STATEMENT ON THE HISTORIC PRESERVATION REPORT TO CONGRESS AS IT EFFECTS THE BERKELEY POST OFFICE

BERKELEY POST OFFICE DEFENDERS STATEMENT ON THE ADVISORY COUNCIL’S HISTORIC PRESERVATION REPORT TO CONGRESS AS IT AFFECTS THE BERKELEY POST OFFICE SALE AND THE SALE OF OTHER SUCH HISTORIC POSTAL BUILDINGS.

On April 17th, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation issued its Preserving Historic Post Offices report to Congress “on compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act for the closure and disposal of its historic postal facilities.” This report was requested by legislation initiated by Berkeley’s United States Representative in Congress Barbara Lee.

The report tells us some that is new, and much that we already know from Berkeley’s experience attempting to interact with Postal Service management. We are well aware that they refuse to care about the community’s concerns – when they deign to listen at all (public meetings attended by hundreds of Berkeley residents in near-universal opposition to the sale of Berkeley’s Post Office whose voices were totally ignored showed us that); we know that Postal Service management ignores the law when it is inconvenient to their purposes; and we know that they are hell-bent on selling Post Office assets in pursuit of immediate revenue, all as the report suggests.

We also know from other sources such as Peter Byrne’s investigative reporting that Postal Service management has allowed its real estate agent, CBRE, to engage in unethical and possibly illegal practices as it sells off Historic Post Offices in violation of procedures it has sworn to abide by; it has allowed CBRE to act as both appraiser, buyer’s agent and seller’s agent; and has stood by as CBRE has sold properties for below market value to its board members’ cronies.

What we gleaned from the report that we didn’t know before is telling but therefore not surprising:

  • the USPS has refused to allow other public entities, such as cities or counties, to purchase Historic Post Offices at market rate bids in violation of various laws such as Section 111 of the NHPA.
  • the USPS is not correctly applying the “Criteria of Adverse Effect”, incorrectly classifying sales of Post Offices as having no effect on the community or the environment.
  • USPS regulations and procedures regarding sales are in conflict with applicable law in certain cases.
  • the USPS refuses to consider leasing uneeded space, a sensible way to preserve its assets, gain revenue, and preserve our heritage.
  • the USPS is putting publicly funded murals and other works of art in historic post offices at risk for deterioration and loss.
  • the USPS should be using the GSA’s Office of Real Property Disposal to sell Post Offices, not a private firm.
  • the USPS should be taking advantage of the Historic Surplus Property Program, set up by Congress in 1949.

All of these observations are important, but the most crucial part of the Report is its second recommendation:

The USPS should suspend any further actions to relocate services out of historic postal facilities and dispose of those historic facilities until such time as it fully implements the recommendations of this report. If the USPS fails to suspend such actions, the ACHP recommends that Congress direct the USPS to suspend all relocation of service decisions and disposal actions for postal facilities that are listed or eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places until such time as the USPS fully implements the recommendations of this report directed to it.

Berkeley Post Office Defenders enthusiastically endorses this recommendation while stating the obvious: it does not go far enough.

OUR HISTORIC POST OFFICES SHOULD NOT BE FOR SALE, PERIOD!

These buildings belong to the people of the United States; our grandparents and great-grandparents labored to build them and also paid for them with their tax dollars. As such they must remain as the property of the United States, in common for the benefit of us all. It is criminal to privatize them for any reason, let alone for a quick cash fix and to the benefit of one-percent real estate moguls.

In light of the Advisory Council’s report, Peter Byrne’s investigations and common sense, Berkeley Post Office Defenders

  • Demand that the United States Postal Service permanently halt the process of selling the Historic Downtown Berkeley Post Office and other such properties around the country.
  • Thank all of the thousands of people  who have worked in the past two years to defend and preserve our post offices.
  • Ask the people of the United States to continue to demand of their elected representatives not to allow this theft of public assets, nor the privatization of our commons,  to continue.
  • Call upon the people to take such actions as are necessary to demonstrate that their will be heard and acted on in this matter.

Public Banking at the Post Office: Laura Wells and Musical Guests

Public Banking at the Post Office

a discussion with
Laura Wells
2014 Candidate for California State Controller
2010 Green Party Candidate for California Governor
and Advocate for establishing a State Bank for California

music by
Phat Love Participatory Orchestra
Fresh Juice Party
Bill and Bob’s Country Combo
The Funky Nixons
Hali Hammer and Dave Welsh

and updates

on ongoing initiatives to save our Post Office, including the proposed Zoning Overlay Ordinance, protests at Staples, Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s proposed moratorium on selling historic Post Offices, and legal actions

Saturday 29 March 2014
12:00 noon to 3:00 p.m.

on the steps of
Berkeley’s Main Post Office
2000 Allston Way @ Milvia Street

http://www.berkeleypostofficedefenders.wordpress.com
http://www.savethebpo.com http://www.facebook.com/savetheberkeleypostoffice
http://www.LauraWells.org http://www.PublicBankingInstitute.org

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Proclamation for a Postal Union Alliance

Four Postal Unions Form Alliance to Defend the Public Postal Service – March 2014

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Proclamation

A Postal Union Alliance

The U.S. Postal Service is under unprecedented attack. A congressionally manufactured financial crisis drains the USPS of vital resources. Six-day delivery is under constant threat of elimination. The reduction of service standards and the elimination of half of the nation’s mail processing centers has slowed service and wiped out tens of thousands of good jobs. Post offices in cities and small towns are being sold or closed or having their hours cut back. Corporate privatizers seek to gain control over larger segments of postal operations- and to get their hands on the Postal Service’s $65 billion of annual revenue. The Postmaster General’s policies of subcontracting and degrading service are fueling the privatization drive.
The four postal unions stand together to end the attack. We stand for a public Postal Service, enhancement and expansion of service, and protection of good union jobs in our communities. We stand with the people of our country in defense of their right to a universal postal service operated in the public interest.

We commit to work together to:

• Maintain six-day and home delivery.

• Protect and restore service standards and mail processing facilities.

• Maintain full-time, full-service public post offices in every community.

• Oppose the subcontracting of work and privatization of services.

• Expand postal services to include basic banking, notary, check-cashing and other services.

• End the corporate welfare of excessive pre-sort discounts.

• Form a common front in the fight for genuine postal reform legislation

• Organize joint actions and speak in a united voice.

• Unite with other labor unions in defense of the rights of postal workers and all workers.

• Encourage joint efforts of our union members at the local level.

• Support maximum cooperation in the next round of contract negotiations.

• Build an alliance with the American people in defense of the public postal service.

We Stand United to Protect America’s Postal Service

Fredric Rolando, President, National Association of Letter Carriers

Mark Dimonstein, President, American Postal Workers Union

John Hegarty, President, National Postal Mail Handlers Union

Jeanette Dwyer, President, National Rural Letter Carriers Association

March 11, 2014

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“We have agreed to work together to defend a beloved national treasure. Our efforts will benefit all postal employees and the people of this country who expect and deserve a vibrant, public Postal Service for generations to come.”

“The United States Postal Service shall be operated as a basic and fundamental service provided to the people by the Government of the United States, authorized by the Constitution, created by Act of Congress, and supported by the people. The Postal Service shall have as its basic function the obligation to provide postal services to bind the Nation together …. It shall provide prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas and shall render postal services to all communities.”

- Postal Reorganization Act, as amended.

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Privatization Run Amok: Richard Blum

Since the formation of the Berkeley Post Office Defense, privatization – the transfer of public control of institutions into private, usually for-profit control – has been understood by the defenders as the main culprit for the loss of our post offices. But privatization is a trend that reaches all across the Earth and represents an attempt by the richest people (we’ll call them the 1%) to extract as much money as possible from institutions such as Universities, public construction projects, and post offices. Despite wide spread knowledge of the nefarious plans of privatizers, the trend continues under the dominant paradigm of neoliberalism. The public sector is being weakened by the wealthiest and greediest individuals, who feel totally justified in siphoning off the value of things, places, and institutions that bring people together in the commons.

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One name that keeps reappearing in the conversation on privatization is Richard Blum.
Richard Blum chairs CBRE – the world’s largest real estate company, which has exclusive rights to sell all post office real estate.
Richard Blum’s own company, Blum Capital Partners owns CBRE.
Richard Blum is a UC Regent and was formerly the Alpha Regent.
Richard Blum is married to CA-Senator Diane Feinstein.

But there’s more. Will Parish and Darwin Bond-Graham summarize Blum’s carrier in this article from 2010: DiFi and Blum: A Marriage Marinated in Money.

“Richard Blum is a San Francisco-based finance capitalist presiding over a business empire that is, to say the least, expansive. Hedge funds? Blum owns one outright and wields a significant share of various others. Real estate? His primary investment vehicle, the $7.8 billion Blum Capital Partners, owns the largest real estate brokerage firm on the planet, CB Richard Ellis, of which Blum is chairman of the board. Construction? Until public scandal prompted him to sell off his holdings, Blum was a majority partner in a construction and engineering company that did billions in business with the US military, among other government clients. Education? Try being the resident Alpha Regent of the largest public university system in the world, the University of California, while also being a primary owner of the world’s second-largest for-profit education firm, Career Education Corporation.

Large land-holding firms? Digital media company of which Al Gore serves as frontman? Health industry corporation fighting to undermine the expansion of public health care? Border-town maquiladora that build weapons components for the Department of Defense? Check, check, check, and check.”

As a financier seeking to extend his influence and (highly questionable) intentions around the world, Richard Blum

“and “DiFi” are among the leading proponents of the International Monetary Fund/World Bank/US Treasury nexus’ notion of how economies ought best be developed. This form of economic “improvement” (deriving from the Anglo-French “emprouwer,” meaning “to clear for profit”) involves burying Third World economies under mountains of debt backed by usurious interest rates, facilitating the greatest level of investment possible by rapacious multi-national corporate entities, privatizing government functions, and gutting social services.”

As a UC Regent, Richard Blum has directed millions of dollars in public University of California funds into construction projects signed to his own companies. The man is a living, breathing, walking example of the problems with privatization.

In a subsequent article on Richard Blum and the University of California, Will Parish and Darwin Bond-Graham expand on their findings (see Who Runs the University of California?)

“In 2009/2010, the UC Regents declared a “state of financial emergency” and began hiking tuition and slashing faculty positions to make up for the loss in state funding. Richard Blum personally appointed Mark Yudof as the president of the UC system who was promptly given special “emergency powers”, which he used to further downsize UC but still keep that money flowing…

Notably, it was Blum who virtually hand-picked President Yudof for UC President, having chaired the selection committee that oversaw Yudof’s appointment. At a March 2008 press conference heralding the Yudof hiring, the San Francisco Chronicle noted that Blum seemed “visibly ecstatic.” In April, the Chronicle quoted Blum again, saying of Yudof, “we disagree on almost nothing. If I were giving Mark a grade, I would give him an A-plus.””

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Richard Blum’s activity as UC Regent demonstrates his commitment to linking public institutions considered nearly universally good with private profiteering for a few of his friends and business partners. The justification for the necessity of this action (if ever given at all) is pushed quickly and in a time of confusion: the crisis. It is during this period that privatizers sense the moment to manipulate that confusion and direct monetary flows from the greater population to a few financial opportunists. But the actual reasons, when considered cool and calmly, just don’t add up:

“Thus, despite the state budget cuts, the UC’s overall revenue reached an all-time high of $19.42 billion in the 2009-10 academic year, and the Regents’ claim that the UC faces an “imminent and substantial” funding deficit is inaccurate, to say the least. According to both the university’s own financial documents and Moody’s bond rating agency, the university had access to over $8.3 billion in unrestricted investment funds it was holding in reserve at the time.

The university has undergone a neo-liberal-style “structural adjustment” at the behest of the UC Regents, and this transformation has been accelerated during Yudof’s tenure as president. Under the leadership of California’s economic elite, the UC has become the leading prototype for a “disaster capitalist university.”

Under the excuse/opportunity of crisis, the UC Regents have been able to further their privatization agenda. Student debt escalates, teacher’s jobs and salaries are cut, and the vast majority of the public suffers from the loss of truly public services, while a few wealthy financial capitalists get even richer. Being married to a politically powerful Senator and having his hand in so many other investment businesses makes Richard Blum California’s privatization agent #1. This marriage is clearly a conflict of interest when the wife lobbies for the millionaires’ benefit. Bankrolling his investments on non-dischargeable college student debt, Blum has helped turn a great public university into a vast credit vehicle for private profiteering.

“And those subprime student loans? They’re often owned by big banks like Wachovia and other financial outfits that many of the UC Regents and their business partners are shareholders or executives of. So the whole cycle begins and ends with massive public and student debts, both of which increase as the Regents partake in further undermining the tax base while looting the public sector, again ratcheting up the crisis rhetoric.”

The link between the public University of California funds and Blum’s own for-profit universities is touched on in the Banksters cards from Occucards (see their site here):

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Student debt has risen to incredible proportions, and voices from all over the place have warned that this is an unsustainable bubble that threatens our entire economic system, as well as the futures of an entire generation of youth (see Student Loans: The Next Big Threat to the US Economy?). Much of this money will not and cannot be repaid. But privatizers like Blum have set up a situation in which the young are financially sacrificed for the benefit of a small group of powerful investors. The federally guaranteed student debt bubble is the base from which profitable construction projects and for-profit college investments have been financed. For some recent facts about the student debt crisis look here.

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In the summary of a Peter Byrne’s study The Investors’ Club: How University of California Regents Spin Public Money into Private Profit, Byrne notes on Blum:

“After Mr. Blum was appointed to the Board of UC Regents in 2002, UC invested $748 million in seven private equity deals in which he or his firm, Blum Capital Partners, was a major investor. (Mr. Wachter was involved in one of these deals as an investor). Many of these deals were operated in partnership with TPG Capital, where Mr. Blum is an investor and an executive, according to the economic disclosure statements of his spouse, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), and other public records…
…UC has also invested $84 million in real estate and private equity deals, as well as the stock of a public corporation, in which Mr. Blum held significant interests”

The entire report is a must read. Byrne details the clear, obvious, in-your-face conflict of interest going on at UC and still going to this day…

Taking a closer look at CBRE in Going Postal: U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein’s husband sells post offices to his friends, cheap, we find the $6.8 billion dollar corporation with its hands all over public money. Richard Blum’s

“privately owned investment firm, Blum Capital Partners, L.P., dominates CBRE’s board of directors through its ownership of 6.9 percent of the company’s shares, which were worth 380 million in March 2013…
Let’s follow the money: According to CBRE filings with the Securities & Exchange Commission, the company earned 5 percent ($325 million) of its revenue from government agencies in 2012.
The leveraging of public funds for private profit has been the core strategy of Blum’s business plan for decades. His privately owned investment firm, Blum Capital Partners, controls billions of dollars in public-employee pension fund capital that Blum regularly invests in his own business deals. His state-subsidized ventures have included building vastly over-budget municipal airports, tunnels, and bridges; manufacturing and selling high-tech weaponry for use in Iraq and Afganistan;develong and selling prosthetic limbs for soldiers wounded in those countries; managing the federal governments’s multi-billion dollar real estate portfolio; and owning for-profit colleges whose primary source of revenue are federally guaranteed student loans and grants authorized by Congress.” (p.26-27)

How do they do it? How did Blum and Feinstein’s (The Blumsteins for short) vampire tentacles spread so far? The answer. To put it as briefly as possible, is Debt.

“The secret of its rapid growth has been a willingness to assume debt in order to gobble up competitors. Such “leveraged buyouts” are a risky business practice: The firm carries a $2.1 billion debt burden that “constrains the operation of our business,” CBRE reported…
Given the ups and downs of the global real estate market, CBRE relies upon dozens of contracts with local, state, and federal government agencies to provide it with 5 percent of its annual revenue – a cash infusion that nearly equals its annual profit margin. To balance its books each year, CBRE depends upon capitalizing a subjectively valued asset called “goodwill”. Every year the dollar value of its goodwill miraculously equals the gap between its assets and liabilities to the penny. Without the ability of its accountants to create net worth-healing goodwill out of thin air, CBRE’s balance sheet would have bled $1.8 billion last year.
Last year, by the way, CBRE paid taxes on a declared profit of 315 million, but it still owes the United States Treasury taxes on the $1.1 billion of earnings that CBRE keeps in foreign tax havens in order to escape paying U.S. Taxes. (p.33-35)

So, CBRE’s strategy is not even a winning one: it exploits its structural position as financiers of a vast web of agencies, institutions, and services to get even bigger. CBRE loads itself down with debt to expand its reach deeper into sectors of the economy, relies on the actually functioning public institutions to make up for their losses (plus “goodwill”), and stores much of its earnings in off-shore tax havens. Ladies and gentlemen, CBRE is the real estate version of “Too Big Too Fail”.

And that’s the whole point: once you reach that level, the “get out of jail free” card grants you free license to all kinds of privatization corruption.

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The Post Office has been another victim of greedy privatizers like CBRE. The blatantly obvious malfeasance involved in this sell-off has kick-started BPOD itself…

A brief summary of Peter Byrne’s investigative journalism on Blum’s CBRE and the Postal Service has shown that:

“CBRE appears to have repeatedly violated its contractual duty to sell postal properties at or above fair market values.

CBRE has sold valuable postal properties to developers at prices that appear to have been steeply discounted from fair market values, resulting in the loss of tens of millions of dollars in public revenue.

In a series of apparently non-arm’s-length transactions, CBRE negotiated the sale of postal properties all around the country to its own clients and business partners, including to one of its corporate owners, Goldman Sachs Group.

CBRE has been paid commissions as high as 6 percent by the Postal Service for representing both the seller and the buyer in many of the negotiations, thereby raising serious questions as to whether CBRE was doing its best to obtain the highest price possible for the Postal Service.

Senator Feinstein has, herself, lobbied the Postmaster General on behalf of a redevelopment project in which her husband’s company was involved.”
(p.3-4)

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I case you haven’t heard the argument that BPODers have been shouting about for the past 6 months, here is Peter Byrne writing about the pre-funding mandate/ attack on the public by corporate backed politicians:

“80 percent of the agency’s multi-billion dollar deficit is caused by a law passed by Congress in 2006 that requires it to prepay retiree health benefits 75 years into the future. This unprecedented, budget-killing command does not apply to any other government agency. If this burden was to be rescinded – and business mail was to be charged the cost of delivery – the Postal Service would be in the black, according to Congressional reports.” (p.4)

Under the supposed reason of covering losses in revenue, the USPS higher ups have been selling off post office property for years. This nets the USPS some profit, but the ownership of the buildings is now out of their hands.

“And the one-time cash infusions from property sales barely scratch the surface of the structural deficit of $40 billion. The relatively minor proceeds gained from selling off postal facilities are being sucked up by the cost of relocating services from the sold facilities. What’s more, the quick cash won’t be able to cover the increase in overtime being brought about inefficiencies created by lost jobs.” (p.17)

In other words, selling post offices is not helping the USPS with its artificial “crisis”: it is a covert land-grab.

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The thorn in the side of much of public financing and debt woes goes by the name Richard Blum. His and his companies removal from the management of public services and institutions would be a great start to a real “structural adjustment” for the good.

Bernie Sanders has introduced a Bill to improve the Post Office and remove the onerous restrictions on it (see here), and Elizabeth Warren has come out in support of exploring the idea of a Postal Bank (see here). UC Berkeley protestors recently occupied the Blum Center for Developing Economies after their #No2Napolitano march (see here). BPOD is still keeping up the fight for Berkeley’s main post office, so stay tuned.

Follow hashtags #Privatization and #Blumsteins for more updates and support the movers, shakers, and protestors fighting back wherever and whenever you can.

Post Office Privatization: Enter Staples

Post office services are now being performed by Staples employees at select Staples stores across the country, including Berkeley and San Francisco. The slow-motion privatization of the USPS is well underway and Staples is stepping in to join the feeding frenzy.

Here is an article from our friends at Save the Post Office: The Next Chapter in Postal Privatization: Post Office inside of Staples.

Here’s another from our very own JP Massar: Stop the Theft: The Coming Walmartization of Our Post Offices.

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BPOD was on the scene on December 21st to draw attention to this phenomenon. We were the first group to target Staples and draw public attention to this union busting. Here is gallery of photos in a great blog post from that day: Now It’s Staples: Treating Their Workers like Dirt and Union Busting to Boot! Greedy privatizers looking to make a buck wherever they can (and with the political connections to make it happen, like Richard Blum) are hoping that downsizing services and selling off historic buildings cheaply will wither the USPS away… and create a massive void for for-profit companies like Staples to fill. Staples pays their employees much less than the USPS and recently has limited their part-time employee weekly hours to avoid health care mandates from the Affordable Care Act. This has drawn outrage and a petition with over 200,000 signatures: Staples: Don’t Cut Part-Time Hours Because of Obamacare! Other companies are foaming at the mouth at what they could do with prime downtown real estate from the Post Office sales.

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The United States Post Office has offered well-paying jobs with good benefits for hundreds of years, as well as being a crucial infrastructural component across the land. The thousands of post offices provide cheap, fast, and secure written communication anywhere in the country.  The USPS is an extremely sound financial institution that gets No Tax Money, funding is done solely with stamps and other fees.  Though mandated by the constitution, the Post Office must be run like a business ever since 1971.  Since that hasn’t worked for politicians rich business buddies, a blatant attack in the form of the now infamous Pre-funding Mandate for retirees health benefits (yet curiously unreported on until now… are you still wondering if direct action gets the goods?!) Watch Bernie Sanders lay it down real fast on MSNBC.  If the privatization trend continues, only worse jobs, longer drives using more fuel for pick-ups, and expensive mailing services will follow. If the USPS goes down, we will lose one of our great barriers between a healthy democracy and a plutocratic corporatocracy.

This Saturday, February 15 at 10am, the APWU will be at the Berkeley Staples to protest Staples subversion of the USPS. Will BPOD be there? You can bet on it!

Sinnin’ Sunnin’ and Savin’ At the Berkeley Post Office

Come hang out with the coolest people around: The Berkeley Post Office Defenders. We’ll be continuing to gather signatures to Save the Post Office from privatization (we already got more than 1200…), talk to people, hand out literature and maybe listen to some cool bands.  From 11:30 AM to 3:00 PM we’ll be at the Post Office, 2000 Allston Way, Berkeley, just a block from the downtown Berkeley Bart.

Lie down on the grass at MLK park, get yourself a bite to eat at the Farmer’s Market, and make your day complete with a visit next door at We the People’s Post Office.

Did You Miss the January 18 Camp-Out? Here’s What You Missed!

Here’s our light brigade in full swing.

We also heard music, collected signatures, and generally raised awareness. And the people in power are listening.

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… of this historic building and of great post office buildings around the country.

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.…of our national treasures and our good union jobs.

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Want your postal services to come from Staples? Want to pile more work, responsibility, and complication onto minimum-wage clerks whose employer won’t do the minimum to get people Affordable Care Act coverage? (There are already “post offices” in some trial Staples locations around the U.S.)