SEVENTH STREET — The United States Postal Service has already spent a majority of its $400,000 total projected budget on remodel and relocation costs for the new post office location at Seventh Street near Olympic Boulevard, USPS officials say.
It has spent $382,000 on remodel and relocation costs, Richard Maher, spokesperson for the USPS, said in an e-mail.
“There is still a little work to finish; a passport acceptance office and a caller service pick-up area are still under construction, but will be finished soon,” he said. “We should be just a little under budget on this move.”
It is also in the works to sell the old location at Fifth Street and Arizona Avenue, a New Deal-era building, as part of a national plan to pawn off properties to plug the multi-billion dollar hole in the semi-private organization’s budget. The new location opened on July 1, the postal service citing lower costs and greater efficiency for its decision to move to the new spot.
The move caused a ruckus last year during a meeting where many residents responded negatively to the move, saying the old location was convenient, easily accessible and safer than the annex, which faces Interstate 10, is near a homeless shelter and has little pedestrian traffic and few businesses nearby.
Maher said he received “positive” comments from customers on the first day the post office was open.
“I spoke to local management and was told that customer response to the new facility has been mostly positive,” he said in an e-mail. “We have some customers who preferred the historic look of the old lobby, but many have said they like the bright, open, modern look of the new location. Many customers have commented on the better parking situation at the new location.”
On Wednesday, Paul Zielbauer walked up to the new post office location to mail letters, shaking his head.
“I was thinking how disappointed I was with the government about closing it,” he said.
Zielbauer said the old building was a part of “historic Santa Monica.” He said the new building has no character and is in the middle of “nowhere next to the freeway.”
Others say the post office location is dangerous because there’s no visibility when backing out of the parking spots.
Santa Monica resident Eric Cooper, who usually sends out five or six packages a day, said, “it’s not a customer-friendly place.”
“The building has no signage on it. You wouldn’t know whether it was a Costco, a post office or what it was,” Cooper said. “If you’re coming from Venice, you have to swerve into oncoming traffic to make it into a spot.”
Some residents, like Anna Stover, who said she frequented the old post office once every couple of months, didn’t know the Fifth Street location had closed. She drove there Wednesday to mail a package and had already fed a parking meter before realizing the post office wasn’t open. In the window is a sign directing patrons to the new location.
The Fifth Street post office opened to the public in 1937, and has been identified as a historic location. Maher said the Postal Service is committed to selling the building and other historic edifices in its portfolio to buyers willing to protect the property’s key elements.
Federal officials are working with a state historic preservation officer and will identify aspects of the buildings that need to be preserved and establish “covenants” around them that are attached to the property deed.
The organization will then have to find a covenant holder to enforce those agreements.
In a meeting last month, the Landmarks Commission came up with preliminary instructions for a detailed description of the character defining features to be put into the covenant that’s been proposed by the Postal Service, Carol Lemlein, president of the board of the Santa Monica Conservancy, said.
In another meeting next month, the commission will review and finalize the description, she said.
“At that point, my understanding is that it will be reviewed with the Postal Service and then submitted to [the City] Council,” Lemlein said. “With everything going on, the council review could be September, [but] who knows?”
She said for example, during the meeting the commission provided a much more detailed description of the art deco features of the facade of the building.
Lemlein said no one has come forward publicly identifying themselves as a buyer yet.
“We’re trying to get defined essentially as if it were a landmark so it’s all understood by the buyer and can be placed up for sale,” Lemlein said.
Ruthann Lehrer, architectural historian with the Landmarks Commission, said it is important the Postal Service is recognizing the historic value of its post offices and taking a proactive step in protecting the buildings prior to being placed on the market.
Maher said the USPS is the first to acknowledge how important it was to preserve historic buildings.
He said the USPS doesn’t release appraisals on its properties.
“The Santa Monica Post Office is not on the market at this time,” Maher said.