Council asks for 1-year moratorium on post office sale

A protest to save the downtown Berkeley post office took place in late February. Photo: Daniel Parks

A protest to save the downtown Berkeley post office took place in late February. Photo: Daniel Parks

The Berkeley City Council adopted a resolution Tuesday night to ask the U.S. Postal Service to press the pause button on its plans to relocate its downtown services and sell the Allston Way facility — for at least one year.

Members of the public who hope to keep the post office open were more subdued than those who attended a meeting in late February, with just a handful of people speaking about the historic building’s importance and why it should maintain its postal services. But they cheered and clapped throughout the meeting as council members expressed unanimous support to fight to keep the building open.

The postal service has said, in a written statement, that the building will likely be sold because of a “26-percent drop in total mail volume over the past three years, brought about by the diversion to electronic communication and business transactions.”

The post office covers its costs through revenue from the sale of products and services, and does not receive tax dollars for its operations or facilities. To save money, the postal service has said it would like to sell the historic building and move its downtown operations to a nearby location.

“The Postal Service is in a very serious financial situation and is facing insolvency,” according to the statement. “If this relocation is approved, USPS anticipates selling the current Berkeley Post Office building” at 2000 Allston Way.

But Mayor Tom Bates called the organization’s financial straits “a self-created crisis,” linked to a 2006 decision to require the post office to pre-fund, over the next 10 years, retirement benefits for its employees to cover the next 75 years. Local officials have said that no other federal agency is required to do that, and some have added that the decision seems designed to force the post office into privatization.

“What was behind that?” asked Councilwoman Linda Maio, of the 2006 decision. “It’s so completely irrational. We need to get to the bottom of it.”

In its resolution, which passed unanimously, the council will ask Berkeley’s federal representatives to hold hearings on the requirement to pre-fund post office pension obligations.

Councilman Laurie Capitelli called the decision “an organized effort to dismantle the post office,” and said it would be unwise in the long run to sell the building. “It doesn’t make good business sense.”

Councilman Max Anderson described the “residual hatred” of the post office by “right-wing ideologues” in Congress, who see the institution as an example of “socialism.” He noted that it is to Berkeley’s credit that the community and council are engaged and passionate about this issue, and trying to make a change.

Council members said they plan to investigate how the post office in Berkeley could increase its revenue stream, perhaps through leasing unused parts of the downtown building to local businesses. They also suggested taking a closer look at postage rates or even “a very tiny tax” on email as possible policy changes that could make a difference.

The council also resolved to reach out to more than 50 other cities nationally that are in similar positions, with pending historic post office buildings potentially on the chopping block, to try to form a coalition to attack the problem together.

Councilman Jesse Arreguín thanked his colleagues and members of the public for their efforts thus far, and said he’d like to see the building and post office services saved in the end.

“I want to commend the community and the City Council for slowing this down so far,” he said. “My hope is that we can stop this altogether.”

The U.S. Postal Service will accept written public comments about the proposed sale of the downtown Berkeley post office through March 13. Comments can be sent to Diana Alvarado, Facilities Implementation — Pacific Area, U.S. Postal Service, 1300 Evans Ave. Ste. 200, San Francisco CA 94188-8200.

USPS hears vocal opposition to sale of downtown building [02.28.13]
Post Office public hearing to focus on Berkeley sale plan [02.26.13]
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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  • Doug Smith

    How quickly well intentioned Berkeley people manage to start an argument amongst themselves! This discussion reminds me of the Monty Python “What have the Romans ever done for us?” skit from “The Life of Brian”:

    I doubt that 10 percent of the people who are adamantly against the sale of the Downtown Main Berkeley Post office have written to Dianna Alvarado. The Post Office is inviting WRITTEN (hard copy only, I guess) input before March 13th. Allowing for the extra 2 days to get to San Francisco, that leaves very little time to write an old fashioned letter, put a stamp on it and try to find a blue mailbox (if there are any left in your neighborhood).

  • 4Eenie

    Another decade or two? Email may not even exist then!

  • curiousjorge

    It is objectively true that USPS is the victim of a (not paticularly vast) right wing conspiracy to ruin its finances via the absurd 75 year pre-funded benefits requirement enacted by Bush Republicans. It is also objectively true that the USPS is deservedly infamous for abysmally poor customer service that dates back far longer than their financial woes. To pretend that the fate of the USPS is the sole result of one of the two is a rather pinched perspective.

  • Jesse Townley

    The huge deficit the USPS is grappling with stems directly from the 2006 pre-funded benefits requirement. Declining business and customer service issues are financial side issues compared to the budget-busting reality of that requirement.

  • Jesse Townley

    Also, there are great postal workers and awful ones. From talking with friends who are postal carriers, a lot of the bad service stems from the ossified rule-bound nature of the command structure.

  • The_Sharkey

    I get the feeling she still thinks flying cars will be in everyone’s driveway any day now. ;-)

  • Doug Smith

    I am against the needless sale of public property to a private developer, but I have to admit that the Rincon Anex (SF) foyer looks great, even better than before – since they did restoration work to the frescos. The building behind the old lobby is breathtakingly beautiful. But I have a suspicion that the building was sold for a song, and the new building that took its place has skyrocketed in value.

    The Postal Service claimed (at the Feb. hearing) that the new owners would still be able to run the current retail outlet in the same location in Berkeley (if they could afford to). In this case USPS would be renting from the new owner, yet to be determined. Even if the new owner evicted the USPS and turned it into an upscale hotel (or rented it out to the YMCA – I’m not kidding they are interested) – the USPS would still need a downtown location.In this case, there would be this recurring expense called “rent” to be paid by the public. That seems shortsighted to me. Instead the USPS should retain ownership, and rent out the excess space they supposedly have. The income from that rent could be used to restore the lobby.
    The new owners would no doubt need to bring the building up to code and support any historical legal requirements that the City of Berkeley Landmarks Commission has

    There seems to be no free market when it comes to buying government property. When asked at the hearing what the current valuation is for the building the Post Office officials said that information is confidential. I’ve heard rumors of a measly $2 million for the building land etc. You can be assured that if it is sold behind closed doors, the USPS and the public will be sold short.

    The sales of the buildings are being handled exclusively by CBRE (Richard Blum, Lady Di-Fi’s husband, is on the board). Check this out if you dont believe:

  • Jason

    The downtown Berkeley post office is Dante’s seventh circle of hell– long lines, an incompetent and overpaid staff (at least the union members)… I do everything in my power to never go there if at all possible. This is one Berkeley resident that will be totally happy to see it go!

  • Well said Steven.

  • Guest

    Yes! Sales tax on streaming movies and music as well :)

  • Julian DH

    Beserkly maintains is long held nickname. Perhaps they should focus on their own problems versus thos e of the USPS.