Berkeley and cities across the nation are fighting to keep their historic postal buildings. In Stamford, CT, the National Post Office Collaborate based in Berkeley won its first legal victory on Sept. 26, when U.S. District Judge Vanessa Bryant granted a Temporary Restraining Order preventing the sale of the Stamford CT post office. to the Capelli Organization. Capelli is a New York-based real estate developer planning to build apartments on the Post Office site.
One month later, on Oct. 28, the Collaborate won a second legal victory when U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton issued a preliminary injunction against the sale, ruling that the USPS failed to conduct an environmental review of its impact, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
"There is a strong public interest in ensuring that USPS complies with its NEPA obligations here and in any future sales of its other properties," the judge wrote.
"Yesterday"s decision could have far-reaching impacts," according to Steve Hutchins of Save the Post Office, a website. "It’s not clear at this point if the ruling will become a precedent, but as the case moves forward, it may put more pressure on the Postal Service to conduct environmental impact reviews when it wants to sell a historic post office.
“This could result in more opportunities for public input into decisions over sales, more attention to what will happen to the buildings after they are sold, more transparency in the process, and more obstacles for the Postal Service to overcome before it sells a historic property,” Hutchins said. The City of Berkeley, Save the Berkeley Post Office and The National Post Office Collaborate are all exploring legal recourse tos prevent their postal building sales.
“The ruling on the Stamford Post Office sale is part of a much larger fight,” says Jacquelyn McCormick of Berkeley, executive director of the Collaborate. The group is trying to protect public ownership of historic post offices and the art they contain. "They are assets of the people of the United States,"
The US Postal Service holds the largest collection of New Deal-era art in the nation. Murals are painted on many post office walls, around windows, and over doors. Yet, while taxpayers funded the New Deal art and the buildings housing it, there is no guarantee that either will remain as part of the public domain.
"The post office legacy that was entrusted to us in our Constitution is now being dismantled a little bit at a time," McCormick said at a Day of Action to Save the Post Office in the Bronx NY in September, where the USPS is trying to sell the Bronx post office. The Bronx Post Office houses 13 giant paintings by New Deal artist Ben Shahn and his wife, Bernarda Bryson Shahn.
“The buildings and art of our post offices are owned by the people of the United States. Our tax dollars paid for them. The work of our parents and our grandparents during the Great Depression put the art in those buildings.” McCormick said. The National Post Office Collaborate works with Save the Berkeley Post Office and others fighting the sale of their historic buildings. They are seeking additional donations and funds to help defray legal costs.