their parcel-shipping business to FedEx? Just try.
Unlike the semi-private Postal Service, FedEx does not go to every address in the United States. The Postal Service carries roughly 30 percent of FedEx packages to their final destination, Maher said.
In fact, the big-ticket customers like bulk mailers will find the Seventh Street annex easier to use because it comes equipped with a larger loading dock.
The Postal Service has not yet decided when it will shut down operations at the facility on 1248 Fifth St., and it will wait to put the property on the market until a 15-day window for appeal closes. After that, real estate company CBRE will take charge of the sale.
Any buyer will have to respect covenants to protect the historic nature of the building, Maher said.
“They will not be able to remodel exterior or tear it down and build something else. Those covenants will be attached to the property and will be conveyed to any buyer,” Maher said.
The Landmarks Commission has already made a move to put the post office on an upcoming agenda. The local commission cannot landmark the building until it leaves the Postal Service’s control.
The post office was built as part of the New Deal, a series of economic programs enacted during the 1930s in response to the Great Depression.
Those who are opposed to the closure should send comments to:
Vice President, Facilities
Pacific Facilities Service Office
1300 Evans Ave. Ste. 200
San Francisco CA 94188-0200
Editor-in-Chief Kevin Herrera contributed to this report.