Wednesday, May 02, 2012



The Glen Echo streetcar story made The Washington Post yesterday.  And as I predicted Friday, we are going to learn more and more about this fiasco as time goes on.

My scoop that the General Services Administration tried to sell the People's Streetcar on eBay was solid.  Try as they might, Glen Echo and the National Park Service have to admit it happened.  And fortunately, the evidence was presented here on this blog for all to examine.

One new bit of information to come out of John Kelly's column, is that there was in fact a monetary sale made, by the GSA to General Machine.

But it was a "stupid" price, according to Ken Rinehart, CEO of General Machine.  The clear interpretation in this context, is that it was a joke of a low price.  A giveaway, essentially.  Surprising, given the GSA's eBay demand of $30,000 minimum.

This raises questions about the whole sale process.

I am not an expert on GSA "property removal" procedure.  Whatever it consists of, was it followed in this case?  And if it was, is it flawed?  Because if the GSA handled all government property sales this way, wouldn't it have cost the country a fortune in lost sales revenue?

First of all, when the streetcar issue came up, what involvement did the Glen Echo Partnership Board have in this debate?  Who concluded that sending the streetcar off for scrap was an acceptable option?

Second, should NPS have to solicit at least three estimates for the restoration cost for the streetcar before making a final decision?

Third, once the mystery decisionmaker(s) decided to give up on the car, what were the GSA guidelines for the sale process?

One would think that the selling of government property would first invilve establishing the market value of the property.

If the GSA placed an overpriced listing on eBay, and then gave up and sold it for a "stupid" price, that would almost certainly indicate that the GSA did not bother to determine the market price of this particular piece of government property.  Is that legal?  Again, if such a casual process is truly legal and standard practice, how much did such underselling cost the American people last year?

Consider that Friends of Philadelphia Trolleys and the San Diego Vintage Trolley Line wanted to assist in raising restoration funds and/or adopting the streetcar.  Instead, the NPS bypassed that opportunity 3 years ago, and placed the car - which belonged to you, me and every other American - into private, for-profit hands.  And, according to Rinehart's interview with Kelly, those non-profits will now have to pay him a "price" in order to adopt the streetcar.

Wow.  Do you realize what happened there?

A couple other of points:  We, the People owned this car, and were never alerted or consulted about the pending sale to private hands.  Sunshine laws, anyone?

And ultimately, what was the idea in allowing the car to decline in the first place?  Why should the streetcar and its supporters get a raw deal, if park stewards willfully neglected this piece of public property they were given responsibility for?

How come we haven't heard word one from Glen Echo's appointed board on this matter?

It's all quite troubling.  You can't blame Rinehart in the least in this situation.

When NPS says it would like to acquire a "real" Glen Echo trolley (yeah, there are a lot of those around.  Hee Haw.), you first have to laugh.

But this debacle is more serious then that  The fact is that, while I'd definitely like the DC area to acquire any DC streetcar it can, the SEPTA car was actually more valuable - having been refurbished in 1985, it was in great running condition when it arrived at Glen Echo.  The GSA rated its interior 89 out of 100 on eBay (which totally contradicts the NPS claim of expensive interior renovation being necessary).  It had all new wiring.

In short, the car we lost could actually have been brought to life and run.

That's worth way more than a "stupid" price.

As a result, we lost our streetcar, and the American people lost the difference between the "stupid" price and the true market price (there being such, since both San Diego and San Francisco restore and operate PCC streetcars just like this).

Bottom line:  What did they know, and when did they know it?

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