Save Our La Jolla Post Office Task Force learns of second USPS audit

Nearly two years after the USPS announced plans to sell La Jolla’s post office building, it’s still business as usual at 1140 Wall St. File

To comment on USPS audits:
Mail: Office of Inspector General
U.S. Postal Service
1735 N. Lynn St.
Arlington, VA 22209-2020
E-mail: auditprojects@uspsoig.gov

For postal audit information:

■ Visit uspsoig.gov

By Pat Sherman

It has been almost two years since the United States Postal Service (USPS) announced plans to sell La Jolla’s post office at 1140 Wall St. and relocate its services to a smaller facility that USPS would lease within a mile of the Village.

Yet despite the community rallies, strategizing, appeals and bittersweet victories (community activists got the 1935 building designated as both local and federal historic landmarks), the USPS remains reticent to deliver news of its plans or time frame.

Still, the La Jolla Historical Society’s Save Our La Jolla Post Office Task Force continues its work behind the scenes to apply pressure to USPS officials and obtain whatever information it can about the process from the quasi-governmental agency. And the USPS’s quasi-governmental status is part of the problem, maintains task force vice-chair Joe LaCava.

“Sometimes they act like they’re a government and sometimes they act like they’re a private business,” LaCava said. “It gets frustrating to the public when they kind of switch at their convenience to different roles.

“Normally they’re acting like, ‘Hey, we’re a private business; we don’t have to talk with you.’ But then when it comes to a negotiated sale (which would keep its retail operation in the existing building), they say, ‘Oh, we’re like the government; we can’t do those kinds of special deals.’ It’s that confusing message they continue to send that is frustrating.”

Diana Alvarado, with the USPS’s facilities department, told the La Jolla Light last week that several USPS officials were in the area a couple months ago for a preliminary site search, but could find no suitable facility for a relocation.

Alvarado said USPS requires a site of between 3,500 to 5,000 square feet, which has enough room for a seven-ton box truck to get mail in and out of the facility, as well as suitable parking for customers.

Alvarado said USPS found a vacant shopping center or strip mall that was suitable on all counts, but it was outside the desired one-mile radius of the Village.

“We could have made it work, operationally, (but) I said no one’s going to go for this; it’s too far away from the preferred area,” Alvarado said.

Any further searches are likely on hold until well after the holidays, she said.

“Right now, it’s just going to be where it is,” Alvarado added, though noting that the community process is not over.

If the USPS were to itentify some suitable sites, they would have to notify the city, then post the information about them in the post office for 30 days, after which a public comment period would follow. Any site selected for the relocation would have to be similarly noticed, Alvarado said.

Meanwhile, the USPS’s independent Office of Inspector General (OIG) is currently auditing the way in which the USPS handles the sale or disposal of its historic buildings, including La Jolla’s post office. The deadline to comment on the audit has been extended to Dec. 31. An OIG representative said the audit results should be available in March on the OIG’s website, uspsoig.gov

The OIG was created by federal statute in 1996 to prevent, detect, and report fraud, waste, and program abuse, and promote efficiency in the operations of the USPS.

During a recent conference call with the OIG’s office, LaCava said he learned that the OIG is conducting a second audit, into the way in which the USPS handles relocations — which it technically considers the La Jolla transaction.

LaCava said he and task force chair Leslie Davis conveyed their general frustration with the USPS’s unwillingness to share information that would allow the community to be more of a partner in the discussion and perhaps offer alternatives if the USPS either had not considered them or did not know they were available.

Though the public was given a period in which to appeal the USPS decision to relocate Wall Street postal services, in July the USPS issued a letter of “final determination” to sell the Wall Street post office, which Alvarado confirmed to be the outcome of the appeal process.

However, LaCava called it an appeal process “in name only.”

“There’s no legitimacy to it, no ability to go to a higher authority if USPS rejects (the appeal),” he said, also expressing concern over CBRE commercial real estate’s role in brokering both the sale of historic properties and lease negotiations for postal relocations.

“The process (seems to be) driven more by the private consultants that help them in these real estate transactions than it is by the USPS’s mission and its role in our local neighborhoods,” LaCava said.

“CBRE has a clearly stated objective to be a profitable business, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s how a quasi-governmental agency deals with and manages that.”

In 2014, LaCava said the task force will likely approach USPS again to see if it is open to finding a buyer for the Wall Street building that is willing to lease a portion of it back to USPS to keep postal services in place — most likely a government agency or a nonprofit organization, such as the La Jolla Historical Society — rather than a private entity.

“That seems to be where negotiated sales are generally more successful,” LaCava said.

However, the USPS still doesn’t seem keen on entering into a negotiated sale. In an e-mail forwarded by Alvarado, the USPS said that “due to the size of the (Wall Street) facility, remaining in the building does not leave sufficient residual space for a marketable property. We will continue to monitor the market and if an acceptable retail space becomes available we will assess the options at that time.”

The results of the relocation audit should be available online by May 16. Due to the OIG’s current website problems, the best way to respond is (by mail) via the Office of Inspector General, U.S. Postal Service, 1735 N. Lynn St., Arlington, VA 22209-2020 or (by e-mail) to auditprojects@uspsoig.gov

La Jolla's historic post office at 1140 Wall St.

Campaign timeline:
2012

Jan. 9: USPS announces the sale of some buildings as part of budget cuts, including the La Jolla post office at 1140 Wall St.
Jan. 27: Fearing the post office could be sold within 90 days, preservationists organized as the Save Our La Jolla Post Office Task Force hold their first meeting, discussing strategies to save the 1935 building and its contents, including its interior WPA-era mural.
April: More than 400 people gather at the Cuvier Club to hear USPS officials address the community’s concerns. USPS assures attendees that relocation is not imminent, and that it must first find an “acceptable” buyer for the Wall Street building and an “acceptable” relocation space. (To date, neither has happened, and the building is not on the market.)
June: The National Trust for Historic Preservation adds the Wall Street site and several other potentially historic post office buildings to its 2012 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.
August: San Diego Congressmember Susan Davis introduces the Community Post Office Relocation Act, aimed at saving the Wall Street post office and other historic post offices from being sold for private development, and their services relocated. It is reintroduced in 2013 by Congressmember Scott Peters. Both times, it flounders.

2013
January: The Wall Street post office is designated as a federal historic landmark.
March: USPS announces its intention to move forward with the sale and place the Wall Street post office on the market. La Jolla Historical Society and the task force prepare to appeal the decision, and urge others to do so.
April: USPS procures the services of La Jolla-based commercial real estate broker Paul Lafrenz, with CBRE, to handle the sale of the building.
June: San Diego’s Historical Resources Board votes unanimously to confer a local historic designation to the Wall Street post office.
July: After reviewing more than 70 appeals of the USPS’s planned sale of the Wall Street building, the USPS issues a “final determination” that it will sell the building.
August: The post office task force works with County Supervisor Ron Roberts to urge the USPS to pursue a negotiated sale with a local government, such as the county, that would be willing to represent the community in the purchase. USPS rejects the proposal.

Related posts:

  1. Congressman introduces largely symbolic bill to save La Jolla post office
  2. Postal Service mailer sent to La Jolla merchants raises suspicions
  3. La Jolla broker gets listing for Wall Street post office
  4. Task force buys more time in effort to delay La Jolla post office sale
  5. Post office preservationists continue to gain support

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Posted by Pat Sherman on Dec 11, 2013. Filed under Featured Story, La Jolla, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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