While Berkeley continues its protests, the United States Postal Service goes ahead with plans to sell Berkeley’s landmarked Downtown Post Office. The USPS deadline for appealing the decision is Tuesday, May 7th, a day when Berkeley will rally on the steps of the Berkeley Post Office at 2000 Allston Way--music & protest 12:00 to 5 pm, with speakers and music beginning at 3 PM. All are invited to demonstrate and protest the sale of our historic Post Office building.
The Save the Berkeley Post Office Committee, the city of Berkeley and others have appealed the USPS decision. From Georgetown to Santa Monica, the USPS is selling historic post offices that were entrusted to it. In Berkeley, work proceeds at several levels to prevent the sale of our cultural heritage.
o Legally: Save the Berkeley Post Office is working with the National Post Office Collaborate to take joint legal action with other communities, such at the Bronx, and Chelsea, NY, to stop these sales. o Legislation: Senator Bernie Sanders is being asked to amend his bill to prevent the sale of historic post office. His bill preventing the closures of 3,500 post office buildings has passed the Senate. o Education and Outreach: The Committee continues to table and leaflet in front of the Post Office to encourage Berkeley residents to support efforts to save the building for the public. o Fundraising: the public is asked to make a tax-deductible donation to the National Post Office Collaborate to support the legal efforts to stop these sales. Please go to http://www.nationalpostofficecollaborate.com/ ; then click on DONATE. Or mail a check to the National Post Office Collaborate, P.O. Box 1234, Berkeley, CA 94701
"We want these post office buildings to stay within the public domain," said Jacquelyn McCormick, a former mayoral candidate, who organized the National Post Office Collaborate to prevent these sales. NPOC, in the process of attaining a nonprofit status, aims to build a unified national response to the threatened sale of some 40 historic post offices nationwide. NPOC is working with Harold Hughes, retired USPS general counsel, now an attorney with Utah-based Ford & Huff, to look at legal strategies.
"The fact that the post office gave 15 days appeal on a matter that seems to be significant to the public kind of suggests how much thought they're going to give to considering the appeal," Hughes said. He pointed to the National Environmental Policy Act, which says federal agencies must consider environmental impacts of major federal actions. Hughes said USPS avoids considering the cumulative impacts of numerous post office closings.
Hughes criticized the postal service's hearing and appeals process, characterizing them as "pro forma." In his letter appealing the Bronx Post Office sale, he quoted postal regulations that state when a decision affects "the equality of the human environment," USPS must "encourage and facilitate public involvement" in the decisions.
Hughes said, however, the National Historic Preservation Act ensures public access to the art. "Obviously the art was paid for by the public and for public consumption," Hughes said. "When this artwork was created, back in the Depression era, it was created for the public to enjoy. To simply say, 'Well, we continue to have it, but it's up to the new owner whether anyone would get to see it,' really sort of destroys the point of public art."
In April the Postal Service approved the sale of three other historic post office buildings: the Wall Street post office in La Jolla, Old Chelsea on West 18th Street in New York City, and the Bronx General Post Office on the Grand Concourse. As in Berkeley, these three post offices contain New Deal public artworks. The murals in the Bronx by Ben Shahn are masterpieces, monumental in scale and extremely well-known.
Berkeley city officials asked for a one year time-out to work with the USPS to find a solution that met the long-term financial needs of the Postal Service and maintained federal ownership. The Postal Service wasn't interested.
As of 2003, the USPS real estate portfolio had an estimated worth of $110 billion. The process of privatizing USPS real estate holdings may yield enormous commissions to CB Richard Ellis, the giant commercial realty firm that was awarded an exclusive contract for USPS property sales. University of California Regent Richard Blum is the chairman of CB Richard Ellis and the husband of California Senator Dianne Feinstein.