It’s election season in Los Angeles, and with Eric Garcetti termed out, the fight for the chief executive slot—a race which was Jose Huizar’s to lose and did he ever—has attracted a predictable mix of deep pockets, political lifers and idealistic long shots.
As the field has narrowed, the polls show Congresswoman Karen Bass holding steady. And every time we see a poll graph, we remember the only thing she did on Capitol Hill that got our attention: a performative bit of feel good legislation that appears to have been secretly rewritten for the benefit of influences unknown.
That troubles us as preservationists and public corruption watchers, since the Mayor appoints all commissioners and department heads, and can enact policies that protect historic buildings, or make it easier to destroy them.
Here’s the story of the mysteriously migrating Marvin Gaye Post Office. Maybe it will give you pause about Karen Bass, too.
On March 10, 2017 Congresswoman Bass introduced H. R. 1496, a bill renaming the Rimpau Station post office at 4040 West Washington Boulevard after Marvin Gaye.
Who doesn’t dig Marvin Gaye? The baby bill was co-signed by 15 other legislators and soon featured in fluffy TV reports, including one titled A Post Office Named After Marvin Gaye? California Congresswoman Says Let’s Get It On. Reporters pointed out that the post office was in the neighborhood where Gaye’s family still lived.
The bill moved merrily along collecting co-sponsors—72 by the time it was signed into law on July 24, 2018—with one curious jog in the road. On May 7, 2018, H.R. 1496 was amended with the 4040 West Washington Boulevard post office address mysteriously changed to 3585 South Vermont Avenue.After a short discussion not including Congresswoman Bass and no explanation for the change from the station a short stroll from Marvin Gaye’s home to one 2.2 miles southeast, next to the USC campus, the amended bill moved forward.
In April 2019, on what would have been Marvin Gaye’s 80th birthday, the U.S. Postal Service issued a new 55¢ Forever Stamp in the Music Icons series. Naturally, we bought a sheet. The plan was to use it as a visual aid on an upcoming Weird West Adams true crime tour, somewhere between the Gaye family home, where Marvin was murdered by his father on April 1, 1984 and the newly re-dedicated neighborhood post office. They’re barely a mile apart.
For while the March 2017 introduction of the Marvin Gaye Post Office bill had gotten some press, only Congressional Record / C-SPAN geeks would have noticed the quiet change of address notice filed in May 2018. So when local news reported on the post office renaming on June 15, 2019, we were confused—and a little irked that notable early Angeleno Isidore Dockweiler’s name had been (poorly) scraped off to make room for Marvin’s.
We certainly don’t begrudge the Gaye family and the USC postal workers their joy in this honor. But a Congressional bill changing with no explanation gnawed at us. It was supposed to be Marvin Gaye’s neighborhood post office. What gives?
Since none of the news reports made any mention of the discrepancy, we tweeted at the only person who definitely knew why 4040 West Washington wasn’t called the Marvin Gaye Post Office: Congresswoman Karen Bass. She didn’t respond.
So what actually happened here? From our thus far unsuccessful efforts to get Charles Bukowski on a U.S. postage stamp, we know that it takes several years from when the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC) votes in closed session to put an individual on a postage stamp to any public announcement.
The U.S. Postal Service released the 2019 Forever Stamp Lineup on November 20, 2018, at which time Marvin Gaye fans like stamp petitioner Carla Johnson learned that the singer would be honored alongside Gregory Hines, cactus flowers, Alabama statehood, the USS “Missouri” battleship, WPA Post Office Murals, the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, Walt Whitman, Joshua Tree and frogs.
Post office renaming and individual postal stamp honors are rare, yet Marvin Gaye received both within a two month window. This timeline suggests that somebody with knowledge of the “closed and confidential” CSAC meeting when the 2019 stamps were selected shared this non-public information with Congresswoman Bass, allowing her to introduce a Marvin Gaye Post Office bill that coincided with the release of the Marvin Gaye stamp. Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale made the connection at the stamp unveiling ceremony at the Greek Theatre.
So a sitting Congresswoman might have gotten an inside tip about a forthcoming postage stamp honoring a deceased resident of her district, and moved to name a local post office after the honoree. What’s the harm?
Look at 4040 West Washington Boulevard: one of the largest under-developed, under-leased parcels in the rapidly gentrifying West Adams community. Did the owner of the Washington Square Shopping Center (Stiles and Clements, 1964) see media coverage and ask the Congresswoman that the post office on this parcel not be dedicated in Marvin Gaye’s honor, to remove any possible community objections to future redevelopment? We know from the stalled 2010 project EIR that they’d like to demolish all the buildings on the parcel, including the giddy Googie Stan’s Kite Coffee Shop.
Or did USC—a university that gave the Congresswoman a free distance learning graduate degree through the same School of Social Work favors network that was helping indicted County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ grabby son Sebastian launder his reputation—lobby to have the post office moved closer to campus in anticipation of the release of USC mega-donors Andre “Dr. Dre” Young’s and Jimmy Iovine’s authorized Marvin Gaye bio-pic?
Either of these possible special favors would be a disservice to the West Adams community that remembers Marvin Gaye with love, and still lives with the trauma of his murder.
And whatever the reason for the change in plans, at Washington Square Shopping Center, the dozens of independent discount retail and service businesses inside Swapmeet Price won’t benefit from having a soul music tourist attraction just across the parking lot.
And what a bummer for the workers at Rimpau Station, who got excited about a new name and a big party, only to get nothing at all.
So, did she do it for the landlord, or for those music industry big shots and USC? The Congresswoman didn’t answer when we asked her on Twitter, but we hope journalists covering the Los Angeles Mayor’s race will ask Karen Bass about the Marvin Gaye Post Office. Considering how slim her legislative history is, and with a troubling endorsement from dirty trickster pro-development lobbyists Abundant Housing, it’s important for Angelenos to know why she changed her bill and for whose benefit. We hope we find out.