Post Office on the corner of 5th Street and Arizona Ave. (photo by Alexis Hawkins)

DOWNTOWN ¬ó Santa Monicans gathered at the Ken Edwards Center to lodge their complaints against a proposed closure of the Fifth Street post office, but left feeling that the so-called proposal was more of a done deal.

Perhaps it was because postal officials at the meeting said that options to consolidate services at the Downtown location had already been studied and come up short.

Possibly, as some at the meeting knew and postal employees later confirmed, it’s because letter carriers stationed at the Fifth Street site are already scheduled to move to an annex over the weekend of July 28 and 29.

Officials say that the move is unrelated.

Either way, if the change goes through carrier routes and customer service from the profitable main post office in the heart of Downtown would move approximately 1 mile away to an annex facility at Olympic Boulevard and Seventh Street.

The Fifth Street building, which appears on City Hall’s Historic Resources Inventory, would then be sold by CB Richard Ellis, the company that handles all real estate sales for the United States Postal Service, much like the post office in Venice, which LA Curbed reported was sold to movie producer Joel Silver.

The suggestion met with resistance from community members at the meeting, who voiced concerns over the new location, which they characterized as a “desert.” The annex is close to Interstate 10 and the OPCC homeless access shelter. The area is not as active as Fifth Street, raising some concerns about safety.

Although there is a parking structure adjacent, those without cars would have to walk from Colorado Avenue on the opposite side of the Big Blue Bus yards, which some feel is unsafe.

“It’s a joy to go to the Fifth Street post office and visit my (PO) box,” said resident Phyllis Elliot. “Going to the Seventh Street office would not make me happy at all.”

It would, however, lighten the load on the Postal Service, which is struggling with massive deficits and more regulation than any of its competitors.

Consolidating services at the annex would save the struggling business $336,179 per year, for a 10-year savings of over $3 million, although there would be an initial $400,000 cost to revamp the annex for customers, said Diana Alvarado, a spokeswoman with the Postal Service.

According to postal officials, the changes studied in Santa Monica and at thousands of post offices across the United States are necessary to staunch the financial bleeding that is quickly turning the Postal Service insolvent.

Over the last five years, the Postal Service ran over $25 billion in the red, said Richard Maher, a spokesperson for the company.

Approximately $20 billion of that cost came from a 2006 congressional requirement that Postal Service prepay retirement benefits for its employees. It is the only company in the nation that must do so.

Congress could act tomorrow to change that, but even if they did, it wouldn’t be enough for the semi-private company to break even, Maher said.

The remaining $5 billion deficit resulted from decreases in the amount of first class mail ¬ó 25 percent since 2006 ¬ó while other costs associated with carrying the mail continued to climb, Maher said.

Although the Postal Service has been an independent agency since the 1970s, federal regulations prevent it from altering almost any aspect of its business model. One of the few things it can control are its real estate holdings, which is why it’s pushing to sell.

In fact, the Postal Service has been pushing to sell so quickly that there are a glut of historic post offices on the market, raising fears in the hearts of preservationists that the old buildings and their history will be lost to inattention.

The problem has gotten so severe that the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed post offices on its list of the nation’s most endangered places, despite the fact that the Postal Service has committed to hiring historical consultants to aid in the sales, said Carol Lemlein of the Santa Monica Conservancy.

“With thousands of post offices currently identified as ready to study for closure, that has created a very serious problem in terms of implementing the processes that protect historic buildings,” Lemlein said.

Santa Monica officials are already moving to ensure the preservation of the Fifth Street Post Office.

City Councilmember Bob Holbrook hoped to be able to buy the building outright, but the loss of the Redevelopment Agency cut off the only easy source of funding. The loss is “a dark day in our history,” he said.

“I’m really sad to see the post office leave that location,” Holbrook said. “It’s synonymous with the heart of Santa Monica.”

Hope for the building is not yet lost.

A coalition of Santa Monica residents has committed to fight to keep it. They’ve formed a Facebook page called “Save The Santa Monica Main Post Office” to help rally support and share information.

Sara Meric, a spunky senior who attended Thursday’s meeting, offered to be the point person for other participants who wanted to work together to keep the Downtown location.

On the preservation front, the Landmarks Commission will hold preliminary discussions about the building in coming months, despite the fact that the city-created entity does not have purview over the federal building.

It can take action if it’s sold to a private entity, and the commission is already positioning itself to be ready to move forward with a landmarks designation when it has the opportunity.

“It will be hard to imagine denying landmark status to that building,” Lemlein said.

The post office began serving customers in the 1930s and was built as part of the New Deal.

Landmarking would prevent major alterations to the outside and publicly-accessible portions, like the lobby.

Those with strong feelings about the post office but could not attend Thursday’s meeting are encouraged to send in their thoughts and comments to the following address before the Aug. 3 cutoff:

Diana Alvarado, Pacific Facilities Service Office, U.S. Postal Service, 1300 Evans Ave., Ste. 200, San Francisco, 94188-8200.

They’d prefer it by mail.


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