Mayor Tom Bates convened the meeting. Two of the three councilmembers on the Post Office Subcommittee attended, Susan Wengraf and Jesse Arreguin. Committee member Laurie Capitelli was absent.
The agenda called for brief remarks by the Post Office Subcommittee, comments by the staff of Congresswoman Barbara Lee; a power point presentation by representatives of the United States Postal Service; comments from an expert panel consisting of community leader and former Berkeley City Councilmember Ying Lee, scholars Harvey Smith and Gray Brechin, and American Postal Workers Union leader Steve Lysaght; and public comment by Berkeley citizens. The handouts including the USPS presentation are available here.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s comments read in part:
"The Berkeley Main Post Office is a pillar of the downtown area, providing the community with central access to postal services and symbolizing Berkeley’s arrival into the modern era. For 97 years, the Berkeley Main Post Office has provided postal services to businesses and communities in the area and I stand with my constituents to say that it should continue to serve the public for many decades more. I strongly urge you to listen to our voices today and move expeditiously to abandon plans to close this local icon and beloved post office."Berkeley’s Main Post Office enjoys a prominent place between Berkeley High School and Shattuck Avenue, our downtown’s main street. Everyday hundreds of high school students pass the post office building and its flag. Celia Jailer Shannon, Berkeley High School Commissioner of Student Activism wrote this to Postmaster General Patrick Donahue:
"Berkeley High School students and the youth of Berkeley condemn any and all actions that endeavor to privatize or sell the City of Berkeley’s Post Office.
"The downtown Berkeley Post Office is a beautiful and historic building that our parents, grandparents and great grandparents have enjoyed, utilized and paid taxes towards. The Post Office is part of our cultural inheritance, our heritage, our legacy. It is a living, breathing, functional link to our city’s past and it belongs to us all and the future generations to follow.
"It is NOT your right to rob the city and its youth of such an irreplaceable piece of infrastructure. The Post Office, as part of our common history, is something to be cherished and preserved, not sold at the convenience and discretion of the federal Postal Service."
The intention of the Postal Service in Berkeley is to lease a 4000 square foot space to replace our Main Post Office and the nearby 3600 square foot leased storefront that provides additional post office boxes. The USPS estimates that selling Berkeley’s Main will result in a $5 million savings over a ten year period. The $5 million savings is reduced by a $1 million dollar one time capital improvement expense. That now $4 million savings also (magically) assumes an $8000 annual savings in rental costs. The USPS assumes they will be able to rent a new 4000 square foot facility for less than the current leased 3600 square foot post office box facility. The USPS estimates a carrier labor cost increase of $140,000 annually that will be offset by reductions of $450,000 in craft/ maintenance labor, $170,000 in utilities expense and $20,000 in “inter-station transportation.”
The USPS representatives initially announced that Thursday’s meeting started a 15 calendar day comment period clock. After Berkeley sub-committee members pointed out a number of irregularities, the USPS representatives agreed that an additional evening public meeting will be scheduled and that the 15 calendar day comment period clock will begin with that meeting.
Ying Lee began the Community Panel with a discussion of the Post Office in the context of the Civil Rights movement. The Post Office has historically been a major employer of African-Americans. For many citizens Post Office jobs have been a path to the middle class.
Gray Brechin sees the sale of historic post office building as a nationwide problem. The USPS holds pro-forma meetings and then goes ahead with the sale. Coldwell Banker Richard Ellis (CBRE) has the exclusive contract to advise the USPS on what buildings to sell and then serves as the agent in the sale of the buildings. CBRE “is no doubt profiting handsomely from the sale of the public’s property. The press has entirely failed to cover this shocking conflict of interest.” Brechin called on Mayor Bates to take the issue of the sale of historic post offices to the U.S. Council of Mayors.
Steve Lysaght of the American Postal Workers Union said that he started as a postal worker when he was 18 years old and that his work with the Post Office provided the financial means to raise four children. Lysaght called the proposed closing of Berkeley’s Main Post Office an ideological political decision and said getting rid of clerk and maintenance jobs in Berkeley is a continuation of the layoff of 220,000 postal employees and the push by USPS management to eliminate six day delivery.
This KPFA newscast has audio from the meeting including singing led by Hali Hammer. The report on the meeting is at about the 28 minute mark.