Wonderful mailman and mailwoman stories are the norm in Santa Monica. But post office stories are of long lines, waiting until it’s your turn and then having the person close for an unexplained reason, and counter clerks who often look as if being behind the counter is forced labor. Hard parking next to an industrial issue building adds to the many reasons people keep turning to other choices, more convenient choices, even if they are more costly.
To be fair to the Post Office, they were put in a financial vise by Congressional regulations that single them out for budget failure. USPS is fighting for its very existence. But is it making the best decisions to win that fight?
Karl Frish wrote, in September of 2011, in the Huffington Post, “I guess no one ever thought it would be the Republican Party finishing off the Postal Service… The power to create post offices is enumerated in our Constitution. Our Postal Service is even fully funded by the sale of stamps, not through tax dollars. That is a combo that should bring tears of joy to the eyes of tea partiers and Republicans alike.”
The Postal Accountability Enhancement Act (PAEA) was a creation of the Republican controlled 2006 Congress with California Republican Darrell Issa leading the charge (govtrack.us/congress/bills/109/hr6407/text).
The Act mandates a prepayment on the health care benefits for all postal workers for 75 years into the future. No other government agency has been required to do the same. This Act forced USPS into the red.
As part of a plan to raise money USPS decided to sell off valuable historic properties. This decision was made against the protest of Historic Preservationists in communities across the United States. Santa Monica’s New Deal era Art Deco post office on 5th and Arizona was one of many that was lost to the American people due to the budget dictates of PAEA.
“I think they got it wrong,” Congressman Waxman was quoted as saying about the sale of Santa Monica Post Office in the New York Times on March 7, 2013. “It’s a Depression-era structure, it’s an historic structure, one of the few Art Deco buildings in Santa Monica.”
Santa Monica Conservancy President Carol Lemlein said, “The Santa Monica post office on 5th and Arizona was worth more to USPS as a property asset than as a working post office. The issue was to raise money by selling property. It was part of a strategy employed by USPS and many historic post office buildings across the country were sold.
“The Santa Monica Post Office building was purchased by Skydance Productions and the Conservancy has been in discussions with them as they have committed to preserving the building and restoring historic features of the lobby,” said Lemlein. “As a result of work by the Landmarks Commission and the Conservancy they were required to sign a Covenant to protect the building and the lobby. I’m optimistic that they will do well by the building.”
It’s a loss to the communities of their historic buildings either by demolition or because they will no longer be buildings for public use even if they are preserved by private companies. But it’s only part of an ongoing struggle for USPS.
Ruth Goldway, a former Santa Monica Mayor and a member of the Postal Regulatory Commission, took USPS to task for further cuts for which other options had been identified.
In the Jan. 13, 2015 issue of The Hill she wrote: “While we have experienced increased access to electronic communications options, particularly in metropolitan areas, a great many American homes and businesses rely upon the mail. It remains essential that all Americans can rely on a fundamental communication service and avenue of commerce that provides equal access and prompt service to all, regardless of region. Binding the nation together is the founding principle of the Postal Service’s mandate.”
Goldway served on the Postal Regulatory Commission from 1998 and chaired the Commission from 2009 to 2014, at the time of the closing of Santa Monica Post Office.
Post offices in historic buildings in small towns across the country offer welcoming lobbies and helpful postmasters and postal clerks who have found ways to make the post office a place people want to come; to get their mail, to sit and talk, to get the news of their neighbors and the town.
The future of our venerable postal service is in jeopardy. A business plan that made each post office a place people wanted to be would go a long way toward building a constituency for USPS. A business plan that made each post office central to the fabric of the community and listened to the community served seems to me to be essential for protecting the future of USPS.
It’s not the whole answer but it’s an important part of the answer. USPS are you listening?