THE U.S. POSTAL SERVICE argues that because it is a federal agency, it is not legally required to acquire a city building permit to begin remodeling work on its carrier annex property in Venice. (Argonaut photo by Vince Echavaria)

The U.S. Postal Service has proceeded with remodeling work on a carrier annex facility in preparation for relocating retail services from the nearby Venice Post Office.

Despite ongoing appeals from community members and elected leaders, the Postal Service is moving ahead with its plan to close and sell the post office at 1601 Main St. and consolidate operations with the annex property at 313 Grand Blvd.

Venice residents have united in an effort to preserve the Work Projects Administration-era post office and access to the 1941 “Story of Venice” mural by Edward Biberman, which graces a wall of the lobby.

Following the Postal Regulatory Commission’s (PRC) denial of an appeal to the closure, the post office has been placed back on the market and the Postal Service is beginning site preparation work on the annex site. The project involves an internal remodel of the building which includes the installation of post office boxes and retail counters, Postal Service spokesman Richard Maher said.

There will be no change to the building structure, with most of the construction being performed on the interior, although the parking lot will be reconfigured to accommodate the retail uses, Maher said.

The Postal Service has initiated the project without first obtaining local permits from the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety. As a federal entity, the service is not legally obligated to acquire local building permits for its properties, Maher said.

“As a federal agency the U.S. Postal Service has sovereign immunity to work on our facilities,” he said.

The agency has a policy in which it attempts to follow all local planning and zoning codes for projects where it is building a new facility, but in the case of a remodel like in Venice, a local permit is not required, Maher said. He added that the Postal Service notified the city Department of Building and Safety of its specific project scope in November.

But some who have challenged the Venice Post Office closure rejected the federal agency’s position that it is exempt from having to receive city building permits. Mark Ryavec, president of the Venice Stakeholders Association, which filed an appeal to the closure, referred to a Postal Service code provision that states, “it is the policy of the Postal Service to comply with local planning and zoning requirements and building codes consistent with prudent business practices and unique postal requirements.”

“The law is very clear on its face,” Ryavec said. “The way the law reads, you would have to bring your plans in and you have to apply for permits like anyone else would have to.”

City Councilman Bill Rosendahl said he was initially told by a Building and Safety representative that the city could not require the Postal Service to obtain a local permit for federal property, but the City Attorney’s Office was investigating that issue.

“We are going to make an effort to see if we have some law on our side that can fight that,” the councilman said.

Rosendahl said he was very concerned to learn that the Postal Service was starting work without a city permit, and despite it being federal land, the agency should make sure to respect the community’s concerns and land use regulations.

The councilman has sent letters to Rep. Henry Waxman, who will represent the community following redistricting, and Rep. Janice Hahn, seeking their support to challenge the closure of the iconic post office and put any development on hold. In his letter to Waxman, Rosendahl called the post office “artistically and architecturally distinct,” as well as a valuable resource to the community.

“We haven’t given up on trying to stop (the Postal Service) from going forward with anything on that land,” Rosendahl asserted.

Ryavec believes the federal organization did not act in good faith by proceeding with the annex construction, noting that a Washington, D.C. area attorney has recently filed a petition on behalf of the Venice stakeholders group challenging the PRC’s denial of the initial appeal.

“I think it shows a tremendous amount of bad faith on their part when there currently is a live lawsuit,” he said.

If the Postal Service does not attempt to seek a building permit for its annex project, a lawsuit through the City Attorney’s Office might be the next step, Ryavec said.

Maher said the annex project construction is slated to be completed by the end of April or the beginning of May. No date has been set on the planned relocation of the post office retail services.

Rosendahl stressed that he would like to see the post office remain inside the historic WPA building and hopes that elected leaders can convince the Postal Service that a better solution would be to sell the annex land. The move would provide needed revenue for the service during a struggling financial situation while also creating the opportunity for a project with a mix of community benefits such as housing, he suggested.

“To me it’s a no-brainer; why spend taxpayers’ money to create a new post office when the community doesn’t want it?” he said.