"Going Postal," Features, 9/18
Cheated Out of Revenue
Thank you and Peter Byrne for this necessary investigative reporting. Also important to note: When CBRE [C.B. Richard Ellis] sells non-taxable government real estate to private sector entities, the resulting new local/state property tax is based on the sale price. When that sale price is deliberately held low, our local and state governments are cheated of significant revenues for years and years.
Jessea Green, Oakland
Up to the Courts
Thank you and Peter Byrne for the cover story on Dianne Feinstein's husband, Richard Blum, and his company, C.B. Richard Ellis. This, of course, is not the first time the senator's husband has been accused of shady business dealings. This story reeks of corruption and fraud, including swindling taxpayers out of millions of dollars, and depriving all citizens of the services of our now-iconic post offices and postal employees of their jobs. Unfortunately, Republicans do not have a monopoly on lying, cheating, and stealing.
The solution is obvious: While it would be nice to think that citizens could complain to Republicans like Darrell Issa in the hope that he would open a House investigation into the matter, the GOP is so totally in bed with Goldman Sachs that that is not going to happen. And Senator Feinstein is too well-connected with Democrats for them to investigate the matter either. That means that it's up to a federal grand jury to look into Byrne's allegations. So the next time one of those fifty-plus members of the throng who showed up in front of the downtown Berkeley post office on July 27 to protest its closure is selected to serve on such a jury, let us hope that he or she will have the gumption to provide the necessary leadership to persuade fellow grand jury members to call witnesses to testify, starting with Byrne.
Joseph Scanlon, Berkeley
Violations of Basic Principles
This is an alarming revelation — an excellent exposure of what appears to be malpractice and malfeasance of the highest degree by CBRE and USPS. For those familiar with real estate practices, the allegations [in the story] state violations of the most basic of principles, which uphold industry propriety. They invite the question, why is this latest information not appearing on the front pages of the largest periodicals in the nation or in a congressional or criminal investigation that is able to bring charges? The theme of government collusion, corruption, and waste has been played so many times now it has become background music in our nation's elevator, which is plunging toward the bottom. The Express is to be commended for bringing this matter to light.
William H. Thompson, Walnut Creek
Steering USPS to Demise
Post office mistakes are pure greed and unchecked corruption. I am sad to learn details of the latest, disgraceful betrayal of the public trust. Peter Byrne's excellent report/book is the tip of the iceberg. The US Postal Service is the Titanic. Richard Blum and his cronies are in over their depth in greed and schemes and have steered the ship of essential public service to the brink of destruction and demise. Who has gained by ripping off $72 million that belongs to the public? What's to be done when leaders and trusted public servants are stealing and scheming at the expense of the country's needs and institutions? It is sad that they sink the services, rich history, and key historic buildings. Then they put hard-working employees into leaking lifeboats and cast them out into the darkness.
What has happened to our country? Is anyone accountable? Please, let's find a way to save the Berkeley main post office. It belongs to all of the citizens, everyone who lives and works here.
We need to get behind "this post office is not for sale!" action; it's time to stop runaway corruption. Stand up, stamp out greed and wrongdoing at all levels, and take back what's right about America. Let's fix what's broken and regain pride in accomplishments and restore public services before it's too late! We worked very hard two years ago to save the post office on Sacramento near Ashby and were not able to do that despite protests, petitions, many meetings, calls, letters, articles, and the great need of the local community for easy access to postal services that had been working well for decades. What is wrong with the system that does not respond to public need?
Stevanne Auerbach, Berkeley
Congress' Crooked Deals
Thanks to Peter Byrne and the Express for exposing the crooked deals resulting from Congress' outrageous 2006 plan to bankrupt and privatize the US postal system. The evident goal of the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act is to drive the USPS into bankruptcy by requiring it to pay $5.5 billion a year for ten years for employee benefits 75 years into the future, and then put the downtown post offices' prime real estate up for sale to corporate investors.
Our post offices not only provide mailing services and decent jobs, but they anchor the centers of small towns across the country. They provide Americans, both individuals and businesses, with convenient, efficient, affordable mailing services. Many of them are enhanced by beautiful design and materials and historic murals. It's time to reverse the terms of the 2006 Act and halt this theft of the US Postal Service's public buildings that our tax dollars built and that belong to the people of the US. To cut staff and services and pass this public property into private hands — cronies and business partners of our senior senator Dianne Feinstein's husband — must not be tolerated.
Charlene Woodcock, Berkeley
"The Case for Private Security Guards," Seven Days, 9/18
Wrong Side of the Class War
This is Randite-Libertarian antisocial nonsense! The next step in the argument is to say that well-to-do neighborhoods should have private fire and ambulance service and to hell with everybody else. Pretending such ideas are "reasonable" is part of the class war and on the wrong side in that war!
Rashid Patch, Oakland
Crime Fighting is Doomed
Why not hire the homeless and students to patrol the streets? That's cheaper yet. Or consider giving the criminals the money before they get to your neighborhood, or how about paying criminals a monthly stipend to stay away from your home? I'm just saying that cheaper is cheaper.
An instructive lesson from history is Australia. You know, that land of billabongs, the outback. Settled by British convicts, including murderers, rapists, and thieves, it has a lower murder rate than that of New Zealand and, of course, one that's much lower than the US. Its crime statistics are moderate. It was the social conditions that made the difference. Now here in the US where the unemployment rate is 20 percent or more for the whole country and closer to 50 percent or more for many minority communities, is it any wonder the crime rate is so high in a culture that despises the poor and marginalizes them? So as we pour endless dollars into crime fighting remember it is like pouring endless dollars into a military machine that's designed to police the world, but one that is doomed to failure. This is not to say things can't be made better but keep in mind that better may only be putting our fingers into a dike with leaking holes. Why not try an experiment to take the money and start an intensive jobs program instead of wasting it on military hardware that's unnecessary and often obsolete before the first units are shipped?
Stephen Redmond, Berkeley
We Need Community Policing
Sure, this strategy may make sense for neighborhoods with low levels of violent crime. However, I am disturbed by the fact that the trend is moving downhill. Recently, neighbors in Maxwell Park made the decision to hire private security and now there is a group in my neighborhood, the Melrose, considering doing the same. Guns and gun violence are commonplace here; in fact, we hear gunshots on virtually a daily basis. I lost count long ago of how many homicides have occurred since I started living here in 2005. Judy Salomon was murdered a block away from my house, my husband was in the backyard at the time and heard the shots. What chance does an unarmed security guard have against the kind of people that would take out a 66-year-old woman in the middle of the day for no apparent reason? For neighborhoods like mine this strategy just does not make sense. We need the community policing [Jean] Quan has been promising all these many years, with beat cops on the streets, cops we can talk to, who know everyone in the neighborhood. We need regular patrol car drive-throughs, not just high-speed chases down our streets in the middle of the night. And we all need to stand up for ourselves and do whatever we can to better our communities, to show those that have no respect for life and community that we care and that we are not afraid, and that there is no place for disrespect and violence in our neighborhoods.
Martha Lowe, Oakland
As Robert Gammon points out, we don't need highly trained officers to run patrols in low-density, relatively low crime areas. There are several reasons Oakland Police Department officers (and firefighters) are among the most costly in the US. One of them is the unnecessary professionalization of the job, largely an effect of hiring standards set at the state level, which require applicants to be a cross between paralegal, family therapist, and a tetrathalonist who can run, jump, swim, wrestle, and shoot.
If we changed to a force consisting of a high proportion of lower-paid "flat feet" beat cops with good judgment and physical traits, who called in specialists for the other situations, we'd both have money to hire more cops and be able to get good candidates from underrepresented ethnic and economic groups. Effectively, that's what using private security services does but without the critically important training, background checks, and oversight that a functioning OPD could provide.
The Oakland Police Officers' Association and other police associations in the state would fight such a change, much the way firefighters would fight separating EMT certification from their job descriptions.
Leonard Raphael, Oakland
Our September 25 Eco Watch, "The End of Pastured Food," should have made clear that the FDA's proposed regulations impacting pastured-egg farming stem from rule-making that is separate from the Food Safety Modernization Act.