Post Offices on the Auction Block

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The APWU has long warned that the pro-privatization agenda being advanced by USPS executives and right-wing legislators is a big-time rip off for citizens and businesses that rely on the mail.

Now, as the Postal Service attempts to shift sales and services from the USPS to Staples and other private operators, community groups are battling management schemes to relocate retail facilities to less desirable locations and sell off the valuable public property.

From California to New England, citizens are fighting to save their post offices, including dozens that have been designated as historic landmarks.

Community groups that have been opposing closures and relocations are charging that the USPS has sold valuable public assets “at relatively low prices and without adequate public notice or effort to adhere to federal preservation guidelines,” the Washington Post reported in February.

Double Dealing?

The Washington Post article was triggered by a report by the USPS Office of Inspector General (OIG) that criticized the Postal Service’s sole-source contract with CBRE, the world’s largest real estate and investment firm.

The Feb. 12 Management Alert faulted USPS executives for allowing CBRE “to negotiate on behalf of the Postal Service as well as prospective buyers and lessors in the same real estate transaction.”

“CBRE conflicts of interest could lead to financial loss to the Postal Service and decrease public trust in the Postal Service’s brand,” the report warned. CBRE is currently selling 43 postal facilities and six parcels of land.

The OIG’s full report on the matter is expected in June.

Historic Post Offices

Efforts by CBRE and the USPS to sell off historic post offices have drawn the ire of organizations that want to keep the public assets from being converted into high-end condos, restaurants and boutiques for private gain.

Many have questioned the role of CBRE’s chairman, Richard Blum, the husband of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). In December 2012, Citizens to Save the Berkeley Post Office staged a rally at Blum’s office and then marched to Sen. Feinstein’s office in San Francisco to demand that the closure and sale of the city’s historic facility be halted.

In October 2013, another Berkeley-based organization, The National Post Office Collaborate, won a temporary restraining order delaying the sale of the historic post office in Stamford, CT. Supported in part by a $15,000 donation from the APWU, the group charged the USPS with non-compliance with the National Environment Policy Act. Citizens opposed to the sale were outraged that the USPS notified the public just two days before it closed the office and put the property on the market. The court has yet to rule on whether the sale can ultimately proceed.

In New York City, APWU members and community activists have been contesting the sale of the Bronx GPO. The facility is an architectural masterpiece built in 1935 that features priceless murals and other works of art. The New York Metro Area Local has been fighting to keep the facility open since December 2005, when it was targeted for consolidation. The Postal Service moved the facility’s processing and distribution operations to Manhattan in 2011.

The fight to preserve historic postal facilities got a lift in January when Congress passed a non-binding amendment to an appropriations bill urging the Postal Service to suspend the sale of historic post offices, pending a review by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. The council is evaluating complaints that the USPS ignored federal preservation guidelines and failed to allow enough time for public comment.

Despite the congressional request to halt the sale of historic post offices until the ACHP issues its report, the USPS set March 12 as the deadline for “best and final offers” for the Bronx GPO. The union is determined not only to block the sale, but also to return mail processing operations to the facility. The next step will likely be a court challenge.

Similar challenges to USPS sales are being waged in LaJolla, CA, Houston, TX New Bedford, MA and other cities. 

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