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Angered by the proposed sale of their historic Downtown Post Office, citizens of Berkeley, California are going to San Francisco on Tuesday, December 4th.  They have two demands. The first is that investment bankers stop profiteering from the sale of public property assigned to the Postal Service. And the second demand is that Congress stop bleeding the Postal Service dry.

Led by Citizens to Save the Berkeley Post Office, community members will assemble at 11:30 a.m. for a rally at 909 Montgomery in front of the offices of Blum Capital Partners.  Blum Capital is a private equity firm founded in 1976 by Richard Blum, a current regent of the University of California. Commercial real estate giant Coldwell Banker Richard Ellis (CBRE) is among the many investments of Blum Capital.  In fact the Chairman of CBRE is Richard Blum.  

Poster: Citizens to Save the Berkeley Post Office
"The hand of Richard Blum" Graphic by Sances & Hazelwood
The Postal Service is eager to sell properties in their control to raise quick cash.  CBRE advises the USPS on what properties to sell. The properties are advertised on a joint CBRE/ USPS website and as a general rule CBRE profits again as the listing agent.

After the rally in front of Blum Capital, the marchers intend to proceed down Montgomery Street to One Post Street, the office of California Senator Dianne Feinstein.  Senator Feinstein's husband is Richard Blum.

Newspaper headlines read "The Post Office is Going Broke".  Truth: The Postal Service is being bled dry by a law passed in the 2006 lame duck session of Congress.  

Senator Feinstein must take a lead in changing the 2006 law.

The USPS is managed by an independent Board of Governors of 11 members.  Nine are appointed by the President, no more than five from one political party.  There are three vacancies on the Board. Of the six presidential appointments, only one was appointed by President Barack Obama.  The term of office of Dennis Toner, Obama's sole appointee, expires December 8, 2012.

Elections must have consequences.  Surely the President should be able to make appointments to the USPS Board of Governors and just as surely Senator Dianne Feinstein must reconsider her qualms on filibuster reform. We are entitled in this democracy to have judges, agency administrators and Postal Service governors appointed by the President that we elected in 2008 and re-elected this November.


Rally and March from Blum Capital to the Office of Senator Dianne Feinstein,
11:30 a.m. Tuesday, December 4, 2012.
Rally starts at Blum Capital, 909 Montgomery St (at Pacific), San Francisco,
and then marches to Senator Feinstein’s office at One Post Street near Montgomery and Market Street.


"We will confront Richard Blum about his selling of our public property!"  
"We well ask Senator Feinstein to act to save our post offices!"
More below the orange squiggle.

For background on the USPS read the excellent diary by Laura Clawson back in April, "Republicans manufacture a crisis for the Postal Service, and too many Democrats go along."

Stay current on the status of the Downtown Berkeley Post Office by sending your email adddress to savetheberkeleypostoffice@gmail.com

The Save the Post Office website has a wealth of current and background information.

1937 limestone bas relief by David Slivka
"Postal Activities", Berkeley Downtown Post Office
HISTORIC POST OFFICES On June 6, 2012, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named America’s historic post offices to their “11 Most Endangered Places” list.  

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has indicated they will follow closely three post office transactions: Northfield MN, La Jolla and Berkeley CA.

When the postal service sells a public building that contains New Deal era art or when the building itself is on the National Register of Historic Places, a covenant is placed on the deed.  Postal Service policy is to transfer the responsibility to enforce the covenant to the state but the Postal Service keeps all the proceeds from the sale.  State Historical Preservation offices have resisted assuming this unfunded responsibility.

Sixteen historic post offices in California have either been sold or are being considered for sale. That's more than any other state.
o    Berkeley
o    Burlingame
o    Fullerton
o    Huntington Beach
o    La Jolla
o    Modesto
o    Orange Plaza
o    Palo Alto
o    Redlands
o    Sacramento
o    San Rafael
o    Santa Barbara
o    Santa Monica
o    Southgate (Firestone)
o    Ukiah
o    Venice Beach

2006: CONGRESS, USPS & THE SHOCK DOCTRINE

"Thus it was that a new fund was established in 2006 — for the prepayment of health benefits for future retirees, with the Postal Service agreeing to pay between $5.5 billion and $5.8 billion annually. The money simply goes into an escrow account, where it is invested in special issue Treasury securities. Thus does it somehow magically help with the deficit."   Joe Nocera, New York Times, July 30, 2012
The 2006 lame duck session of Congress put the USPS in an impossible situation by requiring the USPS to move between 2007 and 2016 a total of $55.8 billion additional dollars of USPS operating revenue to US Treasury securities.
Berkeley P.O. mural by Suzanne Scheuer

While referred to as pre-funding of future retiree medical costs, the law is more accurately seen as a simple cash transfer from the Postal Service to the Treasury. It's like, well, the opposite of what the Treasury did for the banks. The clever labeling also suggests extravagant public employee benefits as likely culprits for the Postal Service crisis.

The media reports that the USPS has defaulted on two $5.6 billion annual payments.  But no one reports that as of September 2012, despite the $11 billion default, the Treasury still holds $45.3 billion in the Postal Service Retiree Health Fund, a one-year increase of $1.5 billion, for total reserves of approximately $45,000 for every current USPS career employee, retiree or annuitant survivor.

The USPS makes additional annual payments of about $2.5 billion that fund all current retiree and survivor health benefits.

The financial crisis that Congress has created for the Postal Service (with some help from the recession and declining first class mail volume) has created an opportunity for an old fashioned land grab.

"How much is USPS property worth? Nobody really knows. The USPS, like every government entity, doesn't regularly appraise its properties. But there is an estimate nosed about by the Right (that) the owned USPS property portfolio is worth about $105 billion.

"Most of that owned real estate is prime, downtown real estate in every town and city in America.

"A deal like (privatizing the buildings and land owned by the USPS) is too big to be done all at once; it would flood the market and undercut itself. It would have to be done slowly, quietly, and under the radar -- hopefully so no one notices."

Andrew Reinbach, August 2, 2012

The Postal Service crisis creates opportunity for CBRE and Richard Blum, an opportunity to profit from the dismantling of the Post Office and from the conversion of our public buildings to private ownership.

ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES The U.S. Postal Service is the core of the trillion dollar mailing industry that employs more than 8 million people.

The transportation of mail and small packages is a major consumer of petroleum products.  The USPS should be a leader in our inevitable and necessary transition to a less petroleum dependent society.  

Instead the USPS is pretending there are no environmental consequences to facility consolidation.  

In February 2012, USPS issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) on the Mail Processing Network Rationalization Initiative.  The proposal under consideration includes possible closure or consolidation of mail processing for approximately 250 processing facilities and adjusting the mail processing workforce size by as many as 35,000 positions. USPS is required under National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to perform environmental assessments. The FONSI indicates USPS is gaming regulations to skirt their green responsibility.

 

Originally posted to blue denim on Sat Dec 01, 2012 at 05:27 AM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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