The Berkeley Post Office is on the auction block in one of the slimiest backroom deals in the sordid history of pol-fin clubbiness.
This centrally located building is a 99-year old architectural and cultural landmark, but it’s not just a building. OK, it’s just another piece of real estate, another sales commission to the mega-broker Richard Blum. But it’s more than a building to the city, to the community, and, yes, to the country.
First, the dirt. The notorious Koch brothers, angels to the Tea Party movement and out-front advocates of killing the Postal Service and dividing up its body between UPS and FedEx, managed with their allies to pass an act of Congress requiring the Postal Service to pre-fund its employee pensions for 75 years. No other government agency, no private corporation has to meet such a requirement. Predictable result: since passage of this fiscal atrocity in 2006, the USPS, which broke even in every year until then, has been bleeding money. So, surprise! To bandage its deficit and postpone its bankruptcy and liquidation — inevitable so long as the 2006 hemorrhage continues — the USPS has been putting its properties up for sale.
Guess who has the exclusive contract to sell off USPS properties? A firm called CBRE, whose chair and major owner is billionaire financial magnate Richard Blum. Blum happens to be the husband of California senator Diane Feinstein. Blum is also a Regent of the University of California. And guess which buyer is prominently mentioned as likely to acquire the Berkeley Post Office building if it is sold? Oh yes, the University of California. How sweet — for them.
It’s a stopgap strategy. In order to continue operating, the USPS will have to pay a private landlord rent at another location, which will bloat the outflow side of its operating budget. Eventually the cash infusion from selling off its assets will drain off and the whole operation will crash, with UPS and FedEx picking over the carcass. The public, the 99 per cent, will pay more for less service, but the one per cent will have fattened its property portfolio.
If that sickens and angers you, as it does me, you can join the good folks who have been protesting against this stinky deal outside the building, and you can contribute to the legal action fund that’s trying to stop it, here and across the country. The USPS has run roughshod over the statutory proceedings required for disposal of buildings. A court challenge may effectively delay the sale until relief legislation pending in Congress has a chance to undo the 2006 stab to the postal service’s gut.
The Berkeley Post Office, like many others of its kind in other cities and towns, is a beautiful and highly functional work of public art that was paid for with taxpayer money. It contains a New Deal mural inside and a stone relief by sculptor David Slivka outside (photos below). It’s a communications center for thousands of community members who rely on it as a link to their distant families and friends. It serves the nonprofit agencies as a dispatch center for their newsletters and announcements. It’s a workplace for dozens of men and women, including a high percentage of minorities, for whom this building is a gateway into the stable working class (aka “middle class”).
It’s not just a building. It’s a symbol of the public interest, being looted by the incestuous gang of political and financial insiders that runs this country.
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