Stop USPS Dismantling New Deal Legacy through Sell-Off of Historic Post Offices

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Why is the US Postmaster General, Patrick Donahoe, trying to Sell Off America’s Historic Post Offices?

Lower East Side Mural in Madison Square Post Office in NY by EdenPictures on Flickr CC

Lower East Side New Deal Era Mural in Madison Square Post Office in NY by EdenPictures on Flickr CC

USPS leaders seem determined to sell off our precious New Deal era historic post offices as fast as possible with the help of the major real estate company CB Richard Ellis Group (CBRE). An article in Commerical Property Executive by contributing editor Barbara Murray on July 21, 2011 entitled, “CBRE Wins Exclusive Rights to 300 MSF USPS Contract” states:

“Clearly, CB Richard Ellis Inc. didn’t mail it in when bidding for a big contract with the U.S. Postal Service, because the commercial real estate services firm has just become the chosen one. CBRE is now the exclusive strategic corporate real estate solutions provider for USPS and its 300 million-square-foot portfolio of owned and leased properties.”

CBRE received exclusive rights from USPS to manage all of the billions of dollars worth of USPS properties.

Instead of selling off our brick and mortar post offices which are technically owned by the American people, especially those built before the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970, let’s revitalize them with creative solutions to keep them as Post Offices and expand services for communities.

Ontario California Post Office Mural by Jimmy Wayne on Flickr

In addition, there needs to be a new law that entitles the American people to say what happens to their own post offices. Unfortunately the USPS has been very busy undermining the ability of citizens to stop the steam rolling misguided leadership of USPS from selling off its historic post offices.

In recent years through changing various rules, the USPS uses “relocation” as a means to prevent citizens from being able to legally file appeals with the Postal Regulatory Commission. It is a devious way to undermine due process of the citizens in a community to be able to stop sales of their precious post offices which serve their cities and towns.

Santa Monica CA New Deal Post Office in Jeopardy

The Santa Monica community and all interested Americans who care about preserving our national treasures and the New Deal era architecture and art, need to know that the US Postal Service is deciding if it will sell off an historic icon in Santa Monica. Of course, one must ask who is guiding the hand of the USPS to make these choices despite the outrage or confusion of the communities that these post offices serve. Again, one needs to look at the manager CBRE of the postal facilities.

America’s Commons: Historic U.S. Post Offices built and bought–at least before 1970–are more than Real Estate Property, They Belong to the People of the United States who Paid for Them

What will the people of Santa Monica and Los Angeles and all of California do to protect the heart of their community — their beautiful Art Deco Post Office?

It is time for America to wake up and realize that through sinister design or through ignorance, some people in the halls of power in the U.S. Postal Service have decided to sell off our history. What is frightening is that as the following New York Times article, “Post Office Buildings With Character, and Maybe a Sale Price,” by Robin Pogrebin points out, in 2009 the New Deal Era Virginia Beach post office was sold and torn down, and a Walgreens was built despite pleas from the community to keep their post office.

The NYT article quoted above had interesting comments from readers. The passion of the readers to save their historic post offices came through. Here is a quote:

Patricia Allan of Hamburg NY, March 8, 2013 at 5:06 pm (Recommended by 57 people) replied in the Comments of the March 8th NYT front page article about the USPS:

“What will be gained by selling these jewels? Who gets the ransom money for them? If our government cannot restore and build, it will soon lose the power it has to govern…….it seems to me that if National Parks and environmentally endangered sites can and should be preserved for our cultural and physical wellbeing, then these jewels should be, as well. Doesn’t history have to be handed on to enrich those who are our future citizens?”

How to Save the United States Postal Service

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How can we truly save the United States Postal Service?

Save the Post Office

First, encourage Congress to reverse the manufactured crisis caused by the 2006 Orwellian Postal Accountability Enhancement Act (PAEA) which forced USPS to prepay its health related pensions 75 years in advance in 10 short years beginning in 2007. Since 2007 USPS has had to pay $5 billion or more dollars every year for health pensions of people who may not even have been born yet. This is something no government or corporate entity has every had to do.

Second, tell Congress to expand services at our local post offices. The Postal Service is a service, not a business. It is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. It is wrong to cut Saturday service which could affect 70,000 jobs and harm small businesses that would have to pay contractors higher rates than USPS to get mailing services.

Sheldon Garon, Nissan Professor of History and East Asian Studies at Princeton University, wrote an article at CNN advocating, “A savings account at the post office”.

According to Garon, most countries in Europe and East Asia allow people to open savings accounts in their post office. In the United States, there were postal savings accounts from 1911 to 1966.

Garon stated:

“To avoid competing with banks for larger depositors, postal savings accounts are capped at an amount that serves families of modest means.”

In addition, Garon claims that the savings accounts at post offices throughout the world typically “carry no fees and require no minimum balance or a low one.” This would help many Americans who currently have no bank because of high fees and low balances. They could open much needed savings accounts. Currently, many low income Americans use expensive check cashing companies that charge high fees.

Congress Must Act to Give USPS Flexibility to Make More Revenue

Passing legislation to allow USPS to offer postal banking would bring more people into the post office and would help Americans increase their savings. According to Garon, “one-fourth of low-income Americans are “unbanked.” They have no savings or checking accounts.”

The FDIC National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households states:

“8.2 percent of US households are unbanked. This represents 1 in 12 households or nearly 10 million in total.”

Third, Let’s protect and preserve our historic post offices. Especially those built during the New Deal era that contain one of a kind beautiful art murals and sculptures reflecting the communities they serve. Each post office is the heart of its community. It is wrong that Postmaster General Donahoe is selling off our national treasures, relocating post offices from the centers of towns to the outskirts making it harder for people to use their post offices. Stop the sell-off of our national treasures and preserve our historic buildings for present and future generations.

There are creative solutions to save USPS which is our 2nd largest employer in the United States. It is in each citizen’s interest to preserve the United States Postal Service which is  older than the United States of America. Our first Postmaster General, Benjamin Franklin, was appointed on  July 26, 1775 by the Continental Congress. Let President Obama know we must keep universal service and six-day delivery of our mail!

What Will Save the U.S. Postal Service?

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The Story of the U.S. Postal Service

In 2006 the United States Postal Service (USPS) handled 213 billion pieces of mail, the largest volume of mail in the history of the postal service since the beginning of the post office on July 26, 1775 when Benjamin Franklin was appointed the first Postmaster General by the Continental Congress.

On December 7th and 8th, 2006 the lame duck Republican House and Senate passed the Postal Accountability Enhancement Act (PAEA) (H.R. 6407) on a voice vote alone, and on December 20, 2006 President G. W. Bush signed the bill into law. Within the bill was a section that contained what could be considered a poison pill that could undermine the financial health of the United States Postal Service.

People of Venice Fight to Save their Historic Post Office

Venetians, artists, writers, poets join with politicians and Teamster President George Washington and President Abraham Lincoln to rally to save the Historical Art Deco Mural and Post Office from being sold. Speakers, including Councilman Bill Rosendahl, join again to support the endeavor. Music by Suzy Williams and The Nicknamers, Balloons, Poetry, Politicians, Venetians and Fun.

Speakers make an impassioned plea to save the Venice Post Office and to recognize that closing the Venice Post Office will not return USPS to profitability. Also that USPS is violating its own moratorium on closure of post offices by beginning to destroy the Venice Post Office prior to the May 15th end date of the Moratorium.

Jim Smith, MC for the Coalition to Save the Venice Post Office rally, said:

“Nearly every organization in Venice is in support of this [to save the Venice Post Office] and has been working together in a Coalition but this goes far beyond Venice. The postal service is being destroyed, both within and without, by its own management and by Congress which is beholden to Wall Street and to the 1 percent (%).”

The Venice Post Office was constructed in 1939 during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration and in 1941 Edward Biberman painted an historic mural reflecting the history of Venice. Speaker, Terry Stoller, President of the California Area Local American Postal Worker’s Union (APWU) who represents the clerks and custodians in Southern California stated that the Venice post office is “well-constructed, beautiful and has genuine heart in it.” He also said, “The post office was mentioned in the U.S. Constitution more than 200 years ago.”:

“The entire postal service is being sold to the highest bidder, not to those with the highest purposes and the highest aspirations.”

Emily Winters, Chairperson of the Venice Arts Council said at the above Venice Post Office Rally:

“This post office really represents the hub of art activity in Venice.”

Winters said the Venice post office is a beautiful Spanish revival building built by the WPA with taxpayer dollars and the Edward Biberman mural has important historic significance.

Title VIII of the Postal Accountability Enhancement Act titled the “Postal Service Retiree Health Benefit Fund” contained Section 8909a which mandated that the United States Postal Service prepay its Retiree Health plans 75 years in advance in only 10 years. Beginning on September 30, 2007, in addition to other pension plan obligations, the USPS would have to pay an additional $5.4 Billion dollars or more each year until 2017.

No government agency or private company has ever had to prepay its pension plans 75 years in advance in only 10 years. This poison pill within the PAEA began sucking the money out of the profitable USPS when the 2007 severe Recession caused a sharp economic downturn and decline in mail volume.

Then in 2007 the economy tanked and mail volume declined.

New Thinking About the Postal Service

Prior to 1970 the postal service was called the U.S. Post Office Department. It was a cabinet level position and a full government agency.

Under President Nixon, a Commission was established that eventually resulted in the 1970 Postal Reorganization Act. This act began mandating that the postal service would no longer be a cabinet level position, it would no longer be a Post Office Department. Instead the postal service was told by Congress that it would have to act like a business. It would have to completely pay for itself without tax payer dollars. It would be a quasi public-private organization.

Destruction of USPS Unions by Upper Management

Instead of seeing its unionized work force as a positive asset, the Postmaster General and upper management seem to want to undermine the postal worker union’s ability to have a contract be respected. After tough negotiations in 2011 that resulted in the Unions agreeing to a wage cap, the Postmaster General Donahoe turned around and wanted to break the contract that said there would be no lay-offs of workers. Instead, jobs could be reduced by attrition when people retired. To date, thousands of jobs have been reduced due to attrition.

It turns out that the plan to close almost 3700 post offices and 252 processing facilities is based in many instances on the idea that the post office will move from 6 day delivery to 5 day delivery. Congress has not approved this plan and hopefully will reject it because it is bad for business, bad for local communities and bad for our economy. However, the postal service is trying to close post offices as fast as it can in spite of the moratorium on post office closures in December 2011 until May 15, 2012. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe thinks he will save the USPS by ultimately closing 15,000 post offices over the next year. This is total upside-down thinking and will have negative impacts on local economies, regional economies, our national economy as well as jeapardize our upcoming 2012 elections.

The Illusion that the Moratorium Covers All Post Offices on Earlier Closure Lists

The postal service is still moving ahead full speed to close postal facilities that it began trying to close on its list of July 26, 2011 and also lists prior to that date. Even though the moratorium is in place, each community needs to be aware of when their particular postal facility was first announced for “study” or “closure.”

Also, the moratorium does not include closure of a post office that is defined as a “relocation.” Technically a post office could be closed and sold if it is determined to be “relocated.” However, since a different facility is planned to be substituted for the current facility in the community, the United States Postal Service claims this is not a “closure.”

It really is a bait and switch tactic because the current post office building which may be of historical significance and contain important New Deal era art murals or sculptures would be sold to the highest bidder. The “relocation” tactic is an underhanded way to prevent the public from formally filing an appeal to prevent a “relocation” and subsequent closure and sale of the post office and its property. Some people in the USPS legal department must have been tasked with finding a way to shed the pesky public from trying to prevent closure of their post offices in their community.

Saving the USPS

If you have suggestions you can go to the USPS OIG website and make suggestions. Here are a few suggestions I think would help save our postal service:

1)  Expand services in current post offices to include so-called “non-postal” services such as notary public, copying of documents, issuing of licenses, verification services for the internet and more. Senator Sanders has many suggestions regarding this.

2) Keep all post offices open.

3) Keep 6 day delivery of the mail

4) Keep mail delivery standards for first class mail and other mail instead of slowing mail by two to three days. In our fast-paced era we need to insure mail delivery is fast and effective. Slowing mail is counterproductive and could lead to reduced revenue from customers turning away from USPS because it is so slow.

5)  Insure that historic post offices and post office murals are on the National Register so they are eligible for certain funds for renovation and renewal. Highlight these buildings as places of interest for tourists, especially buildings with art murals, sculptures and special architectural designs.

6)  Enable the post office to sell items tracing the history of the post office and the local community. Sell items that highlight the role of the post office in the history of that community and the U.S.

7)  Congress should allow USPS access to its overfunding of its various pension and retiree health plans. Recalculate assessments that are reasonable for paying into these programs to insure they are properly funded for workers.

8)  Stop forcing the Postal Service to operate only “as a business” without taxpayer support. The Postal Service guaranteed by our Constitution was created to improve communication and “bind up the nation” through providing for fast speedy mail.

Tell your Senator to support Senator Sanders’s Bill S. 1853 which would truly save the USPS. He speaks here about the current 5-year plan by USPS as being “Deeply Flawed.”

USPS Cuts Public Out of Appeals Process with New Rules

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Postal Regulatory Commission Eliminates Public’s Ability to Appeal Closure & Sale of “Relocated” Post Offices

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.”

From “Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll, Chapter VI, Humpty Dumpty


Through the Looking Glass with the New Definition of the Word “Relocation” of a Post Office

The Federal Register contains information regarding pending rules submitted for comment to the public. Each pending rule has a deadline. After a set period of time, the rule becomes final and is published. Frequently the general public has no clue about what rules are “pending” and what the consequences of the rule means in terms of potential negative outcomes to the public.

Take for instance the rule that was submitted to the Federal Register by the Postal Regulatory Commission called “Appeals of Post Office Closings” 39 CFR Parts 3001 and 3025 [Docket No. RM2011-13; Order No. 814]. The Agency that submitted this rule was the Postal Regulatory Commission. The Action they were seeking: “Proposed rulemaking.”

The Summary of the rule sounds like the new rule is going to make it easier for Americans to appeal the closures of their post offices. However, even though the appeals process is simplified to a degree by the new rule, it also contains another passage that redefines what is considered a “relocation” of a facility. Here is the definition:

Within the Section entitled “II. Advantages of the New Rules”

“The new rules specifically clarify that when a retail facility is relocated within a community so that the number of facilities within that community does not change, that relocation is not a closing that can be appealed to the Commission.” (See 54180 Federal Register/Vol. 76, No. 169/Wednesday, August 31, 2011/Proposed Rules)

What does this new definition of “relocation” mean to people who want to save their post office in their community? This new definition is published under “Advantages of the New Rules” section. How is “relocation is not a closing that can be appealed to the Commission” be an advantage to the public? 

Here is an explanation of what this new “relocation” definition means related to closing a post office. If a community receives notice in a press release that its post office will be “relocated” within a community, the public will not be able to appeal that “relocation” to the Postal Regulatory Commission. If a post office is “relocated” to another facility, the original post office could be closed and sold and the public has no recourse with USPS or the Postal Regulatory Commission to legally voice their concerns in a way that could stop the “relocation” and possible sale of the original post office. These words “closed” and “sold” are conveniently disappeared from the definition of “relocation.” Even though in reality an historic building like the Venice Main Post Office, Ukiah Main Post Office, or La Jolla Main Post Office could be closed and sold, because these post offices are defined as only being “relocated” to another part of the community, the new rule prevents the public from being able to appeal the closure and sale of its historic post offices.

This new rule to “simplify” the process just simplified the public out of the process for “relocated” post offices. In other words, because of this new rule, the United States Postal Service (USPS) can legally close any post office it chooses, sell it without the public having any say about the matter if USPS calls this a “relocation” where they then put the post office in a different facility in the same community.

Is this fair? Is this democratic? Is this right? This rule only makes it easier for USPS to do whatever it wants with its facilities despite the valid concerns of the public about closing or relocating a particular post office. This new rule enables the United States Postal Service to legally have carte blanche in selling post offices without input from the local residents who will be affected by the sale and closure of their post office. This is a perversion of the law because it cuts the public out of the appeals process in a very nuanced and nasty way. And most people had no knowledge that this rule could cut them out of possibly appealing the closure of their post office.

Where is Government Of the People, By the People, and, For the People when USPS cuts the people out of having input into what happens in their own community?

This rule deliberately enables the USPS to not have to deal with the public about post offices that will be relocated. This is truly unbelievable and undemocratic.

"Story of Venice" mural in New Deal Era Venice Post Office. Photo Credit: "Story of Venice" by lavocado@sbcglobal.net on flickr cc

"Story of Venice" mural in New Deal Era Venice Post Office. Photo Credit: "Story of Venice" by lavocado@sbcglobal.net on flickr cc

Post Offices Built Prior to the 1970 Postal Reorganization Act

The United States Postal Service and Congress need to be reminded that all the postal facilities built or purchased prior to the Postal Reorganization Act in 1970 were paid for by taxpayer dollars. However, the top leadership and legal counsel at USPS and the Postal Regulatory Commission fail to understand this important point because many post offices like the Venice Post Office, Ukiah Main Post Office and La Jolla Main Post Office were built in the New Deal Era in the 1930s. They were built with taxpayer dollars. Yet, these very post offices that have served people in their communities are being sold for a fast buck similar to CEOs who raid corporations by selling off their assets to squeeze every bit of money out of a company. Then all that is left is a skeleton of a company. Is that what is happening here?

This is a misuse of definitions, law, and rulemaking to make it legal to eliminate the public from the process of deciding what happens to public facilities in their own community. This is antidemocratic and this rule should be changed.

Divestiture on the Unspoken Road to USPS Privatization

Is the United States Postal Service top leadership focused on selling off its assets in an attempt to rid itself of its infrastructure using its current economic situation as an excuse? This article, “How to Privatize the Post Office: Piece by piece, step by step” on the SavethePostOffice.com website outlines a clear blueprint showing how the undoing of the postal service as a public good replaced by a privatized version began with the 1970 Postal Reorganization Act and has been happening piece by piece for decades to the present.

It is up to Americans and Congress to stop the fire sale of their historic post offices which now are being sold off using new definitions of words like “relocation” to edit out the public’s ability to even participate in an appeals process to stop the selling off of their community post offices. The latest misuse of the “relocation” scam happened by this USPS press release on January 10, 2012 in a special announcement titled “Postal Service plans to relocate La Jolla Post Office.” Here is some of the text of that strange announcement which blames the internet in part for the reason it is “relocating” this post office. There is no mention that that facility is profitable and that there is no “similar” building like it anywhere in La Jolla because it is an historic treasure to that community:

“Within the process of the Facility Optimization, the La Jolla Main Post Office would be relocated to a similar location within 1 mile of the current site.”…”The Postal Service has retained the real estate professionals of CB Richard Ellis (CBRE) to handle the real estate transactions.”

Let’s put out the fire sales now shall we.

Roosevelt Island Post Office Saved by Residents and Elected Officials

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Roosevelt Island and the Blackwell House by David Berkowitz on flickr creative commons

Historic Plaque on Roosevelt Island. Photo: Roosevelt Island and the Blackwell House by David Berkowitz on flickr creative commons

The USPS had initially included the Roosevelt Island Post Office in New York City on the list of almost 3700 post office closures in August 2011. However, due to elected officials efforts such as Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney who represents New York’s 14th District, Manhattan’s East Side and Western Queens, on December 14, 2011 USPS said the Roosevelt Island Post Office would remain open for now.

Thousands of residents objected to the closing of the post office when it was announced this summer. It is the island’s only post office and it serves over 12,500 residents including many elderly and disabled people who would have great difficulty going to another post office over 1 mile away from Roosevelt Island.

Why did USPS Target Roosevelt Island Post Office for Closure in the First Place?

It is odd that the U.S. Postal Service leadership would target the Roosevelt Island Post Office for closure. By closing this post office the residents would not have any post office on the island. Something seems to be deeply flawed regarding how the Postmaster General and his officers decide which post offices will be “studied” for closure. At a time when we need to create more jobs and revitalize the economy, closing post offices and laying off workers is counterproductive to stimulating the economy.

The negative multiplier effect of closing postal facilities should be denied by Congress and the Postal Regulatory Commission. The jobs of postal workers should be protected and expanded. The Post Office has the potential of being an even greater hub of the local community.

The “Village Post Office” Poor Replacement for Full Service Brick and Mortar Post Offices

The “Village Post Office” which Postmaster General Donahoe and his advisors are pushing fails on many levels:

The Village Post Office only sells stamps and priority packages. Customers would not be able to send a letter by Express mail or to get a package certified as they would from a full service post office.

Another Solution that is Better for America

Senator Sanders recently attended a series of town hall meetings in Vermont and listened to hundreds of residents who spoke out against closings of post offices and postal processing facilities. Instead of closing post offices and putting people out of work, Sanders suggested expanding postal services and keeping post offices open.

He said USPS needs more flexibility to be able to better serve its customers by offering services such as:

  1. Notary Public
  2. Licenses
  3. Copying Services
  4. Verification of documents possibly sent via the internet

However, in recent years certain laws were passed that limited the types of services USPS could offer its customers. One wonders why the postal service was asked to be profitable, operate like a business, and then told it can only provide limited services to the American people.

Sanders said we need to give the postal service more opportunity to serve Americans in ways that meet the needs of its customers.