La Jolla post office still open as battle to save it continues
Post office task force discusses 2013 priorities, takes heart in promises of new mayor and congressman
By Pat Sherman
It has been a year since La Jollans learned that the Wall Street post office was among as many as 600 properties the financially beleaguered U.S. Postal Service (USPS) intends to sell, in an effort to slash operating expenses and generate revenue.
It has also been a year since a group of historic preservationists and other La Jolla professionals sprang into action to help save the 1935 post office building from being sold and its services relocated to a smaller leased space within the Village.
Though USPS initially suggested that the sale would occur sometime last summer, the task force’s yearlong efforts — including rallies, community surveys, letter writing campaigns and correspondence with elected officials and postal service personnel, has thus far prevented the property from being sold or posted on a website listing postal service properties for sale (USPSpropertiesforsale.com).
Last week, USPS Regional Property Manager Diana Alvarado confirmed via e-mail that the building is not on the market and USPS has received no offers on it.
Alvarado said USPS is currently initiating the Section 106 process on the building. Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires federal agencies such as USPS to consider the effect of a sale or other actions on historic properties.
Though Alvarado said she did not know when the Section 106 will be complete, she said USPS is working to define “covenants and restrictions that would be placed on the building should the building be put on the market for sale.”
Though the property does not yet have a federal or local historic designation — something task force members are working toward — key aesthetic elements, such as the building façade and a WPA-era mural on the interior wall by artist Belle Baranceanu could be deemed worthy of preservation under the Section 106 process (ideally preventing demolition and redevelopment).
Task Force member and La Jolla attorney Steve Milgrom is drafting language for covenants the task force would like to see attached to any sale of the building. The task force plans to submit the document to USPS real estate attorneys this month, after consultation with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and other agencies.
Task force members held their first meeting of the year Jan. 4 to discuss their efforts moving forward.
According to task force chair Leslie Davis, the strategy for 2013 is to “stay focused, stay engaged, remain optimistic, study the regu- lations and hold USPS accountable to them.”
The task force will continue its efforts to build allies at the state and federal level, she said.
Working with Congresswoman Susan Davis (D-53rd, no relation to Leslie Davis), the task force was successful last year in getting the congresswoman to author legislation that would give a La Jolla nonprofit group, such as the La Jolla Historical Society, first dibs on purchasing the post office, should it be listed for sale. However, the legislation (HR 6238), which was co-sponsored by Bob Filner in his final year as a congressman, “is now ‘dead’ after the election and redistricting,” Leslie Davis said, adding, “We are seeking to have the legislation brought back via one of our new representatives.”
The task force hopes La Jolla resident and newly elected Congressmember Scott Peters (D-52nd) will become that key ally in this year’s preservation efforts.
Peters recently told the La Jolla Light that saving the Wall Street post office is his primary goal for La Jolla this year.
“I hope that if the building is sold, the post office might lease back the existing stamp sales and shipping area to preserve that longstanding and historic use in the Village,” Peters said. “As a La Jollan and as a member of our historical society, I can be an effective advocate on our behalf.”
Peters said if Susan Davis’s legislation needs to be reintroduced, he could “possibly” do that, though his first step is sitting down with the task force.
“I guess I’m really at the first steps of this,” Peter said. “I’m going to start to investigate it and find out who we need to talk to.”
The task force has scheduled a meeting with Peters this month to discuss its “Plan A,” keeping postal services in tact at its current site.
Leslie Davis said the task force hopes to schedule similar meetings with elected officials such as Congressman Juan Vargas (D-51st) and San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, who expressed his support for saving the post office while campaigning in La Jolla last year.
The task force will also continue efforts to get the 78-year-old post office listed on the National Register of Historic Places. “This designation would offer another layer of protection for the preservation of the building,” Davis said.
USPS Preservation Officer Dallan Wordekemper, while saying the building is eligible for designation, stops short of recommending the building to the “keeper” of the registrar, Davis said.
“We have been unable to get any meaningful information on our (federal) nomination,” Davis said. “Furthermore, the city is not clear whether it would be able to designate the building historic without the approval of the USPS in it’s quasi- governmental status. National designation is critical in protecting this local landmark.”
Davis said the task force is also asking U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), to help get answers regarding the Section 106 process, which in November was deemed incomplete and insufficient per the President’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP).
“Feinstein’s office is keen to assist in some way,” Davis said, “so we are hoping they will be effective in getting answers on the topic. As long as Section 106 process is still in progress, a sale can not be completed.”
Plans B and C
Should the 15,480-square-foot post office be sold, task force members are preparing to employ “Plan B,” in which a nonprofit community group purchases the building and leases back some 6,000 square feet to USPS to maintain services at the site, which USPS argues is too large for current operations.
Davis said she also hopes Feinstein’s office will help the task force procure a face-to-face meeting with Congressman Darrell Issa (R-49th), who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which has legislative jurisdiction over the U.S. Postal Service.
“His committee on postal reform holds the key to our ability to get an initial option to purchase (the post office) prior to putting the building up for sale, as well as ensuring the lease back,” Davis said. “Additional information regarding the economic contribution of the La Jolla post office would assist in influencing Issa and his committee. Increasing our number of completed merchant surveys will be important in this endeavor.”
Asked if USPS is open to giving a La Jolla nonprofit the first option to buy the post office, USPS’s Alvarado only said “the postal service is required to go through a competitive bidding process rather than go direct to a private group, whether for-profit or non-profit.”
The task force’s “Plan C” remains to work with a sympathetic buyer “familiar with the community’s desires” to purchase the building and lease space back to USPS for operations.
“Some potential buyers are known and many more have quietly investigated the building and site,” Davis said, “but should the building be officially put up for sale by CB Richard Ellis (read story here), the realtor under contract with USPS, it’s likely the building would simply go to the highest bidder, who may or may not be from La Jolla and sympathetic to the community.”
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- Post office preservationists continue to gain support
- Events net 100 letters urging Issa to help save post office
- Congressman introduces largely symbolic bill to save La Jolla post office
- Wall Street post office added to historic preservation ‘A-list’
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