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• The post office sale will be the main agenda item at La Jolla Town Council’s meeting 5 p.m. today at the La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St.
150 rally to preserve La Jolla’s beloved post office
By Pat Sherman
About 150 people gathered in front of Wisteria Cottage Feb. 4 to protest the U.S. Postal Service’s planned sale of its Wall Street building.
A roster of community activists spoke of the 1935 structure’s historic, economic and civic importance to the Village, including members of the newly formed Save the La Jolla Post Office Task Force.
La Jollan Ann Craig said her late husband, Roger, who served as USPS deputy general counsel and assistant postmaster general, would have had fun “leading the charge” to save La Jolla’s post office.
The crowd cheered as several postal trucks drove past the rally on Prospect Street – one USPS driver honking his horn repeatedly in seeming approval of preservationists’ plans.
“We need to reach out to everybody about this,” said task force member Joe LaCava. “I know the (postal) employees are on our side, whether they officially can say that or not.”
Longtime La Jollans Ginger and Tony Waller were among nearly 240 people who signed a petition that morning in favor of saving the post office.
“The postal annex on Sliver Street is the ugliest building in La Jolla,” Ginger Waller said. “They should close that and move those people over to the main Wall Street post office.
“Parking would probably be a problem,” Waller conceded, “but they could solve that somehow.”
To date, close to 500 people have signed the petition, which includes signatures gathered at the Open Aire Market, Vons supermarket, the post office and at community meetings.
On Jan. 10 the USPS announced its plan to relocate Wall Street postal operations to a smaller site within a mile of the existing location. The plan follows the postal service’s reported net losses of $5.1 billion.
More than $2,000 in cash and checks for the Post Office Preservation Fund was collected during the rally. An initial $10,000 in seed money was donated by Ellen Merewether to establish the fund, to which people can donate via the La Jolla Historical Society’s website, lajollahistory.org.
“We need you to sign the petitions now (but) we need your money too for our backup plan,” said District 1 City Councilmember Sherri Lightner, who supports negotiating with the USPS to keep the Wall Street building and postal services intact, while recognizing that the community will likely have to employ the task force’s “plan B,” which involves purchasing the building for an estimated $4-$6 million. The plan involves leasing the current space to the USPS for $1 a year for limited operations, and leasing the remaining space to non-profit and community groups.
A third plan involves finding a sympathetic buyer to purchase the property and work with the community to establish a use that would preserve the building, Belle Baranceanu’s “Scenic View of the Village” mural, and provide public access to key areas of the building.
“If anyone in the federal government knows La Jollans, they know we fight,” Lightner said. “You need to contact your congressional representative and tell them what your thoughts are about this post office.”
Rosemary Murrieta, executive director of the La Jolla Village Merchants Association and a task force member, said saving the post office is “not a fluff issue,” noting that people en route to the post office often stop to patronize other village businesses.
“The healthiest downtowns across the United States have their civic services in the midst of downtown, not on the fringes,” Murrieta said. “When you take a critically important piece of the city services out of the middle of downtown, you lose a little bit of the community chunk by chunk.”
Task force member and historical society board president Thomas Grunow said the USPS has agreed to hold a public meeting on the building’s fate at the La Jolla Recreation Center later this month, at a time and date to be determined.
“We convinced them that they should not hold that meeting down at city hall,” Grunow said. “That was the first victory we got.”
Following the USPS’s public meeting, Grunow said there is an additional 30-day period in which the public can submit written comments. Information on where to send feedback will be available at savelajollapostoffice.org, he said.
“We’re going to have to inundate them with written comments on why this is important to us,” Grunow said. “At the end of the 30 days, as we understand it, they’re going to make their decision, based on all that input.”
Though Grunow said the task force is optimistic, he added, “Let’s be realistic. We think we know how the Post Office is going to respond. There’s then going to be a 15-day appeal period, and, of course, we’re going to appeal.
“We’re on a steep learning curve, but the good news is we’re learning very, very fast,” Grunow said. “This is a long, hard fight. As much as we may despise what the postal service is doing, we have to come up with a win-win. It has to work for everybody.”
Task force member and architectural historian Diane Kane spoke about her efforts to have the property designated historic, noting that it was denied the designation in the 1980s.
The task force has contacted the California Office of Historic Preservation to garner historic designation. Though the agency is willing to help prepare the required paperwork, the USPS, as the property’s owner, must first agree to the designation,” she said.
“There are two other post offices in the state of California that have followed this route, and their applications are lost at the Postal Service,” Kane said.
Thus, the property must likely be sold and in “private hands” before it can be eligible for a state designation, Kane said.
The task force will also apply for a historic designation from San Diego’s Historical Resources Board, Kane said.
“Right now there’s about a year of backlog in the historical resources unit for voluntary designation,” she said. “Hopefully our city councilmember will help us jump to the front of the line.”
To help with that effort, Dan Soderberg with the Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO) filmed residents’ reflections on the post office.
“This building represents memories for all of us — the community and each one of us individually,” said Soderberg, noting his friendship with the late mural artist Belle Baranceanu. “It’s right up there at the top of the list.”
The post office sale will be the main agenda item at the La Jolla Town Council’s Feb. 9 meeting, 5 p.m. at the La Jolla Rec Center.
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