Deadline to comment on postal service audit extended; La Jolla’s post office task force to consult USPS auditors
UPDATE: Due to the government shutdown the USPS’s Office of Inspector General is closed, and the audit of its property sales postponed, until further notice. Check lajollalight.com for updates as to when the audit will resume.
Comment on the audit through Nov. 10 online at bit.ly/postalaudit or through Dec. 31 via mail at Office of Inspector General, U.S. Postal Service, 1735 N. Lynn Street, Arlington, VA 22209-2020
By Pat Sherman
The United States Postal Service’s (USPS’s) independent Office of Inspector General has extended the deadline for the public to comment on the way in which the USPS is handling the sale or disposal of its historic buildings, including La Jolla’s historic post office at 1140 Wall St., which it intends to sell.
Comments may now be submitted online through Nov. 10 at bit.ly/postalaudit or by mail through the end of the year to Office of Inspector General, U.S. Postal Service, 1735 N. Lynn Street, Arlington, VA 22209-2020.
There are nearly 1,000 post office buildings across the country listed on the National Register of Historic Places (which includes La Jolla’s post office). More than 50 of these buildings have either been sold or are on the market.
Sarah Czarnecki with the office of Congressmember Scott Peters (D-52nd) said the Save Our La Jolla Post Office Task Force alerted Peters to the audit.
“We’re in the process of setting up a meeting between the audit team and the task force,” most likely via a conference call, Czarnecki said. “We looked into it and just made sure that they could use the task force’s input, and that it would be beneficial to their investigation.”
Gray Brechin, an author and historical geographer working to save Berkeley’s historic post office from being sold, said he has some faith in the audit, given what he has heard about David Williams, the Inspector General for the USPS. Williams has criticized the USPS’s drastic pre-funding of its retiree health benefits, as well as its real estate contract with CBRE.
“I’ve heard that he is an honest man … one of those people of rare integrity,” said Brechin of Williams, noting that investigative journalist Peter Byrne’s new book exploring the potential conflict of interest in CBRE’s handling of post office sales, “Going Postal,” relies heavily on a report issued by Inspector General Williams that Brechin and Byrne characterized as “pretty damning” (including criticism of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the wife of CBRE President Richard Blum).
“CBRE gets to represent both the buyer and seller, which is extremely unethical,” Brechin said. “They also get to advise the Postal Service on which properties to sell, which can be very lucrative and is probably one of the reasons that California and the Connecticut Gold Coast are the areas most disproportionately being hit — because they have some of the highest property values.”
USPS Office of Inspector General Chief of Staff Agapi Dolaveris told La Jolla Light the results of the audit will now be made public in February.
“We will issue all our findings, what we looked into, our scope and methodology, and what we found,” Agapi said, noting that the objective of the audit — “a review of the process and plans for the disposal and preservation of historic USPS properties” — falls within the scope of reviews her office normally conducts, though it comes, in part, at the request of New York Congressmember José Serrano.
Serrano spokesperson Philip Schmidt said constituents there are unhappy about the pending sale of the historic Bronx post office.
Though the exterior of the Bronx post office has a historic designation, its interior, which includes “historically significant murals” (similar one inside La Jolla’s post office) is not protected with a historic designation, he said.
“The community is upset about the idea of losing service, but they’re also upset about a historic property potentially being turned over to a private developer,” Schmidt said. “The congressman has been in contact with his constituents, postal workers and unions and up and down the chain. … He wants to make sure that they (USPS) dot every single ‘i’ and cross every single ‘t’ in their regulations as they move through this process, if they feel they have to sell these buildings, and I don’t think (Serrano) agrees that they have to.”
Both Serrano and Congessmember Peters are behind legislation aimed at saving their respective post offices. In Peters’ case, the Community Post Office Relocation Act (introduced in March with Congressmember Susan Davis) would allow communities like La Jolla to purchase their post office building from the USPS at fair market value, so that they can keep the postal services in place, and decide who occupies the remainder of the space.
In July, Serrano inserted a provision in an appropriations bill that questions the legality of the USPS selling the Bronx post office, calling for increased scrutiny of the transaction.
However, Serrano’s bill is largely stalled due to wrangling over federal spending and the looming fiscal cliff, Schmidt said. Meanwhile, Peters’ legislation has hit a roadblock with the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Chaired by Congressmember Darrell Issa (R-49th), the committee has legislative jurisdiction over the USPS.
As with news about the planed sale of La Jolla’s post office, Brechin said USPS has slow to provide details about the sale of Berkeley’s post office.
“They’re being very, very cagy,” Brechin said, “because the moment thy announce the sale, they know we will sue them.”
Berkeley activists are working with the National Post Office Collaborate (represented by the law firm of Ford & Huff) in its action against the sale of U.S. post offices. Last week the collaborate filed a temporary restraining order to stop the closure and sale of the 1916 Stamford, Conn. post office, Brechin said.
Meanwhile, the USPS has scheduled the majority of Berkeley post office employees to be transferred to an alternate location, Brechin said.
Berkeley activists are working with the city council in an attempt to rezone their civic center area — where its threatened post office is located — as a historic cultural zone, Berkeley post office preservationist Margo Smith added.
“We want to make the post office building unpopular to developers,” she said, noting that the USPS has thus far been unwilling to negotiate a mutually beneficial use of the building.
“They’re sly in that they call this a relocation,” Smith said. “If it were (considered) a closure it would be a whole different set of rules that would be more restrictive on what they can do and can’t do.”
- La Jolla broker gets listing for Wall Street post office
- City to consider ‘historic’ tag for La Jolla post office
- La Jolla’s post office wins federal ‘historical’ designation
- Post office preservationists continue to gain support
- Events net 100 letters urging Issa to help save post office
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