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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