Berkeley post office protesters defy order to move

Several participants in the post office occupation intend to stay and be arrested if the police come to remove the sit-in. Photo: Eden Teller

Several participants in the post office occupation say they intend to stay and be arrested if police come to remove the sit-in. Photo: Eden Teller

Participants at the sleep-in to save the Berkeley post office on Allston Way have been asked to move by postal inspectors, but many are staying despite the threat.

Jeff Fitch, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service, said the organization is “not asking the protesters to leave” but rather asking them to move to the sidewalk, which is public property. The protesters are currently trespassing on federal property by camping out on the post office steps, he said.

“We are all for First Amendment rights,” said Fitch.

Protesters can carry signs and stay at the post office as long as they want, as long as they stay on the sidewalk in front of the office, he said.

Mike Cleft, one of about 15 to 20 people who have been sleeping at the post office for the last 11 days, said he plans to “take the tree” that grows alongside the post office on Milvia if police come to arrest him. Zachary Runningwolf, who spent a year in a tree to protest the rebuilding of Memorial Stadium, has also vowed to perch in the tree, said Cleft.

Ideally, others would join in the protest as the postal police descend, said Cleft. He expressed hope that Berkeley postal workers would stage a walk-out in support of Save the Berkeley Post Office and that UC Berkeley students would also rally.

Brian Lipson, who has set up a letter writing table in front of the post office, is not camping out, but if police come while he’s at his table, he said, “they won’t stop me from sitting and writing letters in front of the post office.”

Photo: Emilie Raguso

Brian Lipson is inviting community members to defend the post office by using its services. Photo: Emilie Raguso

The postal inspectors have visited the protesters twice, once on Friday and once on Saturday, said Fitch. On Friday they handed out fliers describing the laws regarding USPS property and introduced themselves, explaining their roles as the federal agents with jurisdiction over USPS land, such as the Berkeley post office.

If the protesters do not move from USPS property soon, Fitch said they could be “subject to arrest or citation” and that the postal inspectors would have to “remove their property.”

“Our number one concern is safety,” said Fitch, who added that the hope is that “everyone voluntarily complies” and moves the protest to the sidewalk. The tents and chairs set up on the steps to the post office are “making it a little tricky going in and out,” said Fitch, and there have been some “minor vandalism” issues.

The USPS is selling the Berkeley post office as part of an initiative to reduce costs. CB Richard Ellis Group (CRBE), which is chaired by Richard Blum, husband of Senator Dianne Feinstein and a regent for the UC system, is handling the sale, as well as that of other historic post offices. Some of the protesters believe the close connection between Blum and Feinstein is evidence of a corrupted system.

Ian Saxton said Tuesday he thinks Blum had used his “public power and private power” for his own personal gain and that the UC Berkeley system was to blame for the sale of the post office.

Mike Cleft said that he and Zachary Runningwolf plan to "take the tree" growing alongside the post office if the police attempt to arrest him. Photo: Eden Teller

Mike Cleft said he and Zachary Runningwolf plan to “take the tree” alongside the post office if police attempt to arrest him. Photo: Eden Teller

Protesters told to leave steps of Berkeley post office (08.03.13)
Protesters stage a sleep-in to save the Berkeley post office (07.29.13)
Locals, city fight on to stop sale of post office (07.19.13)
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)

Eden Teller, a graduate of Berkeley High School, is a summer intern at Berkeleyside. She will be attending Macalester College in St. Paul, MN, next year.

Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out our All the News grid.

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  • AlanTobey

    Way more attention than these misguided clingers-to-an-impossible past deserve.

    Please don’t help escalate this minor distraction by building up the egos of the usual professional protestors that are starting to circle for their next media moment in the sun.

    Terse coverage of what actually happens, rather than excited speculation about where it might all lead, is the right idea. Berkeleyside’s restraint would set a helpful example.

  • EricPanzer

    Being a tree in Berkeley must be a terribly fraught experience, what with the constant threat of infestation by feckless, misguided protestors. I bet they miss the days when activists just gave them hugs and called it a day.

  • EarlyMorningCoffee

    Poor tree.

  • Bryan Garcia

    It’s probably expecting too much of Running Wolf for him to be aware of the irony that he is defending an institution of the United States Federal Government.

    Anyways, this is just the usual group of professional protesters. Seriously, do any of these people have actual jobs?

  • guest

    How does Running Wolf pay his bills? Is he just a professional leech?

  • guest

    “Protesters can carry signs and stay at the post office as long as they
    want, as long as they stay on the sidewalk in front of the office, he

    Translation – leave us alone. Go bother BPD instead. Nice USPS guy…

  • Truth Sayer

    Here is one fact that the protesters hit on that is true. In most cases throughout the country, the sales are handled politically, and without public scrutiny. Over the last 25-30 years, the postal service have been selling its building and property located in prime neighborhoods for pennies on the dollar. The Cleveland main Post Office (I believe was sold for less than 1.5M) and a large one in Chicago are prime examples. If people would remember, historically post offices were centrally located in the downtown section in most cities. Most are gone now. But they have quite a few to go before they strip the postal service bare of all its real estate assets. My interest came about because of the New Deal era paintings in most older Post Offices built before 1934. Sadly, some were painted over by overzealous post masters. Anyway, I have no expectation that this building will be sold to the highest bidder. Neither should the public.

  • batardo

    Anywhere you see Blum, the fix is in.

  • Helen C

    Rincon Annex’s paintings are available for the public to see – a good model. The paintings should be saved, the building should be repurposed, and the post office should find a more efficient and accessible building where money can be spent on staff to serve the public, not on an outmoded physical space. It’s on the National Historic Registry. The exterior will be maintained. For good or ill, the times are changing. When was the last time you wrote and mailed a letter to the Editor or to a friend? Even us old fogies prefer email.

  • m&m

    OMG! News Reporting on Berkeleyside! Where will it end? Someone should stop them before it’s too late!

  • Susan Hall

    I’m an old fogy that prefers letter mail. My mother passed away three years ago. I’ve got letters that she typed to me on her typewriter. I also have the letters that I wrote to her that she saved. I’ve got letters that my dad wrote to my mom when he was stationed on the U.S.S. Coral Sea. My son has Civil War letters passed down from his dad’s family. You will never replace a handwritten or hand typed letter with an email.

    Here’s a quote from the Save the Post Office website;

    ‘The Founders placed the idea of postal service in the Constitution because they saw a virtue in creating an infrastructure that would bind the nation together. “Bind the nation together” is a phrase that occurs over and over with respect to the USPS. The Founders understood that for our democracy to flourish we needed a neutral mechanism for the free flow of information.’ Excerpted from Setting the Record Straight, part one: The Postmaster Takes the National Review to School by Postmaster Mark Jamison.

    The reason that the Post Office is struggling is because Congress mandated in the 2006 Postal Reorganization Act that the Post Office pre-fund retiree’s health benefits 75 years in advance at a cost of 5.5 billion a year which NO other federal agency is required to do.

    UPS and FedEx will never deliver a letter to anywhere in the country for 44 cents you can bank on that.

    And for those that lambast the ‘professional protestors’ spokesperson Dave Welch is a retired letter carrier.

  • Guest

    I agree that some of the protestors may be misguided. However, I still think the protest is newsworthy, and that Berkeleyside should report on the protest without pre-judging its merits. Are you concerned that the protest and its publicity will slow the process of downtown Berkeley becoming some combination of UC Berkeley, Inc. and San Francisco?

  • Truth Sayer

    I am certainly glad the paintings will be available to the public, and the building will be saved and preserved. Friends, I continue to write. In fact, I still use stationary and a fountain pen (something that many young have never used). However, the youth in my family insist on texting for whatever reason.

  • Truth Sayer

    It is an ironic twist that Running wolf is defending the Constitution. I am still trying to figure out how one go to the restroom perched in a tree.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    The issue is that they are reporting what MIGHT happen instead of only what DID happen. Mike Cleft has NOT gotten in the tree; he might do that, just as I MIGHT (or might not) summon an alien spacecraft to use cosmic rays that transform the BPO into a destination for artisanal foodies, with no parking impact, a petting zoo, and a magic button that successfully bans Tom Lord from hypocritically posting under the same pseudonyms he long decried. Until those things DO happen, however, it’s not news.

  • AlanTobey

    Of course the genuine local protest is NEWSworthy. What’s not is the pumping up of the meta-protest by profiling adopt-a-cause protest-arrivistas and over-dramatizing what they MIGHT do (if enough TV stations cover it). The resulting stories — about the photogenic future tree-sit, say — will only serve to devalue a free-speech exercise that deserves to be objectively reported (but not any more than that).

    It’s irresponsible for any news organization to add hype to a routine story so that the next followup story has better odds for genuine melodrama having nothing to do with the original cause. There’s a phrase for that: news pimping.

  • Markos Moulitsas

    Just read the Yelp reviews for this Post Office to see why it’s going away:

    Do something new and cool with the building, but nuke the postal operations inside it. They have little redeeming value, and I dread nothing more than ever having to deal with the (mostly) rude, inconsiderate, and inefficient staff.

  • Charles_Siegel

    The USPS has said that they plan to rent space for a post office downtown. Regardless of what happens to this space, you are going to have the same staff when you go to the downtown post office. The only difference is:
    — If they rent a typical downtown space, you will have the same staff in an ugly building.
    — If they rent this lobby space, you will have the same staff in an attractive building.

    They have said that they would prefer to rent this space. It is a question of whether the developer makes it possible.

    Note that they would only rent the lobby space where the retail post office is. Most of the building would be converted to some other use.

  • Markos Moulitsas

    Who cares where the Post Office is located, and if they’re in an ugly building? Give this building the love and care it deserves, not the dishonor the Post Office is dishing it.

  • B.H. Apiary

    I’ve got every e-mail that I sent or received for the past 10 years stored digitally to go back and read.

    They won’t burn in a fire, fade with age, get water damage or mold.
    Perhaps not as high of sentimental value but infinitely more practical.

  • Charles_Siegel

    It would be nice if they could find another use for the lobby, but I doubt if they can. The lobby is a city landmark and cannot be changed by a private developer. Can you think of any other use that would have people lining up at windows, like the PO?

    The lobby in Rincon Center in San Francisco (another repurposed post office) is preserved but not used. You can walk through it to get to the rest of the building, which has been remodeled very nicely. But the lobby itself seems eerie – a bit like a ghost town – because it was obviously designed for people, and there are no people using it.

    I think the way to give the building the care it deserves is to:

    — Restore the lobby and keep it for some retail use – and I cannot think of any other retail use for this space except a post office.

    — Do “something new and cool” with the rest of the building – which is maybe 90% of the total building.

  • A. Nonnymos

    “Can you think of any other use that would have people lining up at windows, like the PO?”
    Casual dining order placement and pickup.

  • jack

    the postal services looses 25 mill
    a day folks. most of these protesters
    have a smart phone.
    wake up and smell the coffee, they need
    to downsize children.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Interesting idea, but it is hard to imagine it working in this lobby space, where there is not enough room for seating.

  • AlanTobey

    ” Can you think of any other use that would have people lining up at windows, like the PO?” Sure — medical cannabis, or (easier to do) an indoor reincarnation of the popular serve-through-a-window food truck court. Surely there’s enough creativity in town to solve this challenge!

  • Eden Teller

    Good ideas, but the medical cannabis dispensary idea is probably impossible – Berkeley High School is just across the street.

  • guest

    half the students there are on cannabis medical or otherwise

  • MrZip

    Until the media that they are saved on fails (which would happen in a fire). everything has it’s risks and nothing lasts forever.

  • Devin

    Bank’s teller windows are pretty reminiscent of a post office. My money’s on either a financial institution or something related to the health care industry.

    If we’re dreaming though, personally, I like A. Nonnymos’ idea of a dining spot. Like a more authentic “Vault Cafe” on Adeline in South Berkeley, it would be perfect as “the Post” – just set up some tables inside and they would have a nice built-in out-door seating porch to boot.

  • David

    The post office processes 160 billion pieces of mail a year. The current debt according to latest news reports is 16 billion dollars. This means that an average of a 10 cent increase per piece of mail could erase the total debt in one year. First class should be raised to 50 cent. Other fees should be increased to provide sufficient funds. this would prevent post offices from closing and cutbacks on service.

  • GetALifeAlready

    Let it go already. The USPS just posted a $750 million loss. Post offices could be saved if people used regular mail instead of email, text messages, etc. That ain’t going to happen…I am sure that the protesters are texting away madly while they are camping out :-) The world of technology and the changing social communication methods have killed the post office. Let the building experience a new life…

  • GetALifeAlready

    And this is why the USPS is on its deathbed. Not a criticism of you….just the facts, Jack