Sunday, March 17, 2013

Save the Post Office campaign

Federal and State agencies are discarding Postal Service properties which should otherwise belong to the people, and the community loses properties which otherwise enhance and prosper the culture and social fabric.
This is accompanied by the jobs which are lost, just like the pattern has been since the 1980s under Reagan's cruel war against unionized employment and domestic industry, which has seen the rise of our current condition of permanent war in the "ghettos".

2013-03-06 "Why the GOP Is Killing the Post Office; The conventional wisdom is that the US Postal Service is closing post offices and ending Saturday service because it's broke... Don't believe it"
by Jim Hightower []:
Editors' Note: With the announcement last month that the US Postal Service will stop Saturday service this August coupled with the agency's plans to close the historic downtown Berkeley post office and 3,700 other branches around the nation, we thought this piece by acclaimed journalist and commentator Jim Hightower published last year in Hightower Lowdown was particularly timely.
Consider fifty cents. What does that buy these days? Not a cuppa joe — that'll cost you two bucks. Nor will it get you a pack of gum or pay for bus fare. And Walmart, which promotes itself as the palace of cheap, sells practically nothing for a half-buck. There's one place, though, where you can get a steal of a deal for a fifty-cent piece: your local post office. Put down two quarters or five dimes there, and you'll get a first-class stamp in return ... and you'll even get change. Slap that 46-cent stamp on a letter, drop it in the mailbox, and our nation's postal workers will move your missive across town or clear across country — hand-delivering it to any address in America within three days (42 percent arrive the very next day, and 27 percent more get where we want them to go within two days).
Each day, six days a week, letter carriers traverse four million miles toting an average of 563 million pieces of mail, reaching the very doorsteps of our individual homes and workplaces in every single community in America. They ride snowmobiles to reach iced-in villages, fly bush planes into outback wilderness areas that have no roads, run Mail Boats out to remote islands in places like Maine and Washington state, and even use mules on an eight-mile trail to bring mail to the five hundred members of the Havasupai tribe of Native Americans living on the floor of the Grand Canyon.
From the gated enclaves and penthouses of the über-wealthy to inner cities and rural colonias of America's poorest families, the US Postal Service literally delivers. All that for 46 cents. And if you've written the wrong address or your recipient can't be found, you'll get your letter or package back for no charge. The USPS is an unmatched bargain, a civic treasure, a genuine public good that links all people and communities into one nation.
So, naturally, it must be destroyed.
For the past year, the laissez-fairyland blogosphere, assorted corporate front groups, a howling pack of Congressional right-wingers, and a bunch of lazy mass media sources have been pounding out a steadily rising drumbeat to warn that our postal service faces impending doom: It's "broke," they exclaim, the situation "is dire," USPS "nears collapse," it's "a full-blown financial crisis!" Soon, they insist, the whole shebang will implode: The PBS Newshour alarmed viewers last year about "a complete shutdown this winter."
According to this gaggle of gloomsayers, the national mail agency is bogged down with too many overpaid workers and costly brick-and-mortar facilities, so it can't keep up with the instant messaging of Internet services and such nimble corporate competitors as FedEx. Thus, say these contrivers of their own conventional wisdom, the Postal Service is unprofitable, is costing taxpayers billions of dollars a year in losses, and is plummeting irreversibly into bankruptcy. Wrong, wrong, and wrong. I realize that the Powers That Be never allow truth to get in the way of their policy intentions, but — come on — three strikes and you're out! Let's examine:
Unprofitable? So what? When has the Pentagon ever made a profit? Never. Nor does anyone suggest it should. Neither has the FBI, Centers for Disease Control, FDA, State Department, FEMA, Park Service, etc. Producing a profit is not the purpose of government — its purpose is service. And for two centuries — from 1775, when the Continental Congress chose Benjamin Franklin to be our fledgling nation's first Postmaster General — until 1971, when Richard Nixon's Postal Reorganization Act took effect — America's nationwide network of post offices was fully appreciated as a government service.
In fact, the Post Office Department was considered such an important function of public affairs that it was explicitly authorized by the founding document of our nation's government (Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution). The founders would've laughed their wigs off had anyone proposed that the existence of such an essential civic agency be dependent on its profitability. Be efficient and fiscally responsible, yes, but the bottom line for the Post Office was delivering a public service for the good of all the people.
But Nixon happened. His presidency gave laissez-faire ideologues a long-sought opening to insert blasting caps into the structural framework of government. Their first big success was the 1971 "reform" that shattered the public service model by imposing a bottom-line profit mentality on the agency and installing a corporate form of governance over it. "Run it like a business" was the political demand of the right-wing think tankers, Nixonians, and congressional fixers.
So, overnight, the cabinet-level Post Office Department that was overseen by Congress and funded by taxpayers was transformed into today's Postal Service, overseen by a board of governors and funded by postage sales. Technically, USPS is an independent agency of the executive branch, but operational authority is in the hands of the eleven-member board (whose acronym, aptly enough, is "BOG" — as in a morass that prevents progress).
Will it surprise you to learn that the BOG tends to be quite corporate? From 2005 until 2011, for example, one of its most influential members was James Miller III, who was Ronald Reagan's budget director and a longtime proponent of totally privatizing mail service. He's a product of such right-wing Koch-funded outfits as the American Enterprise Institute and Citizens for a Sound Economy (now called Americans for Prosperity) that are ardent pushers of postal privatization.
Also, prior to the 1971 transformation, the postmaster general had status as a cabinet official appointed by the president and confirmed by the senate. Now, though, the top postal executive is hired (and fired) by the board. This helps explain why incumbent Patrick Donahoe — who started as a postal clerk and rose through the ranks to the PGship — has been a willing member of the sledgehammer crew that's out to "save the service" by demolishing it.
The anti-government ideologues have had to concede that profit's not the point, but still they groan that the USPS is losing billions of dollars a year. Why should hard-pressed taxpayers be expected to keep shoveling money from the public treasury into this loser of a government agency?
They're not. Important factoid Number One: Since 1971, the postal service has not taken a dime from taxpayers. All of its operations — including the remarkable convenience of 32,000 local post offices (more service outlets than Walmart, Starbucks, and McDonald's combined) — are paid for by peddling stamps and other products.
But wait, what about those annual losses? Good grief, squawk the Chicken Littles, USPS was $13 billion in the hole from 2007 to 2011 — a private corporation would go broke with that record! (Actual private corporations tend to go to Washington rather than go broke, getting taxpayer bailouts to cover their losses.)
Important Factoid Number Two: The Postal Service is not broke. Indeed, in those four years of loudly deplored "losses," the Service actually produced a $700 million operational profit (despite the worst economy since the Great Depression).
What's going on here? Right-wing sabotage of USPS financing, that's what. In 2006, when George W. Bush was in the White House and Republicans controlled both houses of Congress, the post office was whacked with the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act — an incredible piece of ugliness requiring the agency to pre-pay the health care benefits not only of current employees, but also of all employees who'll retire during the next 75 years. Yes, that includes employees who're not yet born!
No other agency or corporation has to do this. Worse, this ridiculous law demands that USPS fully fund this seven-decade burden by 2016. Imagine the shrieks of outrage if Congress tried to slap FedEx or other private firms with such an onerous requirement. This politically motivated mandate is costing the Postal Service $5.5 billion a year — money taken right out of postage revenue that could be going to services. That's the real source of the "financial crisis" squeezing America's post offices.
But it's not the only hocus pocus that has falsely fabricated the public perception that our mail agency is "broke." Due to a forty-year-old accounting error, the federal Office of Personnel Management has overcharged the post office by as much as $80 billion for payments into the Civil Service Retirement System. This means that, far from being a drain on the public treasury, USPS has had billions of its sales dollars erroneously diverted into the treasury. Restore the agency's access to its own postage money, and the impending "collapse" goes away.
That's all well and good, claim postal agency opponents, but there's no disputing the fact that government-delivered mail is a quaint idea whose time has gone. They point out that USPS's first-class business has fallen by about 7.5 percent in each of the past couple of years, and even Postmaster Donahoe has said flatly, "That's not going to change." This funereal school of despair breaks into two groups: "Kill it" and "Shrink it."
The killers are the outright privatizers who've pushed for decades to get the post office out of ... well, out of our mailboxes. In the 1960s, AT&T chairman Fred Kappel headed a presidential commission on postal reform, and he told a Congressional panel, "If I could, I'd make the Post Office a private enterprise." He couldn't, but he did set down the marker that remains the Holy Grail of the corporate elite. Unsurprisingly, FedEx CEO Fredrick Smith (a former board member of the Koch Brothers' Cato Institute) has been the leading corporate champion for, as he put it in 1999, "closing down the USPS."
The greater danger at the moment, however, are the shrinkers. They propose to fix the proud public service by cutting it down to size (they mean "fix" in the same way veterinarians use the term). Postmaster Donahoe is presently the shrinker-in-chief, having put forth a plan that will close 3,700 of our post offices, including the historic branch in downtown Berkeley; shut down about half of the 487 mail processing centers across the country; cut more than 100,000 postal jobs (or, as Donahoe prefers to phrase it, "reduce head count"); and, as announced last month, restrict mail delivery to five days a week by eliminating all Saturday postal services. Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine is among the people of common sense who recognize that the post office "cannot expect to gain more business, which it desperately needs, if it is reducing service." Likewise, Fredric Rolando, head of the National Association of Letter Carriers, sees that compromising high-quality service is a boneheaded business move, telling The New York Times that "degrading standards not only hurts the public and the businesses we serve; it's also counterproductive for the Postal Service because it will drive more people away from using the mail." Such drastic cutbacks, consolidations, and eliminations create a suicidal spiral that will slowly but surely kill USPS.
The attack of the shrinkers and killers is another sad (and shameful) product of our nation's current crop of no-can-do "leaders." They've given up on America's Big Idea of creating a democratic society united by pursuit of the common good and energized by the spirit of "together we can." Instead, corporate elites are out to shove America's greatness into a shriveled ethic that says, "I got mine, you get yours."
While it's certainly true that emails and tweets are faster than mail, there remains a vast demand for postal services, especially where broadband Internet does not reach (50 percent of rural residents, 35 percent of all Americans), as well as when hard copy and physical delivery are essential. FedEx has its place, but its self-serving priority is always to go after maximum profit — it has no interest in or ability to deliver universal service at an affordable price to the whole nation.
Postal privatizers and downsizers have reams of data on the price of everything USPS does — yet they are completely unable to calculate value. They don't give a whit either that their model of "service" would leave out entire groups of people, communities, and businesses, or that they'd be taking away much more than mail from millions of fellow citizens. Despite the right-wing denigration heaped on this public service, ordinary folks still feel personally attached to their post office and mail carriers. Sure, there are complaints and some horror stories, but there are many more (though less reported) stories of extraordinary service and simple human kindness by postal workers, which is why the agency has been named the most trusted in government for six straight years.
The post office is more than a bunch of buildings — it's a community center and, for many towns, an essential part of the local identity, as well as a tangible link to the rest of the nation. As former Senator Jennings Randolph poignantly observed, "When the local post office is closed, the flag comes down." The corporatizer crowd doesn't grasp that going after this particular government program is messing with the human connection and genuine affection that it engenders.
But then, all you need to know about that crowd's sensitivity to our people's deeper values is that the list of 3,700 postal facilities suggested for closure includes the historic Franklin Post Office in Philadelphia. It is located on the very site of Old Ben's house in Franklin Square, right next door to the US Postal Service Museum. And, get this, in an especially tender touch, the Franklin office received notice that it was going on the chopping block on July 26, 2011 — exactly 236 years to the day in 1775 when the Continental Congress enacted Franklin's proposal to establish a national post office for our fledgling democracy.
The biggest lie of all is that the USPS is an antiquated, unnecessary, failing civic institution that simply must give way to electronic technology and corporate efficiency. This is nothing but ideological hogwash spewed by private profiteers and political quislings.
Obviously, the Postal Service is no longer the only player making the rounds, and it must make some major adjustments to find its proper fit and new opportunities in the marketing and public service mix. But this requires top management and political overseers to be a bit more creative and business-like than constantly cutting, closing, outsourcing, eliminating — and giving in to the bashers and slashers.
This is the time to innovate and offer new services and products — don't shrink, expand! Start with three phenomenal assets that USPS has: (1) that network of 32,000 retail outlets (many of them historic and even works of art) that form the most extensive local presence of any business or government in America, drawing more than seven million people into them each day; (2) an experienced, smart, skilled, and dedicated workforce of nearly 600,000 middle-class Americans who live in the communities they serve and are brimming with ideas and energy to move the Postal Service forward — if only those at the top would listen and turn them loose; and (3) the general goodwill of the public, which sees the local post office and its employees as "theirs," providing useful services and standing as one of their core civic institutions (in a 2009 Gallup Poll, 95 percent of Americans said it was personally important to them that the Postal Service be continued).
Let's build on those big pluses. This is one government program that really works for the people, but it can work better and do more. Here are just a few ideas:
Go digital. John Nichols reported in The Nation that USPS already has the world's third-largest computer infrastructure, including 5,000 remote locations with satellite Internet service. Expand that into a handy consumer service offering high-speed broadband all across the country. Rather than bemoan the loss of postal business to the Internet, become an Internet hot spot in town after town for universal email, digital scanning, and forwarding of documents, etc.
Expand the store. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders wants to let post offices sell products and services that they're now barred from offering (thanks to corporate opposition and Congressional meddling). Sanders suggests allowing sales of cellphones, delivery of wine, selling fishing licenses, notarizing documents, etc. This would be a boon to the people in poor neighborhoods and rural areas who don't have convenient access to such services.
Seven days. Instead of reducing service, be the only entity that offers reliable delivery service to every community in the country, seven days a week.
Bank here. From 1910 until bank lobbyists killed it in 1966, a Postal Banking System operated successfully through local post offices all across the land. It offered simple, low-cost, federally insured savings accounts to millions of "unbanked" Americans who couldn't meet the minimum deposit requirements of commercial bankers or afford their fees. Today, banks are even less interested in servicing the steadily rising number of poor people, leaving them to the un-tender mercies of payday lenders and check-cashing chains. So let's bring this small-deposit banking system back into our easily accessible and familiar neighborhood post offices to serve these people and create loan funds for investments in local communities.
America's postal service is just that — a true public service, a grassroots people's asset that has even more potential than we're presently tapping to serve the democratic ideal of the common good. Why the hell would we let an elite of small-minded profiteers, ranting ideologues, and their political hirelings drop-kick this jewel through the goal posts of corporate greed? This is not a fight merely to save 32,000 post offices and the middle-class jobs they provide — but to advance the big idea of America itself, the bold, historic notion that "Yes, we can" create a society in which we're all in it together.
That's worth fighting for, which means that you and I must add our voices and grassroots activism to those who're daring to confront the cants and greed of the privatizer elite. It means standing up to them, but, most importantly, standing up for ourselves, our values, our country.

Without regard to social costs, private citizens such as University of California Regent Richard Blum, and Senator Diane Feinstein use their influence to legally steal properties through privatization, despite all social costs.
2013-02-24 "Senator Diane Feinstein and her Husband Richard Blum profits from the liquidation of Public Post Offices"
Sign the petition at: []Sadly, YES, you read the headline right!  
Our historic Post Office system is being dismantled before our eyes.
Senator Diane Feinstein's husband, Richard C. Blum, is the central real estate figure in the acquisition and disposition of local historic post offices. The sickening liquidation of many Post Offices is well under way with many, in California alone,  already gone.   About forty in CA have been already sold or put up for sale
See the glum details of the Blum operation: []
It seems so sad and short sighted to me.  And, this Feinstein / Blum enterprise that feasts on these local treasures makes me sick at heart!
Please write your Congressman and/or US Senators and tell them to repeal the ridiculous 2006 law that requires the Post Office to bank 75 years of retirement funds for employees that have not even been born yet!
It's a manufactured crisis for the Post Office. The P.O. has been solvent all through the recession except for the absurd retirement Pre-funding requirements.  NO other business is required to pre-fund retirement at this level!   WHY is this happening?  Because there is a quiet campaign by those who are mesmerized with the idea of shrinking government and, want to privatize the remains of the Post Office.
 Let's not forget Blum's role at Regent of the UC system, where he presides over raising fees thereby driving students into his privately owned diploma mills. Here's my press release calling for Blum's resignation:

State Assembly Candidate and University of California graduate Eugene Ruyle called for the resignation of UC Regent Richard C. Blum. Candidate Ruyle timed his call to coincide with the Blum Center for Developing Economies Open House on Friday and Saturday, October 5 & 6, part of Cal’s Homecoming.
Noting that Regent Blum is a “symptom, not a cause” of the misplaced values of the University, Ruyle stated that: “By resigning, Blum would not only own up to his own misdeeds, he could begin a process of rethinking the entire structure of the University as the first step in rethinking the way our society itself is structured.” A strong supporter of mass organization and direct action, Ruyle said he looked to Occupy Cal as one of the forces for positive change in the future of the University.
Eugene Ruyle is one of the two candidates for State Assembly in the 15th Assembly District that surrounds the Berkeley campus of the University of California. The 15th State Assembly District runs from West Contra Costa County to Northern Alameda County and includes Hercules, Pinole, San Pablo, Richmond, El Cerrito, Kensington, Albany, Berkeley, Piedmont, and Emeryville, and North Oakland. Much of the district was formerly in Assembly District 14, and the area remains a Democratic Party stronghold. Skinner ran unopposed in 2008 and received over 90% of the vote in the Alameda County portion of District 14 in 2010 against Republican Ryan Hatcher. No Republicans even bothered to run in the June 2012 Primary. This permitted Peace and Freedom Party activist Eugene Ruyle to run as a write in candidate and obtain enough votes to be placed on the November ballot under the new “Top Two” rules created with the passage of Proposition 14 in 2010.
Running with the slogan, “End the Wars, Tax the Rich, Power to the People,” Ruyle supports the working class, socialist, and feminist Platform of the Peace and Freedom Party. A 1963 graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, Eugene Ruyle is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at California State University, Long Beach. While at Long Beach, Ruyle was a union activist with the California Faculty Association and a member of the Academic Senate. He also worked closely with the local Gabrielino/Tongva Indians in their struggle to save Puvungna, a sacred creation center on the CSULB campus. Administration plans to lease the land for commercial development were ultimately blocked by an ACLU lawsuit on behalf of the Native American community.
As a lifelong educator, Ruyle wants to help build the movement to democratize and de-militarize the University of California in the heart of the 15th Assembly District. Ruyle is a strong support of Occupy Cal as well as Occupy Oakland and progressive social movements everywhere.
Ruyle cited a January 2012 article in Z Magazine by Oakland historian Larry Shoup, and noted that Blum is known as the “alpha dog” of the Regents. A multi-billionaire financier with interests in weapons manufacture, real estate speculation, and private education, Blum is married to U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein who uses her political power to further the couple’s wealth. According to the L.A. Times, Feinstein, as chairperson of the Senate’s Military Construction appropriations subcommittee, supervised and supported the appropriation of over $1.5 billion for two military contractors controlled by Blum: URS Corporation and Perini Corporation.
As major investors in two private educational corporations, the Career Educational Corporation and ITT Educational Services, Blum and Feinstein are also using their power to undermine public education and weaken teacher unions. While Blum presides over tuition raises that force students out of public universities and into his private diploma mills, Feinstein supports school vouchers that use public money to pay for tuition at private or parochial schools.
Candidate Ruyle cited the University’s role in nuclear weapons research as a further example of the misplaced values guiding the University of California: “Every nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal, from the Atomic Bombs dropped on the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki until today, was designed at one of three labs run by the University of California: Los Alamos, Livermore, and the Radiation Lab at Berkeley.”
As an anthropologist, Ruyle also expressed concern about the way in which the University is flouting the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). Passed by Congress in 1990, NAGPRA requires all institutions to make their collections of Native American human remains and funeral objects available to the Native American community for reburial. Citing reports that the remains of some 12,000 individuals are still stored in the basement of the Woman’s Gym on the Berkeley campus, Ruyle stated that “NAGPRA represents an effort to address an historical injustice. Some institutions are making good faith efforts to comply with this law, Berkeley is not.”
For more on this, see my comrade Larry Shoup’s article in Z Magazine, Jan 2012.
Peace, Power to the People,
[signed] Gene

2012-07-03 "Eureka! The Postal Service finds gold in California"
The Postal Service has been actively selling off historic post office buildings for over a year now.  About forty have been sold or put up for sale.  They’re scattered around the country, but for some reason more than a third of them are in California.
Last week news came out that one of the most beautiful post offices in the country would be sold, the 1915 post office in Berkeley.  The protest is already beginning (SF Gate [] and Daily Californian []).
The Berkeley post office was built during a period when many believed architectural beautification could bring harmony to urban living, explains Gray Brechin, UC-Berkeley geography professor and founder of the Living New Deal [].  “The federal government went to special lengths to give Berkeley one of the handsomest postal facilities in the state and possibly the nation,” says Brechin. “It represents the high idealism of the City Beautiful Movement.”
Apparently the country is done with that kind of idealism, and rather than building beautiful public places, the federal government is selling them off.  What’s going on in California is one of the main reasons the National Trust named the Historic Post Office to its list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Places of 2012.
Historic post offices are highly prized by their communities.  They anchor the downtown area, help local businesses, enable people to walk to the post office, and elicit pride of place.  People may complain about the long lines, but they love their grand old post office.  
If something doesn’t stop the sell-off, it looks as though the Postal Service is prepared to dispose of all 2,200 of the country’s historic post offices.  Postal officials seem to think that this legacy belongs to them, to do with as they please.  They forget that these post offices are the property of the American people.  They seem unaware of the magnitude of the crime they're committing.
The Postal Service says it needs the money these sales bring in, and the old buildings cost too much to maintain, especially when a lot of space is underutilized.  But the sales bring in a relatively small amount of money in the context of the USPS budget, the maintenance costs are less than the rent the Postal Service pays on the replacement post office, and the underused space is the Postal Service's own fault.  Rather than making the most of the downtown location, the Postal Service moves letter carriers to other locations (which also cost money to lease or maintain), so that the mail processing that used to go on in the back now goes on somewhere else, leaving just the retail services in the building.
The explanations offered by the Postal Service disguise what's really going on.  The Postal Service is selling off its properties because divestiture of assets, along with outsourcing, is one of the main steps in the process of privatization.  The plans have been in the works for a long time.  Back in 1998, President Reagan's Commission on Privatization recommended selling off "obsolete buildings in central business districts" — historic downtown post offices — to help move the Postal Service toward privatization.  You can read all about it in the Commission's report, "Privatization: Toward More Effective Government" (pp. 122-125) [].

 Why California?
California has fourteen historic post offices that have been sold, put on the market, or planned for sale — the most of any state in the country.  Connecticut is number two, with five (most of them in the “Gold Coast” area around Westport).  Several other states have one or two.
One might assume that so many historic post offices are being sold in California because the state has an unusual number of them, but that explanation doesn't hold up.  California ranks fifth in terms of how many historic posts offices it possesses, 106.  New York is number one (with 238); Pennsylvania, second (182); then come Illinois (170) and Ohio (126).    Yet these states have only one or two historic post offices for sale.
Of California's approximately 1,800 post offices, the Postal Service owns around 600.   Using fifty years old as a rule of thumb for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, over a hundred California post offices are eligible and 24 are currently on the Register.  (A list of California’s historic post offices is here [], a map here [], and a spreadsheet showing how post offices and historic buildings break down state-by-state, here. [])
Percentage-wise, California is not at all unusual in the number of historic post offices it possesses.  About 6 percent of the state’s post offices are historic, which ranks California 29th.   By contrast, in the New England states, about 13 percent of the post offices are historic. 
There must be another reason why the state is seeing so many sales compared to other states. One possible explanation is that postal management in the Pacific District is simply being more aggressive about selling post offices than other districts, perhaps to please postal headquarters back east.  It’s also possible that the California post offices are among the country’s most valuable, and the Postal Service wants to work on the big-ticket items first.  That would also explain why it sold off the post offices in Connecticut’s Gold Coast and Palm Beach, Florida.  Or maybe the Postal Service is just starting the divestiture process on the West Coast, intending to work its way east, so it’s only a matter of time before other states suffer their share of the damage.

 The California Connection
Whatever the explanation, there’s another interesting angle to the California story.  Last year, the Postal Service signed a contract with the CBRE Group (aka CB Richard Ellis), the world’s largest commercial real estate company, to handle sales and leases.  The partnership has not pleased postal lessors [], and the USPS OIG has been looking into the problems, though its report seems stalled.
The Postal Service and CBRE soon set up a website advertising many of the USPS properties for sale [].  But overall, the company seems to be taking a low profile.  Some properties have been put up for sale without appearing on the website, and CBRE rarely gets mentioned in news articles about pending or completed sales.
 The California connection is that CBRE is headquartered in Los Angeles, and the Chairman of the Board is Richard C. Blum — a native of San Francisco, a graduate of UC-Berkeley, and a Regent of the University of California.  He also happens to be the husband of California Senator Dianne Feinstein.
Mr. Blum has been on the board of CBRE since 1993, and he's been Chair since 2011.  In 2001, Mr. Blum's company, Blum Capital Partners, an equity investment management firm, did a leveraged buyout of CBRE for $800 million [].  In other words, Mr. Blum basically owns and runs CBRE.
The Blum-Feinstein relationship has received scrutiny because of Mr. Blum’s government contracts as well as his dealings with China, which raise conflict-of-interest issues with his wife’s official duties.  For example, in 2009 the senator introduced legislation to provide $25 billion in taxpayer money to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp, a government agency that had recently awarded CBRE a contract to sell foreclosed properties.  Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) urged the Inspector General of the FDIC to investigate the CBRE contract [], but apparently that didn’t happen.  (More on the web of connections, here [] and here [], and more allegations, here [].)
Mr. Blum's CBRE isn't a stranger to helping the government sell off assets.  In October 2009, CBRE won a contract with the California Department of General Services to broker over $2 billion in office buildings the state wanted to privatize because of its financial problems []. 
No one has had much to say about the USPS-CBRE-Blum-Feinstein connection.  The media have ignored it, and no watchdogs have seized upon it.  There may be nothing to it.  If there is anything amiss, don’t worry about rectifying matters in this lifetime.  Mr. Blum is a self-professed Buddhist, so you can leave it to karma and reincarnation to take care of things.

 The same story, over and over again -
When the Postal Service sells one of its historic post offices, the storyline is always the same.  The process begins with the Postal Service shifting letters carriers from the post office to an annex outside the downtown area.  That leaves the retail end of the operations alone in the building, occupying a small part of the total square footage.  A few months later, maybe a year or two, the Postal Service says that it can’t afford to maintain all the wasted space, so it would be better to move the retail activity to another location. 
In some cases, the Postal Service waits to move the carriers until the building is under contract, but either way, the carriers and the processing work they do are always bifurcated from the retail end of things.  The carriers go to one location, the retail clerks to another.  (Decoupling mail processing and retail is another part of the privatization process.)
When it first informs postal workers and customers of its intention to sell the building, a USPS spokesperson inevitably tells the media that the Postal Service is only "considering" the building for sale, and a decision is months away.  A few weeks later, there’s a community meeting, and the USPS spokesperson says the same thing: “No decisions have been made.  We’re just looking into it.”  That’s just a way to placate people and to make it seem as if they have plenty of time to persuade the Postal Service to change its mind.
The USPS spokesperson will also offer the boilerplate explanation for why the post office needs to be sold: The Postal Service is losing billions of dollars a year, and it has to look everywhere it can to cut costs.  The downtown post office is much bigger than they need (the carriers have been moved away), so a small retail space would be more economical.
The news item about the pending sale will repeat this explanation as gospel, and the reporter will never look at the USPS financial reports, which show quite clearly that were it not for the Congressional mandate to prefund the retiree health fund at $5.6 billion a year (a totally unnecessary expenditure that's designed to help the federal budget more than postal workers), the Postal Service would be practically breaking even.

 When a closing is not a closing -
Once the decision to move forward with the sale has been made, the Postal Service starts looking for a new location for retail services.  Because the retail is just moving and not closing down completely, the Postal Service considers the closing of the post office as merely a “relocation,” not an actual “discontinuance.”
For a community watching its historic post office being closed and sold, the distinction is meaningless, but for the Postal Service, there’s a big difference.  A discontinuance occurs when a town’s post office is closed completely and people need to go to another town to do their postal business.  There are laws and regulations that govern exactly how this process is to be conducted.  It involves advance notification, community meetings, surveys, and a particular timeline.  Plus, a community can appeal the Postal Service’s decision to the Postal Regulatory Commission.  The PRC can’t overturn a discontinuance decision, but it can remand the final determination to close the office back to the Postal Service for further consideration.
When it closes one of these historic downtown post offices, however, the Postal Service always sets up a small retail operation in a new location.  The post office hasn’t “closed” — it’s just been “relocated.”  Hence, there’s no need to go through a formal discontinuance process, and the community has no right to appeal.  Actually, it can still file an appeal, but it won’t do any good.  When the community in Venice appealed to the PRC a few months ago, the PRC dismissed the appeal on the grounds that it did not have jurisdiction over relocations [].  The same thing happened in Ukiah [].
A small rural post office that serves a very small town and just leases a few hundred square feet in a ramshackle building turns out to be more protected by the law than a large, historic downtown post office serving an entire city.  But that’s the way it is.  Perhaps it’s a testimony to how much power rural communities have in Congress, or perhaps legislators never envisioned the Postal Service selling off its legacy of historic post offices.

 Repurposing the public realm -
While the Postal Service doesn’t have to follow discontinuance regulations when it relocates a historic post office, it does have to deal with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, which requires federal agencies to take into account the effects of their undertakings on historic properties.  But the Postal Service knows all about following the rules of Section 106, and the Act has not turned out to be a tool for preventing the sale of post offices.  It can ensure some protections, however, like making sure that a famous New Deal mural remains accessible to the public.
Once the Postal Service has a buyer, it sometimes tries to lease space in the same building so that the post office can remain open without a relocation.  That keeps people in the community happy, but it usually turns out to be a temporary arrangement.  The new owner has paid too much money for the building to worry about providing space for a post office.  He has big plans, and a post office isn’t part of them.
After the new owner takes possession and gets all the permits in order, the building is repurposed.  Old post offices have been turned into everything from a police station to a restaurant.  Real estate magnate Peter Malkin, owner of the Empire State Building, bought the historic post office in Greenwich, Connecticut, and rumors say it will be turned into a Bergdorf-Goodman or some other high-end retailer.  The post office in Palm Beach was purchased by a billionaire who made his fortune in credit default swaps; it's now Sunshine Reality.  The post office in Bethesda, Maryland, is being eyed for a condo development.  The potential buyer for the post office in Venice, California, wants to convert it to a film production studio. 
As for the economics, these historic properties are fetching two or three million dollars, sometimes more.  The Postal Service saves some maintenance costs, but it has to start paying to rent space in another location.  The Postal Service won't share much information about these arrangements, but the average rent for a post office is about $2,000 a month, and in affluent places like the Connecticut Gold Coast and most of the locations in California, rents can run several times that amount.  In Palm Beach, Florida, rumor has it that the Postal Service is paying $10,000 at month for the retail outlet that replaced the New Deal post office, which it owned outright [].  The economics of selling historic post offices only make sense if the long-term goal is complete divestiture.

 California status report -
Here’s a list of the fourteen historic post offices sold or for sale in California.  For more on the history of these post offices and the famous murals and other artworks many of them contain, check out the Living New Deal website. 

BERKELEY: Sale planned. 
The most recent addition to the list of endangered post offices in California is Berkeley’s 98-year-old landmark building designed by architect Oscar Wendorth, in the style of a famous Renaissance hospital in Florence, designed by Brunelleschi.  The Postal Service announced last week that it was planning to sell the Berkeley post office and to open another storefront in the neighborhood.  No buyer or a price has been named.  The Berkeley post office is on the National Register of Historic Places.

 The Postal Service announced in February its plan to sell the 1942 Burlingame post office.  “Nothing is being taken away. We’re simply looking at relocating retail services,” said U.S. Postal Service spokesman James Wigdel.  “The facility is three times the space we need. It’s literally a waste of space,” said Jeff Suess, real estate specialist in the Pacific Facilities Service Office for the U.S. Postal Service.  Suess shared photos of post offices that had been turned into office space with cafes, a museum or, Suess’ favorite, a bed and breakfast.  A public meeting was held in April, but no news since then.
FULLERTON: For sale. 
There doesn’t seem to be much in the news about the Fullerton post office, but it’s listed on the USPS-CBRE website as “Coming Soon,” with “List price to be determined.”   The building was constructed in 1938, for $56,000, in less than seven months.  It has a 1936 mural by Paul Julian, depicting idealized images of Fullerton citrus, oil, and aviation industries.  Julian worked as a cartoon background painter and Roadrunner voice artist for Warner Brothers.

The Postal Service announced in February that it planned to sell the 1935 Huntington Beach post office, but according to USPS spokesman Richard Maher, “No decisions have been made.  We're not sure if this would be able to be accomplished."  The building is a local landmark, and a few months ago, comedian Betty White used it as the backdrop for a scene of the TV show, "Off Their Rockers." 

LA JOLLA: Sale planned. 
The Postal Service announced in January that intended to sell the building and relocate postal services to a smaller location.  There’s a Save the La Jolla Post Office Community Task Force, and Save Our Heritage Organisation has also taken up the fight.  USPS spokesperson Eva Jackson told the media, "A recommendation has not been finalized.  Once a recommendation is made, it will be made public and there will be a 15 day appeal period."  The La Jolla post office was singled out by the National Trust when it declared the historic post office building to its list of endangered places.

MODESTO: Closed, sold.
The Postal Service can share the blame for the sale of the historic El Viejo post office with the GSA, which owned the building.  The Postal Service closed the post office in April, then in September the building was sold for $1.02 million to developer Peter Janopaul III.  He plans to convert the post office into ten, three-level residential lofts and a 4,000-square-foot penthouse, complete with a private pool, which will go for $1.6 million.  Development may be hampered somewhat by the fact that the building is on the National Register.  The Depression-era murals must remain available for public viewing, and the bronze postal boxes and the lobby's ornate metal writing table will stay with the building as well.

PALO ALTO: For sale. 
The Postal Service announced in December that the Palo Alto post office would be put up for sale.  "We're not closing any of these post offices, but we are relocating them," said James Wigdel, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service. "It'll be the same amount of retail when it's all said and done."  The iconic building was designed by prominent local architect Birge Clark, whose other buildings include the Lucie Stern Community Center and various buildings on the Ramona Street Historic District.  The building is probably worth about $6 million. In March, city officials submitted a letter of interest to the Postal Service, but no word yet on the response.  In the meantime, the building is listed on the USPS-CBRE website as “Coming Soon.”

REDLANDS: For sale. 
The folks in Redlands are lucky to have local resident Karlie Miller fighting to save the post office.  She has singlehandedly taken on the Postal Service — and more besides.  In March, when news came out that the post office would be closed and services relocated about three-quarters of a mile away to the New York station on Redlands’ west side, Miller went to work gathering signatures to save the post office.  But she’s not only up against the Postal Service.  The Redlands Historic Museum Association has set its sights on the building as a location for a city museum, and the City Council supports the idea.  The downtown building has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1985.  No closure date has been announced, but the building is listed on the USPS-CBRE website as “Coming Soon.”

SAN RAFAEL: For sale. 
The 75-year-old post office on D Street is slated to be closed and moved to a new downtown location.  It contains a New Deal mural entitled "San Rafael Creek – 1851” by Oscar Galgiani, a life-long resident of Stockton and a founder of the Stockton Art League.  The post office is listed on the USPS-CBRE website as “Coming Soon.”

SANTA BARBARA: Sale planned. 
Residents learned in late April that the post office in Santa Barbara would soon be put up for sale, with retail services moving to a new, smaller location.  The Postal Service says that since the carriers have been moved out, it only needs 6,000 square feet of the 50,000-square-foot property.  The building is on the National Register, so no alterations can be made to its façade.  A news report says that last year city officials toured the building and considered purchasing it for a police headquarters, but parking was somewhat limited.  It’s possible a successful corporation may want the building as a “trophy headquarters.”

SANTA MONICA: Sale planned. 
Citizens in Santa Monica learned in March that their historic post office would be closed and retail services relocated to a carrier annex about a mile away.  USPS spokesman Richard Maher said an internal study had been completed on the financial benefits of consolidating in Santa Monica, but he would not release any information.  “The plan has yet to be finalized,” says Mahler, and the financial information is irrelevant anyway.  "We have to look at the bigger picture.  In order to provide service to every community in the country, there will be facilities that may be consolidated that are actually operating at a profit, but for the good of the entire system, they will be consolidated."  Built by the Work Projects Administration during the Depression, the building is on the National Register.  There will be a public meeting about the pending sale on July 17th.

SOUTH GATE: For sale. 
After learning that the Postal Service intended to sell the Firestone Station, the South Gate City Council passed a preservation ordinance limiting future exterior alteration to buildings so designated.   From now on, property owners must get a city permit for changes to the façade or architectural styling.  The ordinance passed 3-0 with Vice Mayor Gil Hurtado, a postal employee, abstaining.  The South Gate post office was dedicated in 1936, under Supervising Architect Louis Simon.

UKIAH: Closed, for sale.
When it learned in early 2011 of the Postal Service’s plan to close and sell the post office in Ukiah, the community did everything it could to save the post office.  As usual, the Postal Service didn’t bother with a full discontinuance process, since retail services were relocated to a carrier annex on the edge of town.  When the town appealed to the PRC, the case was dismissed, since the Commission can’t do anything about relocations.  The post office closed in January, and the building was put in escrow, according to a broker handling the sale to some unnamed buyer.  In May, the building was named to the National Register, but it doesn’t look like that will affect the sale.  The building is currently listed on the USPS-CBRE website for $675,000.  "It's despicable," said attorney Barry Vogel, who worked with a group of citizens to fight the sale of the Ukiah post office.  “These closures take the guts out of local communities, subjugating us so that we become less free.  We have fewer services and it makes life more difficult for hard-working people who have used this post office for 75 years.”  (There’s more on Ukiah here.)

VENICE: Closed, sale pending:
The people in Venice put up a great fight to save their post office, but as in Ukiah, to no avail.  An appeal to the Postal Regulatory Commission was dismissed, and while a legal suit is still pending, the Postal Service has already closed the post office and it’s proceeding with the sale.  The retail services have been relocated to a carrier annex, and the building is in contract with film producer Joel Silver (Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, The Matrix), who’s also the co-inventor of Ultimate Frisbee.  The post office is listed on the USPS-CBRE website, for $7.5 million. There’s a great story about the efforts to save the Venice post office here, and there’s more here.  The post office contains artist Edward Biberman’s 1941 mural, 'Story of Venice,' which depicts Abbot Kinney, the founder of Venice.

 What's to be done?
Many of the communities facing the loss of their historic post office have formed “save the post office” groups, created Facebook pages, done petition drives, and lobbied their elected officials.  Nothing seems to be able to stop the Postal Service.  As we've seen with Venice and Ukiah, appeals to the PRC and lawsuits don’t seem to work either.
The one thing that hasn’t happened yet is forging a unified front against the Postal Service.  Perhaps if all the communities in California faced with losing their post office got organized, they might have more success than fighting the Postal Service alone.  Perhaps they could appeal directly to Senator Feinstein, who might have a word with her husband over dinner one evening.  You can contact the senator here.
Another approach would be to contact the Postal Service officials who are responsible for the sales.  They'll be happy to hear from concerned citizens — the more the better.  Here’s the contact info for a few of the postal executives who have may some influence:
 Tom Samra
 Vice President, Facilities
 United States Postal Service
 475 L’Enfant Plaza, S.W.
 Washington, D.C. 20260-0004
 Tel: (800) 275-8777; 703-526-2727
 Fax: 703-526-2740
 Jane E. Bjork
 Manager, Facilities, Real Estate and Assets
 United States Postal Service Headquarters
 475 L'Enfant Plaza, SW, Room 6670
 Washington, DC 20260-1862
 Tel.: 202-268-8463  Fax: 202-268-6305
 Diana K. Alvarado
 Manager, Property Management
 395 Oyster Point Boulevard, Suite 225
 South San Francisco, CA 94080-0300
 Tel.: 415-550-5112  Fax: 415-550-5207

California Rail Foundation

"Supporting and Promoting California Passenger Rail Progress" from "California Rail Foundation" []:
The Sacramento-based California Rail Foundation was founded in 1987 as a California nonprofit public benefit corporation. CRF works to educate the public on rail and bus technology and promote cost-effective expansion of the state's public transportation services. We support use of proven technologies and practical engineering to incrementally grow California’s mobility by rail.
In 1990, CRF co-sponsored Proposition 116, the California Rail Bond Initiative, which provided nearly $2 billion for rail and transit improvements statewide. We worked with the Planning and Conservation League (PCL) to formulate a set of projects that would produce cost-effective progress, and helped communicate the benefits via a set of map graphics which showed exactly which routes and facilities would receive improvements.
CRF has worked since its inception to foster a California high-speed rail project that is well-planned, efficient, environmentally beneficial, and affordable. We have joined PCL, TRANSDEF, BayRail Alliance, City of Menlo Park and the Town of Atherton in a lawsuit to force fair consideration of the Altamont Corridor for California’s starter high-speed line, due to its superior economic and environmental benefits.
California Rail Foundation publishes California Rail News, available at most Amtrak stations statewide. We also sponsor the annual California Rail 2020 conference, scheduled this year November 8 at the Capitol Plaza Ballroom, 1025 Ninth Street, in Sacramento.

Supporting rail reform is tax-deductible -
The California Rail Foundation was founded in 1987 to promote modern rail and bus technology, including high-speed rail. Since that time we have produced California Rail News and cosponsored an annual conference that educates on rail, Cal Rail 2020.
We never believed it would be easy to build California high-speed rail, but we underestimated just how much fraud megaprojects apparently attract. The project now has a broken budget because of tens of billions of pork including 200 miles of wasted route and dozens of miles of unneeded viaducts planned in the Central Valley.
It appears to be the same model used on Peninsula and Los Angeles County segments. Taxpayers are being offered only overly expensive choices by HSRA that wreck cities the same way that elevated highways would.
It does no good to just complain about fraud; we have to organize and fight it in court.
In July 2008, CRF filed suit in Sacramento Superior Court, along with the Planning and Conservation League, TRANSDEF, the Town of Atherton and the City of Menlo Park to overturn adoption of the Pacheco Alternative which would have destroyed many Peninsula cities.
We won the case in October 2009. Last December, HSRA was forced to rescind its selection of Pacheco and redo its environmental work. A brief opportunity in 2010 allowed us to submit new comments into the record. We retained a leading model expert, Norm Marshall of Smart Mobility, who found major flaws in HSRA’s ridership figures, confirmed by other experts.
We also retained the leading European HSR route design firm, Setec Ferroviaire, to help us define and present a faster and better way for trains to link S.F., Sacramento and Los Angeles, through the East Bay. Initial court findings have been favorable, and we are hoping for a clear victory. You can see Setec’s work at the CRF site: []
Setec’s route saves so much time that it would allow Caltrain segments to run at current speeds. Setec also examined Highway 101 between Redwood City and SFO, a route Setec believes is a feasible alternative.
CRF is actively providing leadership on reforming the project, and promoting cost savings available by involving private capital. Your generous contribution today to CRF will help us stop the bad plan and launch an environmentally superior alternative.
We are a tax-deductible 501(c)[3] nonprofit, and operate without paid officers or permanent employees, so all financial resources are directed to our mission of cost-effective modern rail service. Take a tax deduction by using the form below to send a check to CRF or by using the PayPal link on our web page.

Urban Orchards program


2013-03 "S.F. Communities Welcome Urban Fruit Orchards; When the 200 fruit trees recently planted throughout San Francisco as part of the City’s Urban Orchards program reach maturity, the fruit they bear and clean air they help create will be enjoyed for years to come by the surrounding communities"

by Bill Picture from "Bay Crossings" []:
Friends of the Urban Forest recently partnered with the San Francisco Department of the Environment and volunteers from throughout San Francisco to plant 200 fruit trees in a single day as part of the City’s Urban Orchards program. Pictured here, a team at Westbrook Community Garden plants a tree, which will remove a half-ton of carbon from the atmosphere and aid in storm water retention. Photo courtesy of Friends of the Urban Forest

When the 200 fruit trees recently planted throughout San Francisco as part of the City’s Urban Orchards program reach maturity, the fruit they bear and clean air they help create will be enjoyed for years to come by the surrounding communities.
Trees don’t get as much credit as humans for improving air quality, but these carbon-eating heroes’ contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is as important as any walking, talking species. Not only does a single tree remove a half-ton of carbon from the atmosphere; its existence in an urban environment also lends a sense of beauty and calm to its surroundings.
"We planted all 200 trees in one day," said Karla Nagy of Friends of the Urban Forest, which partnered with the San Francisco Department of the Environment on the Urban Orchards program. "We had seven trucks go out that day, and each truck visited three sites. I planted 25 trees myself that day. The goal was to create little mini-orchards."

Orchards in San Francisco?
Despite that "coldest winter I ever spent" quote famously attributed to Mark Twain and residents’ cracks about never being able to leave home without an emergency layer even on the sunniest day, the truth is, San Francisco isn’t cold enough for many fruit trees.
"It definitely gets chilly here, just not to the extent needed for many fruit trees," Nagy said. "Different trees need different things, and most fruit trees require a longer winter, which we don’t have in San Francisco. So we had to find trees that have what’s called ‘low chill hours.’" The 200 fruit trees eventually selected included a variety of apples, plums and pears.
The other challenge, Nagy said, was identifying parts of the City where the fruit trees stood the best chance of thriving and producing fruit. "For fruit trees to be the most viable, you want to find the areas that are the warmest, and that have good drainage," she explained.
Sounds easy enough, right? San Francisco’s microclimates make for warm pockets that range from just a few square blocks to an entire neighborhood. The problem is that soil quality varies wildly, and along with it, suitability for any kind of agricultural purpose. "The warmest areas of the City are probably in the Mission," said Nagy. "But the soil there tends to be clay-heavy, which drains very slowly. So there’s a lot that you have to consider when you’re looking at a site."
Twenty-three locations throughout the City made the final cut. These locations include a mix of public land and private land accessible to the public. In order to have a tree planted, the property owner had only to apply, undergo a site inspection to ensure that the site was viable, and pay a $25 planting fee, which includes maintenance for the next five years.
While the $25 helps offset related costs, the Urban Orchards program is primarily funded by the San Francisco Carbon Fund. Since 2009, City departments have paid a 13 percent surcharge for employee air travel, and the money has been used to support public and private efforts to reduce and offset greenhouse gas emissions.
"We put the word out in the urban agriculture network and let everyone in that community know that [the tree planting] was going to be happening," Nagy said. "Most of the sites are community gardens, but there are some private properties that communities can access. For instance, a side yard adjacent to a sidewalk might qualify, because the public would have access to it. That was a requirement—that the land had to be accessible by the public."

Improving air, building community -
As if absorbing greenhouse gases weren’t an admirable enough job, the Urban Orchards program’s 200 trees will also aid in storm water retention, easing the strain on San Francisco’s combined sewer system during heavy rains. And what’s more, the day they were planted, the trees saw neighborhoods come together in the name of sustainability, livability and community.
The San Francisco Department of the Environment provided a small army of volunteers to assist the Friends of the Urban Forest team with the daunting task of planting 200 fruit trees in a single day. But each of the sites receiving trees was also asked to recruit its own crew of volunteers. "And the turnout was good," Nagy said. "Each place we went to there were people from the neighborhood, and everyone was really excited. It was really cool, and it felt really good."
"Every time San Franciscans plant trees, they make the City a more sustainable, livable and beautiful place," said Friends of the Urban Forest Executive Director Dan Flanagan. "And when the trees also serve as a community food source, we really win big."

Sunday, March 10, 2013

2011-03 "Maine Town Declares Food Sovereignty"

"Maine Town Declares Food Sovereignty" by Kristen M. from "Food Renegade" []:
Sedgwick, Maine has done what no other town in the United States has done. The town unanimously passed an ordinance giving its citizens the right “to produce, process, sell, purchase, and consume local foods of their choosing.” This includes raw milk, locally slaughtered meats, and just about anything else you can imagine. It’s also a decided bucking of state and federal laws.
 From David Gumpert’s coverage []: [begin excerpt] This isn’t just a declaration of preference. The proposed warrant added, “It shall be unlawful for any law or regulation adopted by the state or federal government to interfere with the rights recognized by this Ordinance.” In other words, no state licensing requirements prohibiting certain farms from selling dairy products or producing their own chickens for sale to other citizens in the town. What about potential legal liability and state or federal inspections? It’s all up to the seller and buyer to negotiate. “Patrons purchasing food for home consumption may enter into private agreements with those producers or processors of local foods to waive any liability for the consumption of that food. Producers or processors of local foods shall be exempt from licensure and inspection requirements for that food as long as those agreements are in effect.” Imagine that–buyer and seller can agree to cut out the lawyers. That’s almost un-American, isn’t it? [end excerpt]
 I applaud the residents of Sedgwick for making such a bold stand. Three other Maine towns are also slotted to vote on a similar ordinance in the coming weeks.
 I wonder, though, about how enforceable such a law is if the state or federal government chose to challenge it. In response to a similar question, Edwin Shank (of Your Family Cow) commented on Gumpert’s post []: [begin excerpt]  I’m not one of the “lawyers here” but my observation is that when the local law chooses to prohibit more than the rest of the state, nation or organization they will usually get by with it. It is when local law moves to allow more latitude that the trouble starts. For example, I can imagine that if a county in PA would take a Humbolt CA position on raw milk, the state would take an it’s-up-to-them position. But if local law in an area moved to allow raw butter, cream, kefir & yogurt… I’m sure it would not get to first base. Still, I say Kudos to the fine folks of Sedgwick Maine. Their common sense bravery warms the heart of every awake American. If nothing else, their move will bring the ridiculousness of the situation to the consciousness of another percent or so of Americans. One American at a time the tipping point will be reached. [end excerpt]
 Deborah Evans, one of the citizens of Sedgwick also commented []: [begin excerpt]
"The problem with your question is that nobody really knows the answer. In Maine, there are maybe ten or so “citizen-initiated rights-based” ordinances like ours, passed in various towns in recent years, on a variety of issues. For instance, Montville passed an ordinance forbidding the planting of GMO’s several years ago. ME’s Dept of Ag wrote them a letter saying they could not do that according to some legal point, whereupon Montville’s counsel wrote back that they could do it because of a different point of law. As far as we know, that was that."
 Also, Maine has “home rule” for its towns in the statutes. The Maine Municipal Association published “Municipal Home Rule: Grassroots Democracy or A Symbolic Gesture,” (from Maine Townsman, January 1983) by Michael L. Starn, Editor. In this article, he writes:
[begin excerpt] Municipal home rule in Maine is both constitutional and legislative. The constitutional provision can be found in the Constitution of the State of Maine, Art. VII, Pt.2, §1, and was adopted in public referendum in 1969.
The amendment reads: “The inhabitants of any municipality shall have the power to alter and amend their charters on all matters, not prohibited by Constitution or general law, which are local and municipal in character. The legislature shall prescribe the procedure by which the municipality may so act.”
 Our Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance states:
 (1) Producers or processors of local foods in the Town of Sedgwick are exempt from licensure and inspection provided that the transaction is only between the producer or processor and a patron when the food is sold for home consumption. . . .
 (2) Producers or processors of local foods in the Town of Sedgwick are exempt from licensure and inspection provided that the products are prepared for, consumed or sold at a community social event.”
 Therefore, we the radicals who concocted this mutinous act of infamy believe that according to the Home Rule provisions of our State Constitution, the citizens of Sedgwick have the right to enact an ordinance that is “local and municipal in character.”
 David posted a link to our ordinance template so please feel free to read it over as I think some of your questions will be answered there. Having founded our legal position in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the State of Maine, we feel that if a challenge is posed it can only be resolved in a court of higher authority.
 The Farmer to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund and the Alliance for Democracy have all aided us in our efforts to construct this ordinance over the last year. We have had the civics lesson of our lives – and it all started with a few of us sitting around a farmhouse kitchen table, having been gobsmacked by our Dept of Ag over a “new interpretation” of the 1,000-bird processing exemption..
 Regardless of the outcome when all the votes are counted, Sedgwick and the other three towns have stood up and taken a stand on what matters in our communities. We know of several other towns who are just waiting to see how this goes before they jump in the game. Our State Legislators and Senator are very excited about this as it gives them a mandate to begin to make the changes at the state level. Right now there are three bills in the Legislature’s Ag Committee that address our issues at the state level, largely because our issues are everyone’s issues when you get right down to it. If citizens in enough towns in enough states stand up and take a stand on their local food system based on their inalienable right to produce and choose the food they eat, the Fed might have to listen! What a concept.
 As a country the majority of us have become politically lazy and complacent. If we want change we must take up the tools of the democracy bequeathed to us by the Founding Fathers, organize, and get the ball rolling.
 If anybody thinks real change happens any other way, look at our history: Long before our Constitution was amended, individuals and small groups of outspoken people put their lives on the line to end slavery, to allow women the right to vote, to end racial discrimination, etc. Look at the struggles to legalize something as basic as the right to home school your own children. Real change comes from the people. Period.
[end excerpt]
 So, Kudos to the fine citizens of Sedgwick, Maine. May you inspire many other municipalities to follow suit!