Locals, city fight on to stop sale of Berkeley post office

Sculpture
A sculpture by David Slivka in the loggia of the downtown Berkeley post office which the USPS plans to put up for sale despite opposition from city  government and a group of local campaigners. Photo: courtesy Gray Brechin

The local group protesting the sale of the downtown Berkeley post office building says it will continue its fight after United States Postal Service turned down its appeal that it not sell its Renaissance-style building at 2000 Allston Way. And a Berkeley councilman is trying to give USPS pause, if not prevent the sell-off, with a proposal that would limit the building’s use post-sale.

“We are poised and ready to file an injunction,” said Jacquelyn McCormick, Executive Director of the National Post Office Collaborative, who said USPS needs to post the property for sale before they can take that action. Meanwhile, McCormick says she fears developers and potential buyers are probably already in “behind-the-scene” negotiations to buy the building.

In a statement released on July 18, USPS Facilities Vice-President Tom Samra affirmed USPS’s decision to relocate the retail services located at Allston Way. USPS said “the concerns expressed by the community did not outweigh the dire financial circumstances” facing the postal service, and that there was “no basis to set aside the April 19, 2013 decision regarding relocation of the Berkeley post office.” The determination is final, it concluded.

“What the community thinks counts for nothing,” said Gray Brechin, a geography professor at UC Berkeley and a New Deal expert, who gave a talk at a Save the Berkeley Post Office fundraiser at the Hillside Club on Thursday to about 100 people. The event raised $18,000 to go towards legal costs of fighting USPS.


“It’s like the NSA scandal,” Brechin continued. “We’re finding where we really stand with this government.”

The campaigners argue that USPS has failed on three counts: it has failed the public trust in selling a building, and the art within it, that was built with public money and belongs to the public; and its actions are not in compliance with either the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), or the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).

Post-office-letter
Mayor Tom Bates, flanked by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner and State Senator Loni Hancock, mails a letter to the US Postal Service appealing the planned sale of Berkeley’s main post office on May 3, 2013. Photo: Lance Knobel

“The post office has shifted from being a service institution to being a real-estate institution,” said Brechin referring to its practice of selling its buildings across the country. The Berkeley campaigners are aligning themselves with two similar ongoing lobbying efforts happening in La Jolla and the Bronx. The group would like to see USPS retain the building and lease most of it out, keeping a small portion of it for post-office counter services. USPS says it will open another, smaller post office in downtown Berkeley.

Meanwhile Berkeley councilman Jesse Arreguín introduced an item that passed at Tuesday’s City Council meeting directing the Planning Commission to consider a zoning overlay that would limit the possible legal uses at the Allston Way property. He said the zoning overlay, if adopted, would “significantly reduce the desirability of the property to potential buyers, unless their proposed use falls within a list of allowable uses that are community and civic oriented.”

“If the USPS is looking to make quick cash in the short-run, they’re going to have a hard time under the proposed zoning overlay I’ve introduced,” he said in a statement released yesterday. “The USPS must respect the wishes of our community and find a buyer willing to keep the main post office within the public commons.”


In a rare show of unity, city councilmembers are unanimous in protesting the sale of 2000 Allston Way.

There are two upcoming gatherings organized by campaigners. On Monday July 22, a community meeting will be held at 2133 University Ave. (near Ace Hardware) at 7:00 p.m. to provide updates on the legal challenge to stop the sale. And on Saturday July 27, a Direct Defense of our Post Office rally will be held starting at 1:00 p.m. at 2000 Allston Way. For more information visit Save the BPO; Save the Post Office; and Strike Debt Bay Area.

Speaking about Arreguín’s overlay proposal, McCormick said she hoped it might potentially slow down the sale or at least “stave off the appetite of developers.” But she concedes campaigners face a tough challenge: “We have a big fight ahead of us,” she said.

Related:
Berkeley’s political firmament rallies for post office [05.03.13]
Post Office to sell its downtown Berkeley building [04.22.13]
Council asks for 1-year moratorium on post office sale [03.06.13]
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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