Post office task force pushes for quick legislative assistance
By Pat Sherman
Members of the Save the La Jolla Post Office Task Force are leaning on legislators to help them save La Jolla’s cherished Wall Street post office from having its services relocated, and the historic building sold — the fourth such effort to keep the post office where it is since its dedication in 1933.
Newly installed task force member Jim Lantry, a local lobbyist and owner of Creative Legislative Solutions, suggested at the May 11 meeting that the task force ask congress members to insert language into the 21st Century Postal Service Act of 2012 allowing the La Jolla Historical Society to purchase the building with a leaseback option of 10 years. The portion of the building not utilized by USPS could then be used by community organizations such as the historical society and/or the La Jolla Music Society, which has shown a strong interest in partnering in the venture.
Task force chair Leslie Davis said one of the issues being discussed is the formation of a nonprofit subgroup that would include pieces of both the historical society and music society, and possibly another existing nonprofit organization.
Under the terms of the leaseback, the historical society would purchase the building from the United States Postal Service (USPS), then lease 6,000 square feet of the building back to USPS to maintain post office operations on Wall Street. The revenue flowing to the historical society from USPS rent would allow the organization to pay off the loan, while USPS receives money it needs from the sale upfront.
The icing on the cake, Lantry said, would be to have a member of congress help the historical society secure a federal loan guarantee to provide it with a strong backer and lower interest rate.
“It’s a perfect opportunity to try and get an amendment into the bill, so that we can save the post office,” Lantry said. “The economics of the deal work out and makes conventional financing a possibility.”
The legislation, Senate Bill 1789, passed the Senate on April 25, and is currently before the House of Representatives. It includes a moratorium on the closure of rural post offices, and cost-saving measures allowing the agency to tap into its retirement-fund surplus and end Saturday delivery after two years.
Lantry said the task force would meet with Congressmembers Bob Filner (D-51st), Susan Davis (D-53rd) and Brian Bilbray (R-50th) to ask if they will co-author the amendment. Filner is running for mayor, and Bilbray to retain his congressional seat.
Task force member Joe LaCava said both state Assembly members Toni Atkins and Nathan Fletcher sent letters to USPS in support of keeping the Wall Street post office in place. LaCava said he “half expects” state Sen. Chris Kehoe to write a letter, while Davis said there is a strong chance she will be meeting with Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid on the issue in the near future.
“Influence is what changes the direction,” Davis said.
Announcing USPS’s plan to keep rural post offices open, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said this month, “We’ve listened to our customers in rural America and we’ve heard them loud and clear: they want to keep their post office open.” It’s a sound bite Davis said she plans to play up in her efforts.
“One of our petitions was to try to become a closure and not be a relocation,” Davis said. “The fact that we are not on a formalized list continues to be a problem. We have no protection so we are going to ask our legislators, everything they do for closures, please allow us to be covered by that protection.”
The task force’s other plans for saving the post office include keeping the post office where it is, albeit with a reduction in its service area; and finding a “benevolent developer” who will retain a portion of the building for use by the post office, or at least keep the building’s historic character in tact.
Some in the task force expressed concern that an outside buyer could swoop in and purchase the building from USPS without the community’s consent or buy-in, though Davis assured the task force was not ignoring that possibility.
“The only certainty that USPS has given us is that they cannot sell the post office before May 26,” LaCava said. “That’s 30 days from the community meeting.”
More than 2,450 signatures in support of keeping the Wall Street post office where it is were handed to postal service representatives at last month’s town hall form.
Preservationist and former San Diego Historic Resources Board member Angeles Leira said the task force should work to show USPS “how much they have to gain by staying here, (using) 6,000 square feet and leasing the remaining square feet.”
“On paper you’re right,” Lantry said. “Whether they want to be a property manager, that’s another question. Whether they want to pull the money out of the equity right now, that’s another question. … I think it’s really important that we show them that by staying in one place they avoid a tremendous amount of relocation expenses, if they can even find a (replacement) space.”
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