The Berkeley City Council met on Tuesday evening to consider a resolution urging the United States Postal Service to stop the sale of the Berkeley Main Post Office.
More than a dozen citizens spoke passionately against the proposed sale. Some related how closing the Berkeley Main Post Office would personally affect them, terming the closing “nightmarish” and saying “I can’t believe what’s going on.”
A representative of the American Postal Workers Union sees the proposed closing as part of a broader assault on the middle class and pointed out that the Postal Service is America’s second largest employer and it’s unionized. (Wal-Mart is the nation’s largest employer.)
While the Great Recession has reduced postal revenue, the United States Congress has caused the Postal Service financial crisis. See "House renames dozens of post offices, ignores postal service needs" in Daily Kos:
As of Wednesday, the postal service is in default on the mandate Congress has imposed on it to pay $5.5 billion a year to prefund retiree health benefits for the next 75 years.
Joe Nocera in Monday’s New York Times wrote about the role of California Congressman Darrell Issa, the Chair of the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform:
The postal reform bill that has emerged from the Republican-led House of Representatives, however, does no such thing. Representative Darrell Issa, the chairman of the committee that oversees the Postal Service, talks fiercely about the need to lower labor costs, while describing the Senate bill as a “bailout.” What he is doing, of course, is using the fact that the Postal Service is going broke to impose a slash-and-burn approach — while ignoring the central reason the post office is running out of money: Congress itself.Many of the Berkeley Councilmembers recognize that post office closings and postal service cut-backs are a national problem. Councilwoman Sue Wengraf proposed forming alliances with other cities across the country that are trying to save their post office. Wengraf states post offices are like National Parks; the concept of privatizing them is “outrageous. We are eager to do whatever we need to do to save this building. Keep it in the public realm.”
Councilwoman Linda Maio recommended working with other cities and with the workers and the unions. Maio said “We’re all furious about this. Prior generations worked to make this a beautiful place for us.”
Councilman Jesse Arreguin said that he was surprised to learn of the Postal Service’s plan to sell the beautiful and historic Main Post Office. Arreguin stated that the Main is one of the most heavily-used post offices in Berkeley and he wants to know what are the reasons for the sale, what are the alternatives, and what happens to the employees. “As a community we don’t want this to happen. Privatizing of our public spaces should not happen.” Arreguin decried the lack of transparency in the Postal Service’s decision-making process and called for the United States Postal Service to present a plan to the community and to hold public meetings.
Councilman Max Anderson reminded citizens and the Council that seven years ago Iowa Congressman Steve King used “Joe McCarthy” tactics to prevent naming the Berkeley Main Post Office after then 94-year old Maudelle Shirek. Anderson encouraged the Mayor to involve the Council saying that we are stronger when we work together.
When questioned by Councilwoman Linda Maio, Vice-President of the Council and Acting Mayor in the Mayor's absence, City Manager Christine Daniels said her office had not received any e-mails relating to the sale of the main post office. Mayor’s Chief of Staff Judith Iglehart clarified that the Mayor’s Office has indeed received two letters from the Postal Service and that the Mayor’s Office is in communication with Congresswoman Barbara Lee and representatives of the USPS. Ms. Iglehart stated that the sale is a very strict process, that the Mayor’s Office is working with the state agency in charge of landmarks, that at this time the Berkeley Main Post Office is not for sale, and that Mayor Tom Bates was gone for two and a half weeks.
Below is the text of the Berkeley City Council Resolution. A good source for national information on the United States Postal Service and post office closings is Save the Post Office.
Berkeley City Council Resolution
URGING THE UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE TO NOT PROCEED WITH THE SALE OF THE BERKELEY MAIN POST OFFICE
WHEREAS, the U.S. Postal Service has announced the pending sale of Berkeley’s historic and heavily used Main Post Office, located at 2000 Allston Way in Berkeley’s Downtown; and
WHEREAS, the Italian Renaissance-revival building was designed by the office of the Supervising Architect of the Treasury as a fitting counterpart to the Phoebe Hearst Plan for the nearby University of California campus and is widely recognized as one of the handsomest in the United States; and
WHEREAS, the post office is both an official landmark of the City of Berkeley and listed on the National Register of Historic Places; and
WHEREAS, the post office contains two examples of New Deal public art — an interior mural by Suzanne Scheuer and a marble relief panel in the exterior loggia by David Slivka —; and
WHEREAS, the finely detailed post office lobby has never been remodeled and remains virtually identical to its opening in 1915; and
WHEREAS, the post office serves as a heavily-used anchor and service center for downtown businesses as well as Berkeley residents; and
WHEREAS, the abrupt sale of the post office in Berkeley, as elsewhere in the United States, has been announced with no transparency let alone input from city officials, local businesses and other affected patrons; and
WHEREAS, while USPS is nationally facing significant budget challenges, the closure of the Berkeley Main Post Office will have an impact on Berkeley residents who use the Post Office for a variety of mail services. USPS have already closed posts offices in Berkeley, impacting the ability for residents to access and use mail services. The further closure of one of Berkeley’s most heavily used post offices will have even more impact; and
WHEREAS, it is not clear whether alternatives to the sale of the building were considered, such as maintaining the lobby for retail operations or whether the building could be used for another public purpose; and
WHEREAS, it’s also not clear what the impacts will be to existing employees and to the landmarked building; and
WHEREAS, the sale of U.S. post offices is being conducted with no consideration to the many properties’ historic or aesthetic values and in apparent violation of the National Environmental Policy Act; and
WHEREAS, the USPS is obligated to assure the ongoing protection of the public works of art in its buildings, but no assured policy appears to be in place to safeguard those artworks in perpetuity and to keep them public once the buildings are sold; and
WHEREAS, it is not at all clear whether the USPS substitution of a leased facility for one that the public through the USPS owns will, in fact, result in a net saving for the USPS; and
WHEREAS, given the lack of transparency and input from city officials and residents about the sale of the Berkeley Main Post Office and the lack of important information on the impacts, alternate plans for mail service and the future of the historic building, it is critical that USPS not proceed with the sale of the Post Office. USPS should engage with city officials and residents in discussion around the sale.
NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Council of the City of Berkeley that it hereby urges the United States Postal Service to not proceed with the closure and sale of the Berkeley Main Post Office, and that it initiate a public review and engagement process with stakeholders. The City Council also requests that the United States Postal Service make a presentation before the City Council on its plan to sell the Berkeley Main Post Office and engage in a community meeting to answer questions and hear input from the Berkeley community; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we oppose the decision of the United States Postal Service to prefund all pension obligations, which very few public agencies are currently doing, which has crippled our postal service and resulted in numerous post office closures throughout the country; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we stand in solidarity with the employees, community and other cities affected by closures, and commit ourselves to working with post office employees, community members, and other affected cities to fight the closure of the Berkeley Main Post Office as well as closures throughout the country; and
BE IT FURTHER AND FINALLY RESOLVED, that copies of this Resolution be sent to United States Postmaster Patrick R. Donahoe, USPS Pacific Facilities Service Vice President Diana K. Alvarado, the Berkeley Postmaster, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Congresswoman Barbara Lee and United States Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.