By Pat Sherman
As people throughout the country continue efforts to prevent the postal services’ planned sale of some 600 post offices, some Berkeley residents who have reached out to U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to help save their historic post office are questioning the senator’s willingness to assist, given her husband’s role in the sales.
In July 2012, the United States Postal Service (USPS) awarded CB Richard Ellis Group (CBRE) the exclusive contract to broker the sale of its properties and manage lease negotiations for postal operations that will relocate to smaller facilities.
Feinstein’s husband, financer and UC Regent Richard Blum, serves as chairman of the board of CBRE, the world’s largest commercial real estate services firm.
Members of the group Citizens to Save the Berkeley Post Office question whether Feinstein stands to benefit from the sale of the properties — including La Jolla’s post office building at 1140 Wall St. — via her husband’s role with CBRE.
Despite USPS’s announcement one year ago that it planned to put the Wall Street building up for sale within a six-month period, it has not yet been listed for sale with some 70 other postal facilities on the CBRE website.
USPS has historically contracted with multiple real estate companies for sales and leasing, though in a July 20 release it said the exclusive contract with CBRE “enables USPS to consolidate these activities with one service provider.”
Members of the Berkeley group point to previous potential conflicts of interest involving Feinstein and her husband. The most relevant occurred in 2009, when Feinstein introduced legislation to provide $25 billion in taxpayer money to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC), a government agency that had just given CBRE what the Washington Times referred to as “a lucrative contract to sell foreclosed properties at compensation rates higher than the industry norms.”
In April 2009,
reporter Chuck Neubauer wrote: “Mrs. Feinstein’s intervention on behalf of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. was unusual: the California Democrat isn’t a member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs with jurisdiction over FDIC; and the agency is supposed to operate from money it raises from bank-paid insurance payments — not direct federal dollars.”
On Dec. 4, Citizens to Save the Berkeley Post Office led a march from Blum’s offices in San Francisco to that of Senator Feinstein, where they engaged briefly with a staff member about the proposed sale of the 1915 Berkeley post office.
“Our committee felt that we needed to talk to Feinstein because ... we want her to do something to save the post office — and to do something would be contrary to what her husband was doing,” said retired letter carrier and Berkeley post office preservationist David Welsh. “If there’s a conflict of interest, what’s wrong with Dianne Feinstein saying, ‘We have to stop the sale of the Berkeley Post Office’? She’s not joined at the hip with her husband.”
Feinstein representative Brian Weiss told the
La Jolla Light
the senator has “no aware- ness” of her husband’s business dealings.
“His business and her public life are completely separate,” he said.
In a follow-up e-mail, Weiss said that “If there is an agreement” between CBRE and the USPS, “Senator Feinstein would not have been involved in any way. Senator Feinstein is not involved with and does not discuss any of her husband’s business decisions with him. Her husband’s holdings are his separate personal property,” Weiss wrote.
Weiss noted an amendment to the 21st Century Postal Act of 2012, which Feinstein authored last year. The amendment would have placed a moratorium on the closure of postal facilities until Nov. 13, 2012 in states that conduct elections by mail, such as California. That bill passed the Senate in April, before dying in the House.
Weiss said “Feinstein’s San Diego office has a positive working relationship” with members of La Jolla’s post office task force, noting that they met once in June of last year.
“Without a request from the task force, Senator Feinstein’s staff contacted the California State Preservation Office to check on the task force’s application to receive historic status,” Weiss said. “The State Preservation Office informed our office that the group had not filled out their paperwork correctly, at which point the Feinstein office called the task force to advise them of the error and worked with the group to resubmit their application.
“Our San Diego office has had numerous conversations with the USPS to confirm that La Jolla will retain a Post Office within the Village no matter the outcome,” Weiss said. “We have been told that if a suitable replacement cannot be found in the Village, it will remain at its current location.”