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Palo Alto drops bid to buy downtown post office

Original post made on May 4, 2017

After nearly four years of negotiations with the United States Postal Service, Palo Alto is abandoning its plan to purchase the historic post office on Hamilton Avenue.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, May 4, 2017, 7:10 PM

Comments (35)

Posted by Ming
a resident of Triple El
on May 4, 2017 at 9:26 pm

Rent vs buy?

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 4, 2017 at 10:23 pm

So what's going to replace that beautiful old building?? It's part of our heritage!

Another office building? A parking lot for the commuters over-running the city? Spend the money on that -- not on roundabouts and $4.5 MILLION "wayfinding" systems to "help" people navigate City Hall!

Remember just a few years ago when the city wasted lots of money on a pr campaign to promote PA as a tourist destination?

"We paved paradise to put up a parking lot!"

Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 4, 2017 at 10:46 pm

This whole thing does not make a lot of sense from the standpoint of the USPS. The main Post Office on Bayshore is horribly inconvenient due to the bridge repair which interferes with traffic flow. At one point that post office had some flooding problems. Also it is in East Palo Alto and I suspect that there will be some rezoning since EPA is growing and is in San Mateo County. We have been talking about zoning a lot lately - 94303.

Having the post office downtown is convenient for everyone, including the passport office. It is the USPS's job to retrofit the building. Did the USPS get talked into selling that building by local political people? Diane Feinstein's husband has the contract to sell post offices despite what the article says. I get the feeling that someone had a bright idea and got us into this mess. We are so filled with bright ideas.

A club I belong to has a box there and has been told that they can continue payment for the box so no one is going anywhere very quickly.

Posted by CrescentParkAnon
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 4, 2017 at 10:54 pm

I wish they'd just leave the Post Office alone.

Posted by Sheri
a resident of Midtown
on May 4, 2017 at 10:57 pm

Thing of that song "Another One Bites the Dust." Will it become more offices or dense housing? Sad.

Posted by Try Listening to US For a Change
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 4, 2017 at 11:10 pm

@Resident is absolutely right that this makes no sense. Bayshore's going to be under construction for a YEAR so people can't get to the "Main" Post Office.

On another level it clearly shows how tone-deaf city management is to our concerns and complaints and their ability to connect the dots.

For several YEARS we've been complaining about lost /misdirected mail, an unresponsive manager, missed appointments etc. etc. while asking the city for help in getting a basic level of service.

Between the construction and the complaints and the historical value of the building a light should have dawned on City Hall.

Posted by Cube Farm Haven
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 4, 2017 at 11:46 pm

So there's a $20M difference in increased construction costs between now and when negotiations stated and the city's claiming we've don't have the money?

$20 M sounds like chump change given what the city takes and all the new fees, utility rate hikes, new spending initiatives, etc.

Maybe the city could find some money cutting programs and wages and consulting contracts and bringing in new revenue from the BUSINESS community? (Remember they JUST killed the BUSINESS tax?) How about letting BUSINESSES fund the TMA since it helps THEM and not US?

Quoting directly from the city's latest budget Web Link

"Availability of Funds for the Next SIX MONTHS

Normally, the flow of revenues from the City’s utility billings and General Fund sources is sufficient to provide funds for ongoing expenditures in those respective funds. Projections indicate receipts will be $260.1 million and expenditures will be $277.4 MILLION over the next SIX MONTHS, indicating an overall decline in the portfolio of $17.3 million. The decline is attributable to the expectation that the Fiscal Year 2018 bi-weekly pensions to Public Employers’ Retirement System (PERS) being fully paid in July 2017."

Reread the article and notice all the hedging about how they "hope" the bu8ilding can stay, the possibility of rezoning it, etc. and watch them very very carefully.

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 4, 2017 at 11:57 pm

Regarding seismic upgrades, I thought the Police Department wing of City Hall needs one before anybody else moves in (e.g. Development Services). Wasn't that a primary reason for building a new Public Safety facility? Wonder what that will cost.

@resident, I was about to point out that the main Post Office on East Bayshore is not in East Palo Alto nor San Mateo County. It's still technically on our side of the creek. Except I double checked before hitting submit, and was alarmed to find that the Postal Service considers 2085 East Bayshore Road to be in East Palo Alto! The Santa Clara County tax assessor maps show the 6.5 acre USPS property to be Santa Clara County parcel number 008-01-049. Weird.

Posted by PIMBY-Prinsoner In
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on May 5, 2017 at 12:37 am

Silly Musical. You know seismic upgrades only matter when the city wants -- or doesn't want -- to do something. Then their cost is no object.

Waste, er spend, $7 million "revitalizing" Cal Ave and then destroy it by sticking the police station there and take away the parking.

Hmm. There's 1/3 of the $20M price difference in construction costs Mr. Keene claimed made buying the PO too expensive.

Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 5, 2017 at 7:41 am

I live in zip code 94303 and any delivery to my house for flowers or other outside deliveries shows East Palo Alto. I live off of Louis Road. Those flower delivery people are zeroing in on the zip code - not the location of the house. The AAA map shows the borders of East Palo Alto including areas west of 101 along Woodland Road. The San Fransquito Creek is the border for San Mateo County. There must be some transition point for the purposes of flood control since the Creek winds back to the Athletic Center and golf course. History buffs have indicated that the creek bed was changed way back when for flood control so possibly it was originally in San Mateo County.

Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 5, 2017 at 8:40 am

The zip code for the Main PO will need to be changed due to the health care laws which segregate cost by zipcode. If EPA is designated as 94303 then the residents are paying a higher premium relative to the total wage level for the city. They should be shrieking over that inconvenient detail. Out whole system is now segregated by zip codes so some people may be getting a break and others penalized. Also the congressional districts should be representing the zip codes. EPA needs some breaks here. San Mateo County is sitting on the top of the fence here so something else is going on that affects the taxpayers.

Posted by Reader
a resident of another community
on May 5, 2017 at 8:56 am

Folks, ZIP codes were designed for efficient mail delivery service, not as political or governmental boundaries used for legal jurisdiction.

There are some ZIP codes that span multiple cities or counties like 94303, a legal ZIP code for both East Palo Alto (San Mateo County) and Palo Alto (Santa Clara County). There are even a handful of ZIP codes that straddle two states: 42223 and 97635 are two.

Things like taxes, government jurisdiction, voting aren't based solely on ZIP code, they depend on your actual full address.

Please leave politics out of ZIP code discussion.

Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 5, 2017 at 9:45 am

Sorry Reader - check into the current debate on health care which is highly political and zip codes do matter. I can't talk to other states or counties but right now the bay area is in a major growth debate and the zip codes do matter. You can check in with Amazon who had a hiring freeze on EPA residents and everyone chimed in with the zip code as being a segregator for the purposes of meeting a hiring goal since a portion of south PA is in the same zip code. A bigger issue is the water control board in San Francisco which is slicing and dicing who pays for the creek tunnel upgrade - as well as the flood control in the bay area. I can see that it would be costly for the USPS to come up with the change but so be it. Yes - at the rate things are going now the zip code in the bay area is a major qualifier for where and how government money is spent.

Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on May 5, 2017 at 11:03 am

Like 'musical' I'm puzzled by the police station/seismic upgrade message. Wasn't the primary motivation for building the new public safety building the lack of seismic safety at their current location in City Hall? Is the planned seismic upgrade for City Hall going to less ambitious or expensive if the PD's space gets used by Development Services?

If the City is going to do the seismic upgrade anyway, why spend $50 million to build a new public safety building off of California Avenue?

Posted by mutti
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 5, 2017 at 11:37 am

Zip codes have mattered for a long, long time. We pay a bit more, <50$/year, for our car insurance because we live 1 block east of Middlefield in 94303, instead of 1 block west in 94306. I was involved in a grant-writing project for Ravenswood schools some years back where we were turned down because the average income in our zip code was too high. When my grandmother came to live with me in 1991 she was on Medi-cal, and Medi-cal said she had to go to Health Plan of San Mateo because of our zip code -- but Health Plan of San Mateo wouldn't take her because she lived in Santa Clara County. I could go on with more..... No one likes this on either side of the line. But, the Post Office is the only entity with the power to change it, and they say the zip code is only for mail-delivery and they see no need to change.

The Main Post Office IS in PA, not EPA because it is south of San Francisquito Creek. EPA has a post office on the corner of University and Bay Road.

Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 5, 2017 at 12:09 pm

We have different streams going on here - the main PA PO building is on the border of Santa Clara and San Mateo County lines and is in a hard to get to place due to the bridge construction. So taking down the Downtown - Hamilton PO seems a bit thoughtless and needless. The Hamilton PO building is the topic of this stream - zip code 94302.
The other topic is the zip code associated with the Main PO Building - which is 94303 which is also a Zip Code for EPA. So there is a confusion factor on what the USPS is doing and suggesting why it needs to update where and how it does business. Since EPA is in a different county and is now going through a major building surge with related population growth then they should have a specific zip code designating their city location. And yes - those people have to designate their zip code for any insurance and medical support - going on line the first question is what is your zip code.

If I go on Google maps and say my location as Palo Alto it knows I am 94303 and starts the map direction at Pulgas Road in EPA.
The world is turning on your zip code.

Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2017 at 12:23 pm

Marie is a registered user.

From the article, it seems like the PO plans to retain a PO in downtown Palo Alto - if fact they required the city to lease them space for a post office, which was part of the reason they decided against the purchase.

There is so little land available and the price is cheap considering. The city should buy now and worry about upgrades later. Had they not dropped their option to purchase land for the police station during the downturn, and just purchased the land they would have owned it. It would have been a bargain compared to today. Even if they hadn't used it for a police station, it would have been a good location affordable housing.

I hope they did not decide against the purchase based on others who might be interested. Public services zoning doesn't seem to have prevented the council from rewarding the developers of the lot at Page Mill and El Camino with major upzoning with, as far as I can tell, no public benefit. So let someone else buy the PO at a cheap price, knowing the city will likely go along with enriching them by upzoning the property

Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 5, 2017 at 2:05 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

I've heard Palantir needs some office space downtown.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 5, 2017 at 2:33 pm

Time for a local hero/ine from the tech industry!

What a shame to see this lovely old building be sold, torn down, sit empty, or after X years become an anonymous private tech office.
The location is outstanding.
The history is appealing.

I wish a tech titan would help Palo Alto and rescue this, but somehow provide it for the benefit of Palo Altans.
This is a building worth saving - if it cant be the downtown oost offfucevowing to mis-placed disinterest of federal postal bureaucrats, it COULD still be used as something beneficisl to the city. Yes, Inread the City of PA doesnt' want to buy and rehab it for the building/deveopment staff. OK, what about something else like a non-profit or "local tech exhibit" or? Let's brainstorm.

Posted by Gus L.
a resident of Barron Park
on May 5, 2017 at 5:45 pm

There is an investment group that is going to bid on it, they are going to name it the"David Starr Jordan Postal Annex"

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2017 at 5:52 pm

It's a historic property, it can't easily be torn down and replaced.

Posted by Jaguar
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2017 at 8:07 pm

The city can't afford to preserve its historic building, but it will spend hundreds of thousands to rename a couple of middle schools

Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 6, 2017 at 9:24 am

Okay - how about a new restaurant run by Michael Mina and Ayesha Curry? A whole section in back could be allocated for large groups like Palantir, etc - a convention style space. If anyone thinks they are going to tear down that building then they are in for rough time because it is not going to happen.
If a restaurant is put in then the redevelopment costs would be required to do that so that addresses one problem. And a venue for wedding / receptions would be available. And the Farmer's market could go on so it would be a gathering "food" place.

Posted by You've Got Mail
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 6, 2017 at 9:32 am

Gee, how about making it a Post Office? All the businesses downtown might need a convenient one and serving the business community is obviously a top priority for the city.

Does Mr. Keene even know that the Main PO on Bayshore is inaccessible for the next 12 months due to road construction? Does he care at all about our convenience?

Or does he have other plans for the building that he'll reveal after we've forgotten this latest absurdity?

Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 6, 2017 at 10:02 am

I totally agree that it should remain a USPS post office. I get the feeling that this whole scheme started up with some brainstorm that has gone awry. It is a beautiful building - a beautiful post office - we could help it out with a newer passport office. It is centrally located and accessible to everyone. Diane Feinstein's husband Richard Blum's company is the one with the contract to sell post offices. The Post Offices are in historic buildings that require some redevelopment funds so that is probably why this all got started. Moonbeam shut down redevelopment funds at some point in time so a number of actions got terminated - like further redevelopment of Oakland.

Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 6, 2017 at 10:11 am

Just wanted to mention that the Ferry Building in SF ran into similar problems - age - and was redeveloped into a prime attraction for everyone and includes the food theme. The Ferry Building is at a converging point for transportation and tourist activities so that is a superb example of how a historic building can be upgraded. The Trust for Historic Preservation is a federally funded effort to preserve historic buildings - Filoli is a great example of a Trust property - food included. Maybe focus on the historic preservation aspect can keep away the "tech" activity which would destroy the building. Donating the property to a trust would qualify as a tax deduction.

Posted by Pat Markevitch
a resident of Downtown North
on May 7, 2017 at 1:35 pm

Resident: I think that's a great idea. It's a perfect location to open up a passport office. The passport section in the Bayshore office is very cramped and this has decent parking in the back.

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 7, 2017 at 3:32 pm

^ Decent parking in the back? If you meant Lot G (off Gilman), I believe that is Permit-Parking in the daytime. That lot, however, is very convenient after 5pm for, say, City Council Meetings.

Posted by Sally
a resident of Midtown
on May 7, 2017 at 4:04 pm

May I ask a simple few questions? Isn't the USPS subsidized by the federal government? Isn't the USPS experiencing budget problems? Why would the USPS decide to reverse itself, and decide to keep an inefficient post office in Palo Alto? Only about 1/8 of Palo Alto voters voted for Trump, so why would anyone in Palo Alto think that the federal government would contribute to our post office preservation? Aren't we just dreaming dreams?

Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on May 7, 2017 at 8:59 pm

@Sally, The USPS is NOT subsidized the federal government. Web Link

Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 8, 2017 at 9:14 am

I find it very irritating to interject a Trump comment into everything that goes on around here. The idea to sell the historic post office buildings - include one in Berkley - is part of a Jerry Brown scheme because he eliminated redevelopment funds in the CA budget. Most of the buildings could qualify as California Historic Preservation buildings and therefore require costly upgrades done in a very specific manner which does not deface the buildings.
He does not want to pay for that and wants someone else to pay for that.
Please remember that you live in the State of California and you have determined that you all know best and Jerry and state congress can tell you how life will go down in CA. Take responsibility for what is going on around here.

Posted by Pat Markevitch
a resident of Downtown North
on May 8, 2017 at 10:41 am

Musical: Not Lot G off Gilman. There is a long parking lot located directly behind the building that is used for USPS vehicles. If the passport office was relocated to this location, a portion of the spaces could be allocated to people who are there to use visit the passport office.

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 8, 2017 at 1:57 pm

@Pat, thanks for clarifying. Yes, maybe 20 spaces directly behind the current post office. Don't know how many would be required for employees if the building were renovated into office space. At any rate, there should be 339 spaces ($23 million worth) going up right across Hamilton in the old parking lot D. Allocating parking spaces for any specific use in a congested area is difficult to enforce -- topic for another thread.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 8, 2017 at 2:35 pm

The application for passport process does need a revamp, particularly this year as all those who applied when Canada and Mexico travel first needed passports now need to renew. The wait at many Post Offices, Palo Alto main included, is onerous at best as well as time consuming and time wasting if you don't get one of the lucky numbers on the first time around. Added to that the complication of requiring both parents to be present for a minor (or else the requirement of a notarized form) means that often whole families are waiting in line for hours.

If the Passport application process could be done at a separate facility with less wait time and more applications being dealt with each day, it would make life a lot easier for those who need to apply for their first adult passport as well as everyone else.

Not sure if this could be a viable option though so I would put it under the heading of wishful thinking.

Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on May 8, 2017 at 4:02 pm

Any time I have gone to the MAIN PO on Bayshore during a business day people are stacked up in the lobby in folding chairs waiting for the closed door to open - is any one in there? And they are practically in the line waiting for postal service. I got my first passport at the Hamilton Office and that was just okay - we can do much better then that. However it was noted that homeless people used the lobby during the rainy season so there should be a way to close off a nice waiting area so it does not get vandalized.

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