Serrano provision in spending bill checks on lawfulness of Bronx GPO, would suspend sale of historic post offices

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Congressman José E. Serrano today announced that he had succeeded in including a provision in an annual appropriations bill moving through the House of Representatives that would ensure that the Postal Service’s proposed sale of the historic Bronx General Post Office receives extra scrutiny.   The provision calls for the suspension of the sale of historic properties like the Bronx GPO until the USPS Office of Inspector General  completes its investigation, and all the laws and guidelines have been satisfactorily complied with.  The OIG is scheduled to complete its audit in October 2013.  Read more.

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The Postal Service moves forward on selling the historic post offices in Berkeley and the Bronx

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Yesterday two of the country’s most significant historic post offices — the 1916 Berkeley post office and the 1935 Bronx GPO — came a step closer to being sold.

Mr. Tom Samra, USPS Vice President, Facilities, rendered his final decision on the Berkeley post office.  The Postal Service will relocate retail services to a yet-to-be-determined location, and the historic building will soon be put up for sale.  You can read his decision here.

At almost the same moment, the Postal Service filed a motion with the Postal Regulatory Commission to dismiss the appeal on stopping the relocation of the historic Bronx General Post Office, so it too will soon be on the market. .

Neither the decision on Berkeley nor the motion on the Bronx came as a surprise.  The Postal Service will not be swayed from its plans to sell historic post offices.  Postal officials have denied appeals on Venice, the Bronx, La Jolla, and other relocations, and postal lawyers have consistently argued that relocation decisions can be appealed only to the USPS VP of Facilities, not to the PRC.  Community opposition doesn’t matter, the pleas of elected officials don’t matter, and legal arguments by attorneys and historic preservations don’t matter.

Appeals concerning the Berkeley relocation were filed by Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, State Senator Loni Hancock, State Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Post Office Collaborate, Ford & Huff Attorneys at Law, Save the Berkeley Post Office, the Gray Panthers of the East Bay, and approximately fifty postal customers.  The appeals just didn’t matter.

At this point, Mr. Samra’s final decision statements are pretty much boilerplate.  He reviews the concerns raised by the appeals, and dismisses each in turn.  The impact on the community, he says, will be mitigated by locating a new retail office in a convenient location.  Besides, as Mr. Samra reminds us, 40 percent of retail revenue comes from sources other than a post office, which presumably means that many people don’t need a post office to begin with.

Mr. Samra says that allegations that the Postal Service has failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, and so on, are not relevant because it is premature to consider the requirements spelled out in these laws.  The Postal Service has only decided to relocate the post office; it will deal with these other matters when the time comes to sell the building.

The bottom line, says Mr. Samra, is that the Postal Service’s financial condition requires it to take steps like selling the Berkeley post office, and that’s about all there is to it.

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Blockade of private truck at Portland mail facility

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Ten protesters blocked a private mail truck leaving the Mt. Hood Distribution Center (US Postal Service) today, demanding that postal management stop subcontracting the trucking of “the people’s mail.” Claiming concerns about safety, cost and corruption, the blockaders left after police ordered them to disperse. No arrests were made.  Read more.

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Berkeley gets the bad news: The Postal Service makes a final decision to sell the historic post office

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Mr. Tom Samra, USPS Vice President, Facilities, has rendered his final decision on the Berkeley post office.  The Postal Service will relocate retail services from the building, and it will soon be put up for sale.  You can read his statement here.

In a related development, the Postal Service filed a motion with the Postal Regulatory Commission to dismiss the appeal to stop the relocation of the historic Bronx General Post Office.

Neither the decision on Berkeley nor the motion on the Bronx comes as a surprise.  The Postal Service will not be swayed from his plans to sell historic post offices.  Community opposition doesn’t matter, the pleas of elected officials don’t matter, and legal arguments by attorneys and historic preservations don’t matter either.

Appeals concerning the Berkeley relocation were filed by Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, State Senator Loni Hancock, State Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Post Office Collaborate, Ford & Huff Attorneys at Law, Save the Berkeley Post Office, the Gray Panthers of the East Bay, and approximately fifty postal customers.  The appeals just didn’t matter.

At this point, Mr. Samra’s final decision statements are pretty much boilerplate.  He reviews the concerns raised by the appeals, and dismisses each in turn.  The impact on the community, he says, will be mitigated by locating a new retail office in a convenient location.  Besides, as Mr. Samra reminds us, 40 percent of retail revenue comes from sources other than a post, which presumably means that many people don’t need a post office anyway.

He says that allegations that the Postal Service has failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, and so on, are not relevant because it is premature to consider such legislation.  The Postal Service has only decided to relocate the post office; it will deal with these other matters later.

The bottom line, says Mr. Samra, is that the Postal Service’s financial condition requires it to take steps like selling the Berkeley post office, and that’s about all there is to it.

His final decision ends, as it always does, with a declaration that “this is the final determination of the Postal Service with respect to this matter, and there is no right to further administrative or judicial review of this decision.”

Obviously, simply declaring that his decision cannot be reviewed by the courts does not make it so.  It will be up to the courts to decide whether they want to review his decision.  We shall see.

(Photo credit: Berkeley post office interior; Bronx post office interior)

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Legacy at risk: The OIG audits the Postal Service’s disposal of historic properties

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The USPS Office of Inspector General is preparing an audit report about the sale of historic post office buildings.  The objective of the study is “to review the Postal Service’s process and plans for the disposal and preservation of historic properties.”

The OIG poses two main questions: “Do you think the Postal Service follows proper procedures when disposing of historic buildings?  Also, considering its financial constraints, what should the Postal Service’s role be in maintaining historic assets?”

The OIG invites comments from the public, so here’s a good opportunity to weigh in.  Just go to the OIG website and share your thoughts and experiences, especially if you have had a historic post office close in your area.  [The OIG website no longer has the announcement, but it is archived here.]

 

The problem

The OIG’s audit provides a welcome opportunity to examine how and why the Postal Service is selling post offices.  There aren’t many other ways to question what’s going.

The Postal Service, though it prides itself on listening to its customers, has proved to be deaf to the protests of communities where post offices are being sold.   It seems to view legal requirements that it conduct a public participation process simply as an obstacle to be overcome.  It goes through the motions of the legal procedures without any regard for their true goal — to ensure that the Postal Service partner with communities on the decisions that affect them.

Instead, the Postal Service makes a decision first, then pretends to listen to what people have to say.  Public meetings and comment periods turn into an exercise in bad faith, and when communities and their attorneys complain about the Postal Service’s failure to follow the law, postal officials deny any wrongdoing.

The Postal Regulatory Commission, the agency charged with “regulating” the Postal Service, has taken itself out of the picture.  The Commission has dismissed several appeals on the closures and sales, saying that “relocations” of post offices are out of its jurisdiction, and it won’t go near anything related to enforcing the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).

That leaves communities few options.  They can lobby their elected officials, but the Postal Service doesn’t listen to them either.  Another alternative would be to take the Postal Service to court, but that takes a lot of time, money, and legal expertise.

It’s probably being overly optimistic to think the OIG’s audit will have any effect on stopping the fire sale of historic post offices, but perhaps it will provide an opportunity to examine some of the key issues.  Perhaps the OIG can encourage the Postal Service to be more forthcoming about what it’s up to and to take more responsibility for preserving its historic properties.

 

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