More than 100 people who packed a public hearing yesterday urged the U.S. Postal Service to reconsider its plan to close the historic main post office in downtown Berkeley.
Closing the 57,200-square-foot building at 2000 Alston Way, which was built in 1914 and is on the National Register of Historic Places, "would be akin to selling off a redwood state park," Berkeley resident Edith Hallberg said at the hearing in the City Council's chambers.
Adolfo Cabral, who is running for a City Council seat in the Nov. 6 election, said, "This property needs to remain as a common good for the public."
Cabral said the city of Berkeley should consider the possibility of buying the building and leasing it back to the Postal Service.
The most colorful opposition to the agency's proposal came when most of the audience joined in singing "Please Mr. Postman," the 1961 Motown hit by the Marvelettes. The singers changed some of the words to convey their message that they don't want the Postal Service to close the main post office.
Postal Service spokesman Augustine Ruiz said his agency wants to close the downtown Berkeley post office and many other post offices across the country because it is in poor financial shape due to the bad economy and a steady decline in mail volume.
The Postal Service also has been hurt by a requirement imposed by Congress in 2006 that it pre-fund its retiree health care costs, Ruiz said. The result is that the agency has had net losses of more than $25 billion in the past five years, he said.
Diana Alvarado, the Postal Service's regional property manager, said closing the main post office is expected to achieve $5 million in savings over 10 years.
Alvarado said the agency plans to move mail operations in Berkeley to a "detached delivery unit" at 1150 Eighth St. and lease a mall retail space in the downtown area.
She said the Postal Service is considering the possibility of selling the downtown post office but will conduct "due diligence" over the next 90 days before making such a decision.
Alvarado said if the agency decides to try to sell the building, "We will hire an historical consultant because we realize the historic importance of the building."
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, who chaired the City Council subcommittee hearing on the matter, said he hopes the main post office will remain and at the very least he and other city officials hope the building isn't sold to someone who will modify the building.
"We want it to remain in its current state and we'll fight to the death," Bates said.
He said the decision about the future of the main post office ultimately "is in the political arena" and "is a federal issue" because it's a federal building.
Bates said U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-0akland, strongly opposes closing the main office and is "a great ally who will fight it all the way."
Lee didn't attend the hearing but her district director, Ann Taylor, read aloud a letter from Lee in which she vowed to do her best to keep the post office open.
Opponents of closing the main office won a small victory during today's meeting when Postal Service officials discovered that they had made an error in listing the location of the meeting.
Their meeting notice listed city of Berkeley offices at 2180 Milvia St. as the location but the meeting actually was held a block away at City Council chambers at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
Ruiz said the Postal Service will participate in another public hearing at another date in the next month, although no date has been set at this time. The deadline for comments on the agency's proposal had been Sept. 28 but Ruiz said that deadline will be extended indefinitely for now.
Alvarado said that once the public comment period ends, the decision on the future of the main post office will be made by Postal Service officials in Washington, D.C.
Once they make a decision, people who object to it will have 15 days to appeal it, she said.