Post office public hearing to focus on Berkeley sale plan

Post office protest by Daniel Parks

Protesters made their views known last year about the proposal to sell the downtown Berkeley post office building. Photo: Daniel Parks

The United States Postal Service is holding a public meeting tonight to discuss the proposal to relocate the downtown Berkeley Post Office and sell its existing building at 2000 Allston Way.

The USPS says the sale is necessary to generate revenue after the organization has experienced a 26% drop in mail volume over the past three years.

A group of local residents who opposes the sale is expected to hold rally outside the Berkeley City Council Chambers where the meeting is taking place, starting at 6:00 p.m.. Local monologist and actor Josh Kornbluth is participating in the rally and will be at the hearing. The Save the Berkeley Post Office group argues the the city cannot lose a historic, architecturally significant building which was built with public funds.

Josh_Kornbluth3“Sold post offices have frequently morphed into restaurants or offices, or even been abandoned,” the group wrote in a release. “At some, it is necessary to ask permission to see the public art. At others, nobody even knows where the art has gone.”

In a statement the USPS said: “The reason behind the proposal is the realignment of USPS infrastructure to a 26-percent drop in total mail volume over the past three years, brought about by the diversion to electronic communication and business transactions. USPS does not receive tax dollars for its operations or facilities, but covers costs solely through the revenue received from the sale of its products and services. The Postal Service is in a very serious financial situation and is facing insolvency. Every opportunity to reduce expenses and generate revenue is being considered in order to maintain universal service to our customers.”

The public can make comments at the meeting tonight. USPS is also accepting written comments from the public until March 13. They should be submitted to: Diana Alvarado, Facilities Implementation-Pacific Area, U.S. Postal Service, 1300 Evans Avenue, Suite 200, San Francisco, CA 94188-8200.

Meeting details: Tuesday Feb. 26, 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Berkeley City Council Chambers, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

Related:
Berkeley discusses future of main post office [02.13.12]
Protesters take Save Post Office demo to San Francisco [12.05.12]
Rally held to protest sale of Berkeley’s main post office [11.15.12]
Developer eyes Berkeley’s historic post office [08.01.12]
Chances are slim of stopping sale of Berkeley’s post office [07.23.12]
Postal Service plans sale of Berkeley’s main post office [06.25.12]

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  • EricPanzer

    A restaurant?! How dare they suggest turning the Post Office into a place people would actually want spend time! It’s an outrage! Never will my children or grandchildren be able to share in my fond memories of taking a number, waiting in line, suffering verbal abuse, and–best of all–finding out a year later that the Postal Service is preparing to trash the package I spent three months trying to locate before giving it up as lost. (True story.)

    Ben Franklin would have been appalled to know that future citizens of his country would adopt new technology, practice thrift, and embrace change.

    I for one plan to take the following actions in support of preserving this building for the sole purpose of sending physical mail: compose a stern email to the City Council, write a blog entry, post a Facebook status message, and tweet about it.

  • Mfox327

    I honestly do not understand the post office nostalgia at all.

  • oldapeman

    I will be happy to see the building transferred out of USPS ownership and converted to a more modern and sustainable use. There is a big difference between repurposing the building, and tearing it down. NO ONE is proposing the latter. Those opposed to this sale try to obfuscate that fact. The Berkeley City Counsel and its planning officials will have plenty of opportunity to regulate any proposed alternative use.

  • The_Sharkey

    The Downtown Berkeley Post Office is the worst Post Office I have ever used in my 4+ decades of life in California.

    A beautiful building that is ruined by the rude, lazy front desk staff that work within it.

  • Bill N

    AND get it on the tax rolls! Just keep UC out of it.

  • Tizzielish

    I have little, if any, nostalgia for the beautiful architectural jewel that our downtown post office is. As beautiful as it is, my ‘nostalgia’ is for the old fashioned idea that public/taxpayer-built buildings are valuable assets that should remain in public hands. Lease the space out, maybe, but sell it? Last I heard, no one is building more land.

    When will we the people stop the conservatives’ relentless movement to privatize public assets that belong to all of us? If they lease out our publicly owned buildings and held them in perpetuity on behalf o the public that paid for them, they would be perpetually returning investments.

    Anyone hear about the way the last Mayor Daley sold the city’s parking revenue for 75 years, at a a price well below its real value? we have to stop selling out public assets to well connected wealthy insiders who are scooping it up to build their private welath. Let’s build public wealth instead. and share.

    A former brother-in-law of mine, together with his whole family, owns the land underneath the Lever Building in Manhattan. They don’t own the building, just the land. The Lever Building pays his family trust full market value rent, and will as long as his family continues to own the land. And why would they ever sell it when it will always generate a great return? we could do similar things with our public assets and start reducing government budget deficits

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001846205485 ThisWay Out Coops

    Yes — UC out of it.

  • oldapeman

    The “public” has not owned any USPS assets directly since the postal service was reorganized back in 1971. Except for services rendered to governmental agencies and to our military, the government does not contribute any funds to its operations. If you want to argue that the USPS properties should not have been released from direct public ownership that is a valid argument, but unfortunately about 42 years too late. Also, during the prior hundreds of years of postal service operations it has been able to generate revenue from the delivery of letters, and it needed neighborhood facilities to render that service. Now letters are almost entirely obsolete, and will stay that way. The need for a large post office in every neighborhood of every town is gone, and with it the revenue from personal correspondence. Does FedEx have a distribution facility in every town or neighborhood? Of course not. They have centralized operations. The choice isn’t whether the Berkeley main post office will close — it will, and soon — the choice is whether the building will sit empty, or be put to a more modern sustainable use. I would welcome a full building upgrade (it badly needs it) with a publicly accessible use on the ground floor, and perhaps private offices or housing on the upper floors. However, whether the USPS sells it, or leases it as you suggest, is up to the USPS, not the local public or the city government. That is, unless the City wants to buy it. Would you want the City of Berkeley to buy it using limited city funds, and bear the cost to maintain it? Also, who then would decide what use it would be dedicated to? As dysfunctional as the city government is already, I do not see a justification to add to their burdens.

  • Biker 94703

    Which still doesn’t mean that the USPS should be able to liquidate publicly-owned real estate in order to fill a fictitious hole in their pension obligations.

    Imagine if the City of Berkeley was required to fully fund their pension plans. We’d have to sell Berkeley High.

  • Biker 94703

    And if Dharma College is the highest bidder?

  • Biker 94703

    For those of you who missed this the last time around, selling off physical infrastructure does not make sense unless you’re closing up shop. The USPS will continue to have a branch in downtown Berkeley, either in the building they presently own outright or in a leased space.

    Leasing is throwing away money. The reason the private sector leases is because they can deduct the lease payments from their income tax. As a government agency the USPS pays no taxes.

    There is _far_ more money to be made from the post office renting out part or all of their building then there is in liquidating the building and using that money to pay rent to the private sector.

    I know some of you hate the downtown post office. For what its worth, I agree. But this is about money not feelings. The Republicans in Congress have manufactured a crisis by setting pension requirements for the USPS that are way outside of anything in the private sector or public municipalities. Then they want to use this crisis to liquidate real estate. Its a scam.

  • Biker 94703

    That’s a lot of characters to build a straw man.

    If we were talking about the Canyon Post Office, you’d be right. But we’re not. The USPS has no plans to close their downtown branch. This isn’t “every neighborhood of every town”, it is the core of a downtown that has 1000 new units in proposed development.

  • The_Sharkey

    Imagine if the City f Berkeley was required to fully fund their pension plans?

    Why, they might offer less generous pensions and salaries, start cutting costs, stop trying to meddle in world affairs, and get rid of some of our redundant departments and useless commissions!

  • The_Sharkey

    If they were going to rent it out they’d have to bring it up to current code, and from what I understand about the current condition of the building that would be a very costly project.

  • Bill N

    That’s a good question and the problem with the PO selling it, But I would rather take my chances with a shallow pocket Dharma college than a deep pocket UC. Hopefully, someone will bid and buy it and will make it a tax paying building supporting the City of Berkeley.

  • http://twitter.com/Tatsh Tatsh

    Agree. Worst post office ever. Plus they won’t even drop packages off at my house and have lost several. They never seem to know what they are doing, and it is ridiculous the line waits. I had no idea those sticker/number things existed still! I only moved to CA last year, but I have never seen a USPS office as bad as this one.

  • Moronica

    Won’t the proceeds from a sale be returned to the public (government)?

  • Biker 94703

    Oh come on. Borrowing money is not a problem when you have a multi-billion dollar business.

    The USPS is 57,000 sqft. At $217 per sqft that’s $12.4m. If you owned a $12m building outright do you think you would have a problem getting a home equity loan?

    Look what happened across the street:

    Hill Street Realty, which is the manager of HSR Berkeley Investments, bought the 92,000 square foot property from Marin County businessman Roy Nee less than a month ago. The group paid $20 million, or $217 a square foot, in the deal.

  • Charles_Siegel

    If I had the money, it might make sense for me to buy a building in downtown and rent it out. If the USPS had the money, it might make sense for it to keep this building and lease it out. But they have much less money than I do (or than you do), and they need to raise money now; they cannot wait to get future lease payments.

    The best practical solution is for the USPS to sell the building and lease back the lobby to use for customer service. They plan to lease a space in downtown anyway. They will never find another space as attractive or as suited to the function as this one.

  • Biker 94703

    So Mr Financial Advisor, I should sell my home and move into one of the apartments in “Library Gardens”?

    Ridiculous.

  • http://twitter.com/Pappachoppers Pappachoppers

    You are absolutely wrong about the ownership. When the Post Office begin to be the U.S. Postal Service, it was not fully private, but it ceased to be funded by taxpayers. Hwever, the buildings and equipment is owned by the taxpayers. Since the Tax payers own it, Congress still name the buildings. In fact, they named over 30 last year (about the only work they did). The on thing that the public do not know is that the Post Offices across the country were in prime locations, and the buildings are still worth billions. Many of the buildings were sold for pennies on the dollar to “friends.” But the Post office has been selling off buildings in prime location for more modern and larger sites. In summary, if a person damages postal property, they will be charged federally with damage to federal property. And, we know that all federal property is owned by U.S. citizens.

  • Charles_Siegel

    If you were losing money like the USPS, you would have lost your home long ago.

  • kakfakfa

    [Republicans selling Post office?]
    The San Francisco Chronicle

    Grim outlook for post office buildings

    Andrew S. Ross

    Published 6:57 pm, Friday, February 8, 2013

    The U.S. Postal Service’s move last week to end Saturday mail delivery can’t bode well for efforts to save a number of historic post offices being sold in California, with possibly more to come.

    Currently, at least 12 post offices have been sold or put on the block in Northern California. A public hearing on a contested proposal to sell Berkeley’s main post office is scheduled for later this month.

    Along with the move to five-day mail delivery, selling post office buildings is part of the Postal Service plan to save $20 billion over the next three years. More than 600 buildings have been “earmarked for disposal” nationwide, at a savings of $2.1 billion, according to the Postal Service’s 2012 report to Congress.

    “Selling larger facilities is a means of getting cash flow and reducing our expenses,” explained James Wigdel, a Postal Service spokesman in San Francisco.

    In charge of selling the facilities for the Postal Service is CB Richard Ellis Group, one of the world’s largest real estate companies, chaired by San Francisco financier Dick Blum. CBRE, which has worked with the post office since 1997, was awarded the exclusive contract to market Postal Service facilities in 2011. Blum is married to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a relationship some critics of the post office have duly noted.

    “Historically, USPS has worked with multiple real estate service providers. The new contract enables USPS to consolidate these activities with one service provider,” CBRE said in a statement at the time.

    On its website, CBRE shows 57 post offices nationwide listed for sale or in the process of being sold. They include Sausalito’s main post office, priced at $5.2 million, two in Fresno for a combined $2.9 million, and one in Los Angeles for $8.3 million. The main post office in Modesto, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, sold for $1.02 million in 2011 to a developer who plans to convert it to lofts, The Chronicle reported in August.

    Other Bay Area post offices on CBRE’s website, and confirmed by Wigdel, are in Burlingame, Half Moon Bay, San Rafael and Palo Alto. Berkeley’s main post office, which dates to 1915, is “being considered for sale but still in due diligence or the public process,” he said.

    Berkeley, as is its wont, is putting up a fight. The City Council, Mayor Tom Bates, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, and a number of community groups oppose the plan to sell the Allston Way building.

    In December, protesters opposing the sale rallied outside the offices of Blum Capital in San Francisco’s Financial District, and a delegation later met with staffers at the San Francisco office of Feinstein.

    As for accusations of a conflict of interest and suspicions that Feinstein may have influenced the awarding of the contract to her husband’s firm, Feinstein’s office strongly denies the charges.

    “Sen. 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. Sen. Feinstein’s assets are held in a blind trust.

    That arrangement has been in place since before she came to the Senate in 1992,” said Brian Weiss, Feinstein’s communications director. In 2012, Feinstein voted for an amendment to a postal reform bill that would have temporarily halted post office closings. The amendment was defeated in the House.

    Both the Postal Service and CBRE insisted the 2011 contract was competitively bid. The Postal Service is an independent agency that reports to Congress, but there is no indication Congress plays any role in the awarding of contracts.

    While CBRE handles the transactions, it does not advise the Postal Service which facilities to put on the market, I was told by both sides.

    “This can be a long but transparent process. We have to find suitable buyers and make sure we have good retail space to relocate our facilities into,” said Wigdel. “Some of the buildings may come off the list.”

    At the public hearing hosted by the Postal Service in Berkeley on Feb. 26, there no doubt will be many in attendance hoping to have their beloved Italianate post office taken off the list.

    Andrew S. Ross is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. E-mail: bottomline@sfchronicle.com Blog: http://www.sfgate.com/columns/bottomline Facebook: sfg.ly/doACKM Twitter: @andrewsross

  • Chris J

    From the sound of things, the USPS believes that the sale of the building will simply defray their own costs of doing business.

    Post office is certainly losing money, but businesses like FedEx and ups seem to be doing well enough. In our business, we continue to use USPS because its still the cheapest shipping alternative, though even they are getting damned expensive.