Government

Feds agree to hear mayor’s plea to halt post office sale

Photo: Lance Knobel

Mayor Tom Bates, flanked by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner and State Senator Loni Hancock, mailed a letter to the U.S. Postal Service appealing the planned sale of Berkeley’s main post office in May. Photo: Lance Knobel

Update, Aug. 15: Berkeleyside received this note from a U.S. Postal Service rep: “I am sending you the following to clarify what may be confusing to your readers. The Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) has docketed an appeal filed by Tom Bates, Mayor of Berkeley, concerning decisions related to the Berkeley Post Office.  The action in question is a relocation, not a discontinuance, and it is the Postal Service’s view that the PRC’s appeal authority does not extend to this context.  The Postal Service has filed a Motion to Dismiss the appeal and we expect the PRC to rule on this matter in the near term.”

Original story, Aug. 12: A federal commission that oversees the U.S. Postal Service has agreed to hear an appeal by Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates to halt the sale of the Berkeley Main Post Office, at 2000 Allston Way.

The five-member Postal Regulatory Commission alerted Bates on Thursday that it would hear the appeal in the fall, the mayor’s office announced Monday. Bates has until Sept. 3 to submit a formal appeal brief, and the commission will have until Nov. 27 to make its final decision. The commission has authority over proposed major service changes related to any post office.

In March, the Berkeley City Council voted unanimously to oppose the sale of the post office, and asked for a one-year moratorium on any decision about its sale. In May, Bates, along with other local and state officials, sent an appeal letter to the postal service. According to Monday’s statement, Bates filed his appeal after a final determination letter dated July 18 from the postal service that stated its plan to forge ahead to relocate services from downtown Berkeley.

In the case before the regulatory commission, Bates appealed as an individual postal recipient in the 94704 zip code.

“The Postal Service is putting our historic Berkeley Main Post Office building up for sale under the guise of a ‘relocation of retail services,’” said Bates in the statement.  “I believe USPS never had the intention to relocate postal services and is playing semantic games with our community — what they really want is to sell the building.”

The mayor’s appeal contends that, if the postal service wants to relocate, it should have a site secured “before it puts a successful public service up for sale. The PRC has the authority to remand the sale of the building back to USPS for further review and consideration,” according to the statement.

Members of the public have been instrumental in raising awareness about the possible sale. A group called Save the Berkeley Post Office has been lobbying since the move was first suggested in June of last year to keep the building operating as a post office. In July, advocates to keep postal operations in downtown Berkeley began camping on the site.

One organizer for the group, Dave Welsh, said Monday afternoon that the mayor’s announcement was good news.

“We welcome any possible extension of the time, and if there is an extension of time then we’ll have more time to organize to stop the sale,” said Welsh, who has been camping on the post office steps since July 27.

The group currently has no plan to de-camp, but Welsh said its members will take the mayor’s announcement into consideration.

“We’re going to discuss everything, and people will figure out what to do,” he said. “But at the present time, we’re still here.”

A group representative outside the post office last week said that many passers-by have expressed support for the push to keep the post office in downtown Berkeley, but Yelp reviews tell a slightly different story. A total of 100 people have rated the post office, resulting in an aggregate review of 1.5.

Related:
U.S. Post Office erects fence at Berkeley’s Elmwood site (08.09.13)
Berkeley post office protestors decline to move (08.06.13)
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)
Developer eyes Berkeley’s historic post office (08.01.12)
Chances are slim of saving Berkeley post office (07.23.12)

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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  • guest

    I’d love to see them use this building as a hub for government services. Move the Social Security Office there. What other federal or even state or county agencies could be consolidated in this location close to BART and several AC Transit lines?

  • EarlyMorningCoffee

    I’d love to know how long Tom Bates had to wait to be served…

  • DisGuested

    He ought to be plea-bargaining—for his conviction for newspaper theft!

  • berkopinionator

    We pay full price for postage in Berkeley, but we don’t get full service from our Postal Service. It’s not like selling our post office will cover the billions in postal service debt. We will likely lose our post office, and pay USPS bad debts. If they are going to close our main post office, just go ahead and shut down the entire postal service already. If the USPS is going to stay in business, keep the post offices open so they can do the job. How do they expect people to get postal services without the post office?

  • BerkeleyCitizen

    Too bad he didn’t bother trying to stop something he had more control over–the Willard Pool. Sure, close the pool and forget about the kids, but no, don’t sell this inefficient dinosaur to someone who might actually make better use of it. Maybe he can ask them for some $$ to open the pool from the sale.

  • AnthonySanchez

    Support to keep the Post Office open and/or in the public commons in unrelated to YELP reviews on individual service. User experience equals neither user nor community utility.

    Additionally, I do recognize how long service can take -I’ve experienced it just to buy a single stamp (there’ surprisingly no dispensing machine, unless you have a card and want to purchase a booklet). However, a YELP rating for a Post Office will be highly skewed: you’re more motivated to YELP a negative experience re: the Post Office than a positive one, because let’s face it, you do not normally YELP a Post Office.

  • M.E. Lawrence

    That’s a pretty tired complaint. I can’t think of a politician who doesn’t act like a jerk, frequently an unscrupulous jerk, from time to time. I didn’t approve of his dumping those papers, either, but I do like Bates’s support of the downtown post office. (I also like the idea of the above guest to turn the building into a government-service hub.)

    More information about the USPS “crisis” (some of it manufactured by Congressional legislation requiring the USPS’s pension plan to be funded for 75 years in advance) here:
    http://www.savethepostoffice.com/about

    By the way, what is it with the anti-post office fever here at Berkeleyside? The service isn’t great, but it’s not bad, and we pay a hell of a lot less than the Brits, who are charged 60 pence, more than a dollar, to send a standard domestic letter. Anyway, the downtown post office is beautiful, and I don’t want some private company to buy it.

  • Joyce M.

    Personally, the fact that it is a Historical Structure built in 1911, at the LEAST I’d want it to be bought by a community-based company with a good architect to get it up to standards, etc. !!!

  • Gimpytroll

    I wish I could YELP the Berkeley city council.

  • Truth Sayer

    I do not think that Yelp is considered in the decision to sale. Most likely, a cost/benefit analysis.

  • Truth Sayer

    Good ideal!

  • Truth Sayer

    Postal Service discussion with Bates = appeasment.

  • bfg

    People are motivated to make negative comments about the Post Office because there is no way to complain to the management. The U.S. Post Office is about the worst managed company is the U.S. The building is great and should be used in a way that doesn’t make the people who enter it miserable. It’s wasted on a post office.

  • Bryan Garcia

    I agree with your point about the Yelp reviews: most people are only going to bother reviewing a post office to trash it and let off some steam.

    That’s really Yelp’s whole problem, though. Most of the reviews are either going to be glowing or bashing. Not a lot of in between. I take Yelp ratings with a grain of salt most of the time.

  • playing post office

    The appeal Bates is making has no chance of preventing a sale, only delaying a sale.

    That is because Bates has framed the issue carefully. He defines “victory” as having two parts. One part is “continuity of operations”: he wants USPS to announce a specific plan to keep operating somewhere downtown. The other part is “public ownership”: he wants the building to be a public asset.

    According to this article, the appeal is driven forward by the demand for continuity of operations. Public ownership is not central to the appeal. This is confirmed by the text of the letter Bates sent.

    The demand for continued operation downtown is potentially a rough one for the USPS. If the owners of suitable spaces downtown are not interested in renting to the USPS, and if USPS is not guaranteed to remain in the current space, then USPS can not promise continued operation.

    The appeal letter that Bates wrote predicts, and almost threatens, that the USPS will not find a suitable space within the 94704 zip code. Thus the sale, the letter argues, can not be justified as a “relocation”.

    Therefore the demand for continued operation might give Bates some leverage.

    What does he hope to use that leverage to accomplish? Perhaps his framing of the issue around “public ownership” gives us a clue.

    There are two public entities in Berkeley that might plausibly take over the building from USPS: the city itself and the university. If the USPS is compelled to provide a continuity of operations plan, and if no downtown landlord of a suitable space will cooperate with USPS, then it would be easy for the city or the university to say “We will buy the building and lease space to USPS.” So the leverage could be used to help one of those two sales.

    The university might be the better bet. It would be politically difficult for the city to finance the purchase itself. Meanwhile, Blum is a Regent. The university is interested in expanding into downtown. Bates has close ties with university officials and is generally a supporter of those expansion plans.

    A third possibility is that “continuity of operation” leverage could be used to benefit some downtown landlord, helping that landlord hold out for a better offer from USPS. This seems less likely to be the goal because it would not directly support “public ownership” of the building.

  • The_Sharkey

    I would be happy with any use other than what it is now – the worst Post Office in any Bay Area city.

  • The_Sharkey

    He couldn’t/wouldn’t do anything about Willard because he was counting on the votes of the Warm Pool advocates, and their only hope of ever getting that monstrous waste built is by holding other public pools hostage as part of their plan.

  • The_Sharkey

    Even if most reviews are glowing or bashing, what does it say about our post office that the HUGE, OVERWHELMING MAJORITY of reviews are utterly abysmal?

    Most businesses – even the lousy ones – manage to at least have 2.5 stars or so.
    The Berkeley Post Office has one of the worst review scores I’ve ever seen for a business with that many reviews.

  • The_Sharkey

    The specific Berkeley Main Post Office is the worst Post Office that I have ever used in my four decades of using Post Offices in California. The front desk staff is the rudest, slowest, and least organized group of Postal employees I’ve ever encountered.

    The staff that work in the back of the building, and the letter carriers and staff at our other Post Offices are overall pretty good, but the front desk staff at the main Post Office are horrible.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Do you want no post office at all in downtown Berkeley?

  • The_Sharkey

    Under what proposed plan would there be no branch of the Post Office downtown? Last I heard the PO was planning on selling this big building and just leasing a small storefront for window business downtown. Has that changed?

  • Charles_Siegel

    You are right. We will have a post office in downtown no matter what happens to this building.

    My point is that, because they are unionized, we will have the same employees in the new location as in the existing location.

    The bad service that you complain about is a function of the employees, not of the building.

    Getting rid of this building and moving the employees to a different location will not change the quality of service at the downtown Berkeley post office.
    I don’t think it makes sense for you to want to change the use of this building because you don’t like the service there.

    Am I missing something?

  • playing post office

    Under what proposed plan would there be no branch of the Post Office downtown?

    The article that you are commenting on is about an appeal made by Tom Bates to the Postal Review Commission. The appeal letter argues that although the USPS says they will rent some space downtown, in Bates’ view, they will find no suitable space available. Bates contends that this is not a bona fide plan for relocation.

    “USPS issued a final determination letter with no right for further administrative or judicial review dated July 18, 2013 stating that they intend to forge ahead with their plan to relocate retail services. The Postal Service is calling it a “relocation of retail services” but they have not identified a place to relocate, and I believe that there is no suitable location in area code 94704 to which to move retail services to. Under the guise of ‘relocating retail services’ from the Berkeley Main Post Office, the Postal Service is putting the historic Berkeley Main Post Office building up for sale. I am appealing on the grounds that this transaction is, in fact, a sale, and not a ‘relocation’ and therefore comes under the purview of the Postal Regulatory Commission.”

    wrote Tom Bates. Emphasis has been added.

    The article you are commenting on partly explains this:

    said Bates in the statement. “I believe USPS never had the intention to relocate postal services and is playing semantic games with our community — what they really want is to sell the building.”

    The mayor’s appeal contends that, if the postal service wants to relocate, it should have a site secured “before it puts a successful public service up for sale. The PRC has the authority to remand the sale of the building back to USPS for further review and consideration,” according to the statement.

    If the sale of the building is part of a “relocation” then the Postal Review Commission has no jurisdiction. If the relocation is phony, and the plan will lead to closing the station, then the Postal Review Commission may have jurisdiction.

    The USPS sent a reply to the Postal Review Commission. The USPS reply makes a detailed legal argument that can be paraphrased this way:

    Nuh-uh! Is too a relocation!

    The Postal Review Commission was not satisfied with that reply and will hear the case.

  • AnthonySanchez

    That’d be fine. That type of evaluation is more relevant to change, rather than abolishment, which is exactly what this article suggests when it juxtaposed Yelp Reviews.

  • AnthonySanchez

    I don’t disagree with the service ratings -though, my interactions have always been pleasant and their workers are very nice if you engage them, but the wait is terrible, so I can see where people are coming from.

    That said, it has nothing to do with the overarching value of Postal Service, nor the liquidation of assets that were paid for with tax dollars.

  • The_Sharkey

    Mayor Bates’ fevered attempts at finding fault with the PO’s plan in order to keep the gray ponytail vote securely on his side don’t count as a “plan” in my opinion.

    So far all plans from the PO have involved them keeping a retail location downtown, which means that comments and leading questions about the downtown PO being gotten rid of are just fear mongering bullshit.

    Tom, you’ve been banned from Berkeleyside twice now. GO AWAY.

  • The_Sharkey

    1.) They might downsize some of them if they’re not needed at the new office.
    2.) The building itself is beautiful and it would be easier for people to enjoy it if was converted over to a new use.

  • The_Sharkey

    Instead of whining and pandering, Bates should be reaching out to McMenamins and other similar groups to try to get the Post Office turned into something like the Kennedy School that could help draw visitors and dollars into our downtown business core in a way that the Post Office does not.

    http://www.mcmenamins.com/KennedySchool

  • playing post office

    You’re wrong. You’re obsessed (I suggest therapy). And your comments don’t really have much of anything to do with the story.

  • The_Sharkey

    No, I’m not wrong.

    If you have comments to make, go back to your blog or write another article for the Berkeley Daily Planet.

  • guest

    Sharkey: you insult Berkeleyside by suggesting that all the intelligent comments on this site have been written by Thomas Lord. I think it’s too bad that he’s been banned (would Berkeleyside like to explain why?) but I’m sure they have other intelligent readers who sometimes submit comments. You, however, are not one of them.

  • Biker 94703

    Fewer employees will certainly help service!

  • Biker 94703

    Actually there is a younger guy working the desk who is very nice and helpful.

    The problem is that there is only one of him. They need more employees. And that problem is the union. Any private business would hire part-time workers for the lunch rush, holidays, etc.

  • KathyHarr

    Article is typical Berkeleyside pro-Bates – as if the Mayor all by
    himself gained this hearing! The PEOPLE asked the COUNCIL, which the
    Mayor is the head of, to petition.

  • The_Sharkey

    If I had ever said or suggested that “all the intelligent comments on this site have been written by Thomas Lord” you’d have a great point. But I haven’t. So try again, this time perhaps using relevant information or facts as a basis for your comments rather than figments of your imagination.

    The reasons for Tom’s repeated bannings were very clear. The first time it was for harassing and hounding the writers and editors of this site with false accusations of plagiarism. The second time it was because he started threatening other posters with lawsuits if they replied to his comments.

  • The_Sharkey

    The poor service at our main Post Office has nothing to do with staffing levels, and everything to do with employees with bad attitudes, no work ethic, and zero accountability.

  • guest

    lel: banning Tom Bates from berkeleyside comments

  • Charles_Siegel

    Assuming that what you say is true, does it follow that laying people off will improve service?

    If you want to improve service, you should talk about changing things you think cause bad service – not about changing buildings or having fewer employees.

  • emraguso

    Berkeleyside received this note from a U.S. Postal Service rep on Wednesday: “I am sending you the following to clarify what may be confusing to your readers. The Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) has docketed an appeal filed by Tom Bates, Mayor of Berkeley, concerning decisions related to the Berkeley Post Office. The action in question is a relocation, not a discontinuance, and it is the Postal Service’s view that the PRC’s appeal authority does not extend to this context. The Postal Service has filed a Motion to Dismiss the appeal and we expect the PRC to rule on this matter in the near term.”

  • guest

    Dr. Phil wants to know how that strategy is working out for them.

  • susan

    The only problem with your argument is that no other post office (not only in Berkeley, but as far as I can ascertain, no where else) has received the astonishing quantity of negative reviews.

    I made the mistake of delivering a package there last year – I’m from the Los Angeles area – and it was an embarrassing organizational nightmare. 20 people in line, waiting 45 minutes to ship a package.

    There’s no polishing THAT turd.

  • guest

    > “20 people in line”
    > “45 minutes”

    Huge demand for services. Average two minutes per customer. Understaffed.

    > “reviews”

    “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”