La Jolla Post Office stands among 4,000 other United States Post Office properties set for sale. Residents of the California coastal village want to save their historic building but are battling powerful political forces. Crony capitalism is close to home in California.
United States Postal Service (USPS) hired the world’s largest commercial real estate firm, CB Richard Ellis Group (CBRE), to sell the properties. Richard Blum is chairman of the board at CBRE. U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) is Richard Blum’s wife.
Most of the citizens served by those four thousand post offices soon to be for sale think Dianne Feinstein’s wifely relationship to CBRE’s Chairman Blum represents a conflict of interest. Such thinking is certain concerning California’s post offices and a strongly held belief among La Jollans about to lose their beloved building to a career politician helping her husband.
The same is happening to the Berkeley Post Office. Despite plummeting stamp sales, decreased demand for postal services, and bill-paying moved from mail to online, Berkeley residents, too, want their historic post office saved from sale. They are buying neither stamps nor the story that their senator acts in anything but a conflict of interest.
On December 4 in protest, Berkeley residents marched on Sen. Feinstein’s San Francisco offices. They confronted the senator’s staffer, Brian Weiss, demanding that the sale of their post office be stopped for conflict of interest with the senator’s husband and his business. “His business and her public life are completely separate,” said Weiss, leaving Berkeley folks wondering exactly how Weiss would know that.
Weiss elaborated in a follow-up email, saying “Senator Feinstein is not involved with and does not discuss any of her husband’s business decisions with him. ” Life must be dull in the Feinstein-Blum household or else Weiss is constantly in on the couple’s conversations.
The La Jolla task force fighting the sale–and fighting the personal interests of their own senator–were advised by Feinstein’s office to file an application with the California State Preservation Office. They were told that their paperwork wasn’t filled out correctly. “What paperwork?” was the question of the moment.
It is uncertain whether the gratuitous advice was a face-saving device for Feinstein, who was caught in conflict, or whether this is bureaucratic business as usual in California. By all appearances, it looks like crony capitalism is at work among high-ranking federal officials and businessmen in bed with U.S. senators.