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Fight to Save Post Office Not Over?

Venice Stakeholders Association

From the Venice Stakeholders Association:

Federal Advisory Council for Historic Preservation Enters Battle to Save Venice Main Post Office (VMPO)

The Assistant Director of the Federal Advisory Council for Historic Preservation (ACHP) wrote to the U.S. Postal Service on May 23rd to demand that the USPS conclude the preservation consultation process for the Venice Main Post Office with the Advisory Council (and other parties, such as the VSA and LA Conservancy) before the property is transferred out of federal ownership.

In a follow-up telephone call to the VSA, the Assistant Director, Ms. Caroline Hall, agreed that the USPS has not properly conducted the Section 106 historic preservation consultation process required of all federal agencies when selling historic properties.

In our conversation, she noted that under that process all agencies are required to make formal submissions to the Advisory Council explaining their “undertaking” and their determination of whether there will be an “adverse effect” from the undertaking, in this instance the sale of the VMPO, which USPS has not done in a satisfactory manner.

To avoid a finding of “adverse effect” to the historic structure and its Bieberman mural, USPS has proposed to attach a generic covenant to the property’s deed without naming any credible beneficiary to enforce any violations of the historic resources in the future by a new owner.

Ms. Hall said that USPS has been informed that for a finding of “no adverse effect” to be made, a credible third party must accept the covenant and in that process the third party can negotiate the level of protections in the covenant. The State Historic Preservation Office has turned down being the beneficiary due to budget and staff shortages, but the Los Angeles Conservancy remains a credible candidate to fulfill this role.

The manner in which the sale of the VMPO proceeds will set a precedent for the process used in the de-commissioning of many other historic post offices around the country. Ms. Hall noted that the National Trust for Historic Preservation is watching the Postal Service’s treatment of VMPO due the VMPO’s significance as an historical edifice and concern about adequate protections being attached to the sale.

While USPS can, under the federal regulations, terminate consultation with the ACHP just as it did with VSA, in the instance of the ACHP the USPS has to submit a termination letter signed by the director of USPS himself. Most agencies are reluctant to have their executive officer break off consultation with the Advisory Council since it generally results in negative publicity for the agency and brings with it a set of findings prepared by the Council delineating the failures of the agency to comply with even minimal standards of historic preservation.

Ms. Hall related that if the USPS terminates consultation with the Advisory Council a third party could litigate the matter. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has litigated such matters in the past.

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