By Pat Sherman
San Diego Congressman and mayoral candidate Bob Filner (D-51st) introduced legislation on Thursday, June 29 that would allow the La Jolla Historical Society the right of first refusal to purchase the La Jolla post office building at 1140 Wall St.
Since January, when USPS announced its intent to sell the Wall Street building and relocate postal services elsewhere in the Village, a group of community activists, historians, architects and preservationists known as the Save Our La Jolla Post Office Task Force has been working to save the post office. Strategies include finding a sympathetic buyer, such as the historical society, to purchase the building and keep postal operations there. The new owner might then lease unused portions of the building to nonprofit community groups or a compatible business to help pay the mortgage.
The task force has approached legislators such as Filner and fellow Congress members Susan Davis (D-53rd) and Brian Bilbray (R-50th) to have language inserted into the 21st Century Postal Service Act of 2012 (S.B.1789) that would grant the historical society the right of first refusal to purchase the building.
Sponsored by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), S.B. 1789 seeks to restructure the postal service and protect it from bankruptcy. It passed the Senate April 25 and is awaiting a vote in the House.
According to govtrack.us, which tracks the status of federal legislation, Filner’s standalone legislation, H.R. 6049, has a much narrower chance of being enacted than S.B. 1789 — about 1 percent.
“We are grateful for Filner’s bold action, but continue to believe that the bipartisan effort being led by Susan Davis has a better chance of successful inclusion,” said post office task force chair Leslie Davis (no relation to Congresswoman Davis), via e-mail.
Leslie Davis said the congresswoman’s chief of staff, Lisa Sherman, is working to draft the task force’s requested amendments for inclusion into the Postal Service Act.
“These amendments may help other communities in similar situations with a similar desire to save their historic post offices and services,” Davis said. “(Lisa Sherman) has spoken with all of our (Washington, D.C.-based) representatives in a bipartisan effort on our behalf. We believe this approach has a higher chance
The task force has approached legislators such as Filner and fellow Congress members Susan Davis (D-53rd) and Brian Bilbray (R-50th) to have language inserted into the 21st Century Postal Service Act of 2012 (S.B.1789) that would of succeeding as an amendment to the bill.”
However, speaking with the
La Jolla Light
, Filner said he believes his legislation will further propel the issue into the public arena. He said the language of his bill also could be inserted into the Postal Reform Act as the required amendment. “I want people to know there’s public support for this,” Filner said. “When I talk to the post office I want them to know there’s legislation that will add some pressure.”
In the meantime, Leslie Davis said the task force continues to advocate for its first option (Plan A), to keep La Jolla’s postal services where they are, as they are.
Task force members recently toured the Wall Street facility with its new acting postmaster, Harry Ringgold, to better assess its layout and condition.
Ringgold told the
he is not sure whether the Wall Street post office’s revenue exceeds its costs, though he said it is doing better than a post office in the La Jolla Village Square shopping mall. Though that location offers the same services as Wall Street, it doesn’t have nearly the same exposure, he said.
“I feel that we’re doing quite well as far as our revenue stream and our business here (on Wall Street),” Ringgold said. “I certainly believe that we would want to stay within this Wall Street area. We have good foot traffic here.”
Postal service representative Diana Alvarado said USPS has not decided whether it will sell the Wall Street building, though several interested buyers (including the La Jolla Music Society and La Jolla Historical Society) have approached USPS as potential buyers.
“We get a lot of phone calls,” Alvarado said. “I don’t go that far into detail. I just tell them we have to wait until the building’s actually on the market.”
Historic covenants buy time
Leslie Davis said USPS Federal Preservation Officer, Dallan Wordekemper, recently sent the task force a letter initiating Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA), which requires federal agencies such as USPS to consider the effect of their actions on historic properties, and offer the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation a reasonable timeframe in which to comment.
Though Davis said Wordekemper agreed that La Jolla’s post office was worthy of inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, he did not believe selling the building would result in “adverse effects” to La Jolla’s postal service.
“We respectfully disagree,” Davis said. “Having postal services in the same location, in the same building, for 80 years has established community connections and built cultural fabric that would be disrupted, resulting in removal of critical cultural ties. Economic and cultural ties would (also) be irretrievably lost.”
According to the NHPA website, the definition of “adverse effect” includes “transfer, lease, or sale of a property out of federal ownership or control without adequate protections.”
However, it also states, “If a property is transferred, leased or sold out of federal ownership with proper preservation restrictions, then it will not be considered an adverse effect as in the past regulations.”
USPS’s historic preservation review of the property, which is required under Section 106, has begun, and will take a minimum of 90 days to complete. USPS cannot complete the sale of the property while it is in progress, though it could technically put the building up for sale, Davis said.
As part of the Section 106 process, USPS is required by law to work with a State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) representative to determine what covenants are required on the deed to the building “so the buyer understands what it is they can and cannot do to that building,” Alvarado said.
“It’s not fair that you wouldn’t let a buyer know upfront,” she said. “They need to make a determination (as to) what can be done on the inside, what can’t be done. ... You can’t tear the building down.”
“California is a little bit more on the stringent side,” Alvarado said of SHPO, noting that one of its representatives recently disagreed with USPS’s determination that selling Menlo Park’s post office also would not create adverse effects.