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OJAI : Officials Seek Fair Rent for Post Office

Ojai officials are preparing to ask their senators, congressmen and the U.S. postmaster general to assure that the U.S. Postal Service will pay fair-market rent for its office in downtown Ojai.

City Manager Andrew Belknap said he fears that the Postal Service has proposed far lower rent than is fair over the next 11 years as a ploy to be able to move the main post office from downtown.

Jack Fay, president of the Ojai Civic Assn., which owns the bell-towered building that houses the post office, says the fixed-rate offer of $56,600 a year until 2002 is “unfair and one-sided.”

Fay and Belknap have prepared a letter protesting the proposed contract, calculating that the fixed rent would fall far short of the pace of inflation, giving the Postal Service an unfair windfall of $180,000 over the next 11 years.

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Belknap is asking Ojai Mayor Nina Shelley to sign the letter with the City Council’s approval today. Copies will be sent to Sens. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) and Pete Wilson (R-Calif.), and Reps. Robert J. Lagomarsino (R-Ventura) and Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley).

The dispute dates back to 1986 when the Postal Service informed the association that it was planning to build a larger post office on the west side of town. Residents protested the move, circulating petitions and printing up T-shirts pleading, “Save Our Post Office.”

With help from Lagomarsino and Gallegly, the association received the Postal Service’s promise that it would keep the main branch downtown and build an annex elsewhere.

Postal officials signed an agreement with the association in 1988 to enter into a long-term lease based on the building’s fair-market value.

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Postal officials believe their current offer of fixed rent meets that agreement.

“The Civic Assn. finds this explanation unconvincing, and I share their skepticism,” Belknap wrote to the City Council.

“It could be an attempt to present a lease so one-sided that the Ojai Civic Assn. will not sign it, thus freeing the facilities branch to resurrect their plan to build a completely new facility.”


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