Post office sale is a surrender to corporate interests

Nicole Lim/Staff

The selling off of the U.S. Postal Service properties is the latest example of the movement to corporatize what’s left of the public sector. It comes in a long line of privatization efforts — from shrinking the public school system to expanding the prison system to contracting out the U.S. military. UC students have firsthand experience of what this means. If the trend continues, it won’t be long before UC Berkeley carves a corporate logo on Founders’ Rock.

The proposed sale of the nearly century-old Downtown Berkeley Main Post Office is yet another close-to-home example of the public surrender to corporate America. Berkeley’s is just one of hundreds of post offices now up for sale around the country, albeit exceptional in its design.

Modeled on the early Renaissance Foundling Hospital in Florence, the Main Post Office is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Like many other public buildings around the nation, it is adorned with art commissioned by the New Deal, a decade-long federal program that put millions to work during the Great Depression, including artists, writers, musicians and actors. The taxes of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents paid for those artworks, as well as the building and its land. They belong to all of us.

The sale of the Downtown Berkeley post office else makes no fiscal sense for the U.S. Postal Service, but it does for a real estate broker. Why would any business give up free space in a beautiful Downtown building to rent another commercial space nearby?

Enter the world’s largest real estate firm, CB Richard Ellis, which stands to profit handsomely through its exclusive contract to sell post offices nationwide. CBRE recommends to the Postal Service which buildings it should sell. Perhaps not coincidentally, many those up for sale are in the nation’s most expensive real estate markets.

Like Social Security, the Postal Service does not contribute to the federal deficit, since its budget is independent of the federal budget. In 2006, Congress manufactured the Postal Service’s deficit by requiring it to prefund future retirees’ health benefits for 75 years over a 10-year period. This means postal workers unborn must have their benefits paid for now. No other public or private agency is required to do this. The intent of Congress appears to be to so throttle the Postal Service as to kill it.

Granted, postal volume has decreased due to email and the depressed economy. However, the Postal Service still moves more than 150 billion pieces of mail each year — hardly the image of a dead institution. This is not to deny that the Postal Service must change to compete in the digital age, but millions of Americans still depend on the Postal Service.

Congress and Postal Service management blame the Internet and the budget deficit for dismantling the Postal Service and killing thousands of living-wage jobs. In reality, Americans are being distracted from the theft of what they paid for and own. After all, the Postal Service is one of the few government agencies authorized by a Constitution that nowhere mentions corporations.

Those ideologically opposed to the public sector and who hope to profit from its demise are killing it incrementally — an increase in fees, a reduction in service, the sale of a public building that represents civic life. Advocating the continuation of the service for which the Main Post Office was designed is part of a national struggle to defend our common heritage.

That inheritance is being stolen before our eyes. Learn more by going to, and join the growing national grassroots fight to stop service cutbacks and preserve living-wage postal jobs for our communities.

Harvey Smith is president of the National New Deal Preservation Association and an organizer for the Committee to Save the Berkeley Main Post Office.

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  • SaveOurPostOffices

    Let’s face the facts: Universal mail delivery – whether by paper or digital – is most efficiently handled by the world’s most efficient and least expensive mail delivery system: the US Postal Service. Let commercial vendors compete for special services while USPS continues to do the job it was created to do: Enable all Americans to communicate affordably and universally, enriching the public landscape with the positive benefits and symbols that only a democratic government can provide.

  • guest

    “CBRE recommends to the Postal Service which buildings it should sell” — and CBRE’s chairman, Richard Blum, is our senior Senator’s husband. So our senator’s husband recommended that USPS sell our post office. We’re owed an explanation. Ms Feinstein?

  • 2late

    People just fucking complain after the fact. Nobody has given a rats ass about USPS since free webmail became the craze. Your little personal letters and business correspondences were the backbone of USPS: package shipping can be done by anyone at a competitive price. It is not the governments fault that USPS has sunk, but the fact is that private corporations (including your gmail, hotmail, yahoo, aol, facebook whatever) have found out how to do it better. We have consequently voted for it with our dollars. I would advise for everyone to look in the mirror and say “I have not abandoned the US mail service for Gmail, part of the Google Corporation [or whatever service you use].” Say this and you shall find a liar.

    • Getitright

      I love the post Office. As a business leader, I prefer the Post Office because it is cheaper than FedEx and UPS. Free boxes too. It won’t be long before companies start charging for on-line bill payments. The writing is on the wall. Verizon tried a $2 fee last year but because people could go back to the Post Office for cheaper, Verizon stopped. If the Post Office goes, you can bet we will be paying on-line fees.

    • Getitright

      Royal Mail in Europe is at the beginning stages of privatizing. The fees already have jumped 30%. Privatizing just means FOR PROFIT. The Post Office is not allowed by law to make a profit. Thus, prices stay low. Want higher prices? Privatize it!

    • Luddite

      Get ready 2late. With technological development accelerating by means of the doubling effect and the period of doubling getting shorter. The acceleration of technology is itself accelerating and will soon consume all jobs.
      Therefore, the doublings should start taking place in months, then in weeks, in days, hours, minutes.
      The technological Singularity will occur when the doublings get down to seconds. The development of true Artificial Intelligence may take place before, during, or just after the Singularity is reached.
      With this, 2late, You won’t have a job soon either. I have worked with robots. Robots can now repair robots. No humans needed. I have been on a tour of a shop that was all automated. The machines that generated parts ran on their own. If the part had a problem, the maching would try to fix it itself. If it could not, it called a tech by computer. Robots removed the product, packaged it, got the load ready for shipment too. The only two people there were a quality control person and a shipper. Thats it. Thats technology! It will, sooner than later consume your job. Don’t think your safe. Its going to be a lot more people without jobs! Keep embracing it though, it WILL get you too…

  • Madonna

    I don’t see how selling an outmoded building that sits on an expensive piece of property undermines the mission of the USPS. Selling or leasing glamour properties is something more civic agencies should be doing.
    The tax payers shouldn’t be footing the bill on maintaining what is essentially a warehouse for shipping, sorting and receiving. Those functions can be done anywhere at a lower cost per sq ft.

    • Getitright

      Taxpayers do not pay ANY taxes towards the Post Office!

  • Calipenguin

    The writer is right. We must make sure our postal system remains strong by keeping the downtown post office operational. After all, the pony express riders come all the way from Stockton and need a place to rest before delivering packages to San Jose.

  • Stan De San Diego

    Once again, another local pundit tries to spin the sale of government property into some tale to support his/her left-wing world view. The US government routinely sells of property it deems redundant or unnecessary all of the time. In fact, it should to this more often. It’s the responsible choice to make to ensure that the taxpayers aren’t burdened with assets that aren’t producing value. The author of this post sounds like one of the Occupy children whining about things he clearly does not understand.

  • I_h8_disqus

    I wouldn’t say the enemy is corporate interests. It is not corporations who are making things harder for the USPS or public schools to survive. It is the government who has been behind all the changes. For example, the real estate company is just working for the government. They were told to go out and make as much money for the USPS as they could. That means you sell the buildings where the USPS will be able to make the most money from the sale. Don’t get angry with the realtor when they are just doing what the USPS wanted them to do.

  • ron1441

    usps management is much like other government agencies. when you scratch below the surface you often find corruption, fraud, and waste.
    no postal “fix” addresses replacing the incompetents running the postal service and therefore no ‘fix’ currently proposed will work. the OIG, office of the inspector general, is supposed to police the post office, but i have found them to be as incompetent as postal management.

  • Lesley Morgan

    Good story, but why depict someone in uniform taking cash? Rank and file want the Postal Service to survive and adapt–it is short-sighted management that is working with outside interests to dismantle America’s most trusted intitution.

  • Sad…

    1776 should change his name… it’s too patriotic for someone who’d make that comment.
    The US POSTAL SERVICE, like the Military, was deemed essential for a free Nation by the Founding Fathers. Times have changed but it’s still critical for millions of Americans AND, despite everything thrown at it by Congress and greedy corporations is still a valued, strong public service.
    It was never supposed to compete with the private market, nor make a profit off of those it serves. How far we’ve strayed from the ideals of those who created this great Nation. :(

  • Mike Henderson

    Thank you for this excellent article. The Postal Service was doing fine until Congress required it to pay $5.5 Billion every year to the federal government, the so-called “prefunding mandate”. Somehow Congress did not require the same from Fed-Ex or from UPS or from any other government agency. If the US Postal Service is privatized, then postage rates will get higher and you will no longer be able to send a letter from California to Alaska or Florida for 45 cents.

  • 1776

    If the USPS can’t compete with the private market then it should be eliminated.

    • iheardthisbefore

      As the various uniformed services of the US are not competitive with the “private armed forces” that this nation has chosen to provide “armed security forces” overseas(“contractors”), the uniformed postal service with a SPECIFIC TASK(delivery to everyone, six days a week for a uniform rate) was not meant to “compete in the marketplace”…the FOUNDERS never meant for this kind of hoo-haa idea to exist.
      I marvel at your idea…so odd that “the private market” has chosen the USPS to deliver most of THEIR(UPS,FedEx) deliveries in largely RURAL AREAS….it’s called “parcel direct” among other names and you ship it by UPS or FedEx and the local POSTAL CARRIER delivers it to your home.

      I do hope that YOU get your wish however….handing over the USPS to private enterprise will give most everyone IMMEDIATE STICKER SHOCK with what it will cost you to “post” your “mail” at UPS and FedEx rates….and YOU will experience first hand the result of “unintended consequence”….and I will sit back and laugh saying “well, it’s what YOU wanted, isn’t it?”.

    • charmie57

      Someone else that needs to engage brain before opening mouth. Had to mail a 29 lb. package. USPS was $21.FedEx was $42.UPS was $57!!!!And we deliver their mail now that they don’t want to pick up.And how much prefunding are they required to pay?!?!? Thought so…………

      • Stan De San Diego

        And with UPS or FedEX, you have about about 99% probability that it will get there when advertised. Many of us stopped dealing with the Post Office when we got burned trying to get something urgent sent off somewhere. The first time I used USPS priority next-day air service, it took 11 days to get from Oakland to San Diego. Not a good idea if you need to get a sample to a customer, or need to ship a part into the field to keep a critical piece of equipment running. Time is money, and sometimes it’s better to pay more to not only get it there faster, but KNOW that it’s going to get there. UPS and FedEX understand this, which is why they have a market. Maybe the people at the USPS need to reconsider their business model and overall mission if they wish to remain employed.

    • Matthew Weber

      So much for the free-marketards and libertoonians. Anyone have any real suggestions?

      • Stan De San Diego

        So much for your ability to present an intelligent argument, little boy.

        • Matthew Weber

          Stop stalking me, you sad bastard.

          • Stan De San Diego

            I guess we can figure how who just lost the argument.

    • If you want the USPS to compete with private market contact your congressional representatives. Demand that USPS be allowed to compete! Level the playing field. When fuel costs go up UPS/FEDEX charge fuel surcharges to recoup the loss. They raise the cost of postage. The USPS can not the cost of postage is set by congress. The USPS is the only business public or private required to prefund futue retire health benefits 75 years into the future at a cost of 5.5 billion a year! The USPS retiree health benefits are already fully funded 30 years into the future.