Greta Cobar

Abbot Kinney to Venice: Bring Me Back Home

By Greta Cobar

The new owner of the Venice historic post office not only removed the Edward Biberman mural from the lobby, but is also planning to move it to a different location in the building and to partition the lobby. Although Joel Silver did purchase the building from the United States Postal Service (USPS) for the mere $7.3 million, the mural does not belong to him, but remains the property of the USPS. This is a perfect example of possession being 99% of ownership.

By providing for only six days per year for the public to view Biberman’s mural through a First Amendment to the Covenant between himself and the USPS, Silver is definitely acting as if the mural belongs to him. When was the last time you received a piece of art  probably worth hundreds of thousands of dollars as a gift from a public institution constantly claiming huge deficits?

Because the USPS still owns the mural, as a public institution it needs to make it available to the public. Depicting Abbot Kinney, his ideal Venice and the changes that took place following annexation, the 1941 “Story of Venice” mural is a community treasure that needs to be taken out of Silver’s office and placed in a public building, such as the Abbot Kinney library. The mural is currently being stored in Santa Monica.

Throughout our now two-year struggle with the USPS concerning the building and the mural, we have experienced lack of communication and broken promises. Next obvious step would be to ask our political representatives for some type of representation for a town of 40,000 against one millionaire new-comer.

Our new Congressperson Henry Waxman met for breakfast with Venice Neighborhood Council (VNC) President Linda Lucks. He should have attended a VNC meeting instead to hear public comments and respond to questions.

“He acted surprised that it (the mural) is only leased and and that the mural had been removed from the property, saying that he didn’t think murals could be removed,” Lucks said following their conversation.

During the February VNC meeting the VNC passed a motion to move the Biberman mural out of Silver’s office and into a public building, such as the library. Let’s hope the VNC and the public have the power to actually do something more than pass a motion.

Meanwhile, the current state of our postal service, an institution provided for in the Constitution, would be more believable as science-fiction.

On February 7 Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe announced that the USPS would end Saturday mail delivery and collections in August. How the USPS was able to do this without Congressional approval is unclear, as the USPS’s own five-year plan states that moving to five-day delivery requires legislation.

The USPS first claimed that ending Saturday delivery would save them $3.3 billion dollars, but the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) determined that the savings were over-estimated by $1 billion and the revenue loss was under-estimated by $0.4 billion. The final saving estimate announced by the USPS was $2 billion, a number much higher than the one the PRC had suggested.

“Eliminating Saturday mail delivery does not confirm to the Nation’s postal policy,” said Ruth Goldway, PRC Chairperson and Venice resident. When it came to fighting to save our post office, she recused herself from the vote on weather the PRC has jurisdiction to advice the USPS regarding the sale of a post office. It was decided that it does not, but that decision is still being fought in Washington district court by our attorney, Elaine Mittleman.

As the second largest employer in the nation, it is estimated that between 50,000 and 80,000 jobs will be lost as a result of ending Saturday delivery. This is how our government is responding to the Great Recession.

“Building post offices put people to work during the Depression, but it did something more. It showed that even in the midst of a terrible economic crisis, the federal government was capable of doing grand things. The post offices linked individuals and communities, even in the most remote areas, to the federal government back in Washington, and they served as a symbol of government permanence, service and culture,” writes Steve Hutkins on The historic Venice post office  is an example of a grand structure built during the Depression with funds provided by the Works Project Administration.

The people most positively affected by the elimination of Saturday mail are the big mailers, and the losers as always are the elderly, disabled, poor, rural population, small daily and weekly newspapers that deliver on Saturdays, people who vote by mail and the little people in general.

Saturday delivery is cut under the pretext of a $1.3 billion deficit, but if the USPS were not required to pre-fund the health benefits of its employees for the next 75 years in a ten-year period, it would actually run a profit of $144 million per year. No other business in the country is required to pre-fund the health benefits of its employees.

In addition, the USPS has over-paid into its retirement fund to the tunes of $75 billion. When it came time to eliminate the over-payment by reducing the payments, Congress decided that doing so would decrease the federal budget by over $4 billion dollars a year, and opposed it.

The USPS is a self-sufficient institution with a strong labor union that still pays live-able wages and that is being destroyed by the private shipping companies in order to increase their profits in what has been called a “manufactured crisis.”

The price of stamps quietly increased from $.45 to $.46 cents beginning February 1, but who else do you think is going to deliver a piece of paper anywhere in the country in two days for less than half of a dollar? Did you know that mail is delivered to Indian reservations on donkeys and to remote regions in Alaska on sleighs? Did you know that when storm Sandy hit the East coast and everything was closed (schools, airports, subways, trains, businesses), postal workers did not stop or delay delivery, not even on the day the storm hit?

No, it does not make sense to artificially cripple in order to privatize one of our last great federal public institutions. Yet the privatization of our postal service is what has been taking place, and the USPS is pushing, against public opinion, a plan to “hybridize” postal service by partially privatizing it. There goes the $.46 stamp and all other services to remote, under-served areas that do not run a profit, but a public service to the neediest instead.

Just in case you’re about to start crying, here’s some hilarious news: last month the USPS decided to manufacture a line of clothing called “Rain Heat & Snow” using the USPS logo in a false attempt to increase revenue. After years of revenue suppression, such as not having $.01 stamps for sale the day postage price increased by a penny.

The Venice post office is habitually out of money orders, has a limited selection of stamps and long lines that anyone in their right mind would avoid. It is the USPS’s written policy to provide service in less than 20 minutes, but we know that not to be true in Venice. No wonder the Yelp rating for our Venice post office is 1.5 out of 5. That’s way below failure. Those that don’t know where the new mini office is located would never be able to find it, either: its listed address is 313 Grant while its actual location is Riviera and Windward, inaccessible from Grant.

One of the most effective ways to suppress revenue is by reducing hours of service. In addition to eliminating Saturday delivery, that is exactly what the USPS has been implementing since January.

Under the POStPLAN, which has been implemented during the months of January and February, 3025 post offices throughout the country have had their hours reduced to 6, 4 or 2 hours of customer service. The plan is to reduce hours of operation at 13,000 post offices over the next two years.

Sad news indeed. And yet even sadder is that the USPS has conducted over 7000 public meetings and is planning for an additional 6000 under the false pretense of listening to customer feedback regarding the reduction in hours of service. Although holding these meetings is expensive, those that attend are faced with two options: close the post office or reduce the hours. By the time the meetings are held, the USPS has already decided what the new hours will be and public input is dismissed.

What the meetings have reportedly turned into, however, is a publicity stunt on the part of the USPS, in a constant cry about deficits and decreased revenues. The Internet is always to blame. However, the Internet brought about Ebay, Amazon, Netflix and countless other businesses that use the USPS to ship their products. Yes, USPS still has the lowest rates and is the preferred method of shipping. And hence the private companies want to tap into its business.

The USPS seems to have been bought out, and seems to have voluntarily placed itself on a self-destructive spiral. Selling historical post office buildings for a fraction of what they are worth and giving away valuable public art, like they did here in Venice, is just an example. In addition to the Santa Monica, Berkley and other historical offices throughout the country, the latest victim is the Bronx post office, built in 1935 also under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program. Its lobby features thirteen murals painted in the late 1930s by Shahn Bryson and Bernarda Bryson, two noted American muralists who have worked with the likes of Diego Rivera.

Just don’t say that it makes no sense, for it does: the USPS’s real estate agent is CB Richard Ellis, and its chairman is Richard Blum, Senator Diane Feinstein’s husband. Even a one percent commission off the sales of our post offices would bring a $10 million profit for CB Richard Ellis, and the percentage is likely to be higher.

And here’s what’s likely coming to your corner of the street in the near future: a cluster box. Instead of delivering mail to every household, as is the current practice, the USPS’s goal is to eventually get everybody on cluster boxes, which means that you would have to walk down to the corner of your street to get your mail.

No, I cannot explain why a federal institution is purposely destroying one of the cheapest, oldest, most reliable, most profitable and most convenient services provided by unionized employees. But when private profit interests come in, their profit is the explanation.

Here in Venice, we need to minimize Silver’s acquisition and control over our community resources by moving the historical Biberman mural that belongs to the public out of his compound and into a public building, such as the library. Contact Waxman at 310-652-3095, the VNC at 310-421-8627 and the USPS at 800-ASK-USPS demanding your access to public art.

Categories: Greta Cobar, Post Office