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It's not often one has reason to quote the Wall Street Journal, pointing to it as evidence that what you are doing is having an effect. But as the Journal just reported, a novel tactic seems to be having the desired effect of making developers wary of purchasing the downtown Berkeley Post Office.

 photo public-property-not-for-sale_zps067f452e.jpg

The idea, a restrictive zoning ordinance, was first proposed by an Occupy Oakland participant and developed into a concrete proposal by activist groups and Berkeley Councilperson Jesse Arreguin. Along the way it garnered serious community support - three hearings on it by the Berkeley Planning Commission were jampacked with supporters. It, along with direct action by the Berkeley Post Office Defenders (a co-mingling of people from Strike Debt Bay Area and Save the Berkeley Post Office) in the form of a month-long encampment on the Post Office steps in August, and the threat of a lawsuit challenging a sale should it happen, has sent a message:

Danger. Stay Away. Public Property. Not For Sale.

(The sign you see to the right mysteriously appeared at the downtown Berkeley Post Office about two weeks ago.)

Here's some of what the WSJ had to say:

BERKELEY, Calif. Community groups and elected officials across the country are protesting as the cash-starved U.S. Postal Service shuts down and sells post offices...

But few cities are going as far as this one... Opponents are gaining traction with an unorthodox zoning restriction: that the mustard-colored building must remain open to the public.

The Berkeley Planning Commission last month approved a measure that would restrict the use of the Post Office and adjacent government buildings to government agencies or public uses like a theater...

The rezoning strategy is being closely watched by other communities resisting sales in search of opposition techniques. But it has drawn the ire of the Postal Service, which calls the measure "unduly restrictive," an attorney for the agency wrote to the planning commission last month.

Opponents to the Berkeley sale said they are considering lawsuits to block it. But they said the zoning measure is a backup plan should a sale go through.

So far, they appear to have succeeded in rattling the market. "This one struck me at the get-go as one to stay out of," said Patrick Kennedy, an active developer in Berkeley. He isn't planning on bidding, he said.

Mr. Kennedy estimated that, without zoning changes, the post office would be valued at roughly $10 million. But the rezoning would significantly reduce its value, and it opens up the prospect that the building could even stay vacant should the sale go through because so many income-producing uses would be barred, he said.

The proposed zoning ordinance is not law yet. It has to be approved by the Berkeley City Council, and it will be up for a vote some time in January.  Berkeley activists have been working for a year and a half, ever since the Postal Service announced its intentions in June of 2012, to stop the sale and "Halt the Heist" of our commons by privateers. (For more background, see the links at the bottom of the diary.)

While waiting for the City Council to act, the Berkeley Post Office Defenders, the Green Party, Save the People's Post Office, and Community and Postal Workers United are holding a Town Hall tomorrow (Thursday):


When:  Thursday December 5, 2013, starting at 7:00 PM

Where: Berkeley Arts Festival Space, 2133 University Ave., Berkeley, CA 94704

Why:   Organize the Bay Area to save our public postal service.


 photo post-office-tents-postcard2_zps557eec41.png

We will be discussing the call by Mark Dimondstein, newly elected President of the American Postal Workers Union, for a Grand Alliance to prevent the privatization of the Postal Service.

Writing to Congress is important, but it is not enough. Lobbying for legislation is important, but it is not enough.  To succeed, postal workers must build a movement.  We must build a grand alliance between the people of this country and postal workers.  We must mobilize our allies and their organizations, including seniors, retirees, civil rights organizations, veterans groups, the labor movement, community and faith-based organizations, the Occupy movement, and business groups in defense of America’s right to vibrant public postal services.

 -  Mark Dimondstein

We will also be discussing continued and invigorated efforts to save the Berkeley Post Office and by doing so, helping to prevent the selling off of our Commons.

Please join us!!

-----

Background

Killing the Post Office on the Altar of Privatization.

Protesters Live in a Tent City to Oppose Post Office Closure

Those Damned Hippies. They're Saving the Post Office.

Selling Off the Post Office: Berkeley Calls Out Richard Blum.

How to Privatize the Post Office Piece by Piece, Step By Step.

Postal Occupation Diaries:

OMG They're Chalking the Post Office

C'Mon Deliver the Letter, the Sooner the Better.

Enter the Postal Police: Day 10 of the Berkeley Post Office Occupation.

Civil Disobedience in an Age of Insanity. Taking a Stand, A Song and a Tent.

Originally posted to jpmassar on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 07:03 PM PST.

Also republished by Occupy Wall Street, California politics, SFKossacks, Progressive Policy Zone, Dailykos Kossacks For Action, and In Support of Labor and Unions.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thanks to all who worked hard... (11+ / 0-)

    ...for this oh so welcome victory.

    “...the class which has the power to rob upon a large scale has also the power to control the government and legalize their robbery.” Eugene Debs

    by dharmasyd on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 07:19:44 PM PST

  •  Declare eminent domain (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ebby, jpmassar, blueoasis, gooderservice

    and call it yours!
    (Hey, if rich developers can do it...?)

    •  We don't want to own it. (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      marina, mrsgoo, Odysseus, Creosote, JVolvo

      We want it to stay a Post Office.

      Eminent domain could be invoked if Berkeley wanted it, but you still have to pay fair market value for the property.

      •  Didn't see this comment before, the trouble is (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        FG, jpmassar

        ---it's a horrible Post Office.  The worst I have ever used.  I'd rather take BART to the Civic Center / Oakland Federal Bldg than to try to use the Downtown Berkeley facility.

        Yes, I think the building should be saved.  But it's useful life as a PO was over years ago.

        Why not have a small storefront style office?  There are a number of offices like that now in Berkeley.  The only reason to go to the current downtown office is to kill a few hours waiting with a bunch of masochists.

        Without massive renovations, I can't imagine what it could be used for though.  I really doubt another community theater is going to be feasible.

        •  It'd be a nice building for movie theatres (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          jpmassar, Be Skeptical, JVolvo

          ... if only the building didn't need expensive renovations before it could be re-purposed, and if only there weren't already multiplex theatres two blocks away.

        •  That's so weird. (6+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          mrsgoo, AoT, marina, gooderservice, Creosote, JVolvo

          Why do you think going to a different location would get you better service?

          The problem with service has nothing to do with the location.  It's the number of tellers available for the number of people needing service.

          That problem has nothing to do with the building.  The fact that lots of people come to that location in spite of their not being decent service suggests just the opposite - that it is a very desirable location for a Post Office and that service should be improved, not that it should be abandoned.

          •  Poor service, lack of staff (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Odysseus, Creosote

            couldn't possibly have anything to do with cutbacks of government employees, of course.

          •  No, it's not just the staffing levels (0+ / 0-)

            It's the staff themselves, unless they have cleaned house since my last experience.  It's not the Postal Service in general, it's this post office.  Admittedly, I now use it a only few times a year--I don't even live in Berkeley anymore.  But the bad service is not a recent phenomenon.  It was like that 5 years ago and 10 years ago and 15 years ago.

            Sure , the exterior is nice.  But inside--dark, dank, constricted space, no place to endure the interminable waits.  It's very poorly laid out for customers.  Unless you're 24 maybe and have a couple of power drinks I recommend going elsewhere.  

            The fact that so many people go to the building suggests they  don't have a lot of options.  Use one of the larger empty storefronts on Shattuck and you would double the foot traffic.  Sadly perhaps, but that would be a whole lot cheaper than fixing what is wrong with the current site.

            If you want to save the USPS, make it about the customers, not about an old building.

    •  It belongs to the Federal Government (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      AoT, marina, Odysseus

      you got a legal theory about how the City of Berkeley can declare eminent domain against a higher level of government?

      To the extent that local governments have gotten away with this tactic (thank you New London v Kelo) it has been in the interest of "highest and best use" and not as in Berkeley the other way around.

      Rich developers get away with it because the law is biased towards more intense uses and not against.

      SocSec dot.Defender at gmail.com - founder DK Social Security Defenders Group

      by Bruce Webb on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 11:03:18 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  How clever (5+ / 0-)

    to propose rezoning it. Great tactic. The City could rezone most of the profits out of the proposed resale.

    “The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” ― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

    by 6412093 on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 07:41:44 PM PST

  •  This can stop the sale (0+ / 0-)

    but it is hard to see how the Post Office won't just close it down.

    •  That would be cutting off their nose to spite (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      gooderservice

      their face.

      They have to maintain service nearby (otherwise they would have to go through a much more onerous legal procedure to close the site).  Which means they would have to rent space instead of using the space they already own rent free.

      •  They can't service the area from another (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        jpmassar

        Post Office?

        •  No other post office in the immediate area. (0+ / 0-)

          Downtown Berkeley is an area for walking.  Lots of people without cars.  

          That's why the closure would be particularly painful.

          But as I understand they have to (or have agreed to) keep a service center open in the same zip code.  No other PO's in that zip code.

          •  Oh Crap JP (0+ / 0-)

            We had this same argument at the last dKos Christmas Party. And unless they post my picture at the front door with a security guard may well again.

            Downtown Berkely is full of street front retail properties that would serve the functions of the four windows that are actually open at the Downtown Berkeley Post Office. And practically nothing of the activities that happen behind the six feet from that counter, which only takes up about a third of the entire frontage of what used to be the front counter windows couldn't be relocated without anyone knowing the wiser. In fact mostly the Berkeley Main PO just bundles stuff and ships it to the Regional Center in West Oakland where all the real sorting is done. This is why mail sent by my Mom in San Rafael in in my PO Box in Berkeley literally the next day. Because none of it actually runs through the historic San Rafael Post Office.

            The Berkeley Post Office Building is on a couple of different National Registers and so cannot have too much structural change under law. For exampe it literally cannot be converted either into a multi-story office building OR a movie theatre. Because the back portion behind Allston extending back to Kittridge is only a story and a half max.
            a
            And your nattering about zip codes is nutty. The zip code for the Berkeley Main is 94701 by definition. That is what the '01' means. For example my PO Box in an adjacent building and I believe remaining PO Boxes in the Main building all have a Zip of 94712 even as every maiing address for blocks around is either 94704 or 94703. That is you somehow have confused zip codes for census blocks. Presumedly they could relocate the main facility for Berkeley out at the Gill Tract or the Albany Bulb (two other sources for progressive rage at this point of time in Berkeley and environs) and STILL label it 94701. Because near as I can tell 94701 and the current building are coincident.

            It is particularly worth noting that the building that currently houses most of Berkeley Downtown Post Office's PO Boxes is scheduled for for replacement by a ten story retail/apartment structure connnected to the current Shattuck Hotel complex and could rather easily include a streetfront retail PO within a half a block of the current building.

            And in the meantime there is a large empty commercial space a half block beyond that formerly occupied by the Walgreen now relocated across the Street and most recently occupied by the seasonal Spirit (Halloween) store. And that is not the only vacant property even more walkable and transit friendly than the current building.

            The whole Save Our PO effort has been a mixture of rank disinformation from the Git-Go. The building is protected by law and while it would be nice to see it converted to a civic purpose the fact is that the whole area is already dominated by public buildings including new and old City Hall, the Vet Building, the High School with attendent commuity theatre facilities, Berkeley City College (a public community college) and God Help us a streetfront Social Security Office catty corner from the PO.

            This whole discussion makes a lot more sense if people are not actually aware of the day to day realities on the ground and the state of law as it relates to structures on the Historical Register. The Berkeley PO is a wonderful structure as seen from its frontage on Allston and has some nice features along Milvia. But even its Front Lobby is mostly a ghost town with barely a third of its past counter space open and nothing to be experienced down the rest.

            Basically it looks good on a postcard. And since under law the postcard piece of it HAS to be preserved a lot of this is a tempest in a tea pot.

            Shoot the whole occupation of the Gill Tract is kind of misguided faux-progressivism in my view, but at least it is a struggle against the conversion of honest to God open space in favor of a supermarket (and a senior center). And the ongoing eviction of the homeless community at the Albany Bulb (formerly a garbage landfull but now a vibrant community of homeless/anarchists/artists who only partially overlap) is something that East Bay radicals can get behind with a clear conscious. But the whole Save Our Berkeley PO movement is First World Nimbyism at its worst. "OOH ART DECO". Yeah as it that is the biggest issue for Berkeley as say compared to the (IMHO) valiant but still under resourced attempts by the City and Community to serve the rather large population of Downtown folk who need mental health care.

            I go to school a block from the Berkeley PO and walk by people outside Berkeley BART that desparately need counseling and frankly medication. Now if there was an effor to turn the PO into a real multi-service complex replacing the bed-bug invested and earthquake unsafe facilities in the Vet Memorial Building two blocks away than I would be sympathetic. Not least because I spent 15 months living in the Berkeley Men's Shelter in the Vet building basement. But as it is this pale shadow of Occupy leaves me dead cold.

            Its a building protected by law. And there are literally dozens of seriously ill people who spend their entire days and often nights within four blocks of it. And more not that many miles away in Oakland or out at the Bulb in Albany. Priorities in the right place here?

            SocSec dot.Defender at gmail.com - founder DK Social Security Defenders Group

            by Bruce Webb on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 11:48:11 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  You're correct about that zip code. Population = 0 (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              JVolvo

              and you're right about just about everything else.  It is an administrative zip code used for the Central Berkeley PO. (i.e., currently the Allston bldg).  The YMCA across the street, and the rest of the immediate neighborhood, are all in 94704.  There are at least six additional actual POs in Berkeley that I can think of.   That's a lot for a city that is not really that big.  You're also correct about the already dense concentration of public buildings near that PO, which, if you count State, County, and UC facilities, is even higher than it appears.

              You sound like someone who has actually used this facility and knows downtown Berkeley beyond the occasional movie excursion.

              "First World NIMBYism."  Love it!  Your suggestions are extremely sensible.  Even if it was converted to a mixed-use retail/apartment building that preserved the external shell that would be perfectly fine with me.  I thought people wanted more housing in Berkeley.  Yet almost every attempt to build denser housing is fought, which discourages developers (dirty word) and (What do you know?!) drives up rents in the inadequate number of existing units.  I guess it would be better for the world if people who work or study in Berkeley lived out in Tracy or Clayton in some newly constructed tract that had been productive farm land and commuted into town in their internal combustion-powered vehicle.

              But to actually improve the way the city functions?  ¡No pasarán!

  •  But it would make a beautiful Pottery Barn! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jpmassar

    Filled with overpriced crap!

    Wouldn't that be spectacular?

    "Bob Johnson doesn't have special privileges, because really, why would I entrust that guy with ANYTHING?" - kos, November 9, 2013

    by Bob Johnson on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 08:06:39 PM PST

    •  We hadn't thought of that! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Bob Johnson

      Cancel the whole sale-prevention operation! Get Pottery Barn on the phone!

    •  It would also make a fine JC Penney's (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Be Skeptical

      No joke.

      You literally cannot buy a simple three-pack of socks in downtown Berkeley. Or a pair of Lee's Jeans. There are multiple cineplex or art theatres and all kinds of places to buy lunch or a nice dinner before going to an astonishing variety of theatre and cultural events at night along Addison Street. I go to school and work in Downtown Berkeley and have my PO Box there and I love the place. But it isn't no damn Main Street anything and 90% of actual Berkeley residents have no reason to visit unless they are seeking government services or taking BART to SF. And at that Berkeley has two other BART Stations and one just over the border in Oakland.

      So no Berkeley doesn't need a Pottery Barn at 2000 Allston. For one thing there is no parking for that  kind of suburban destination shopping. But there are a lot of people living within a mile of that location that might like a place to buy simple household goods and socks and underwear. And there is literally no general department store left in Downtown Berkeley. There used to be, I remember going to the J.C. Penney's in the 70s.

      Now there is plenty of fine dining, in fact the neighborhood just North of Downtown along Shattuck Avenue is world famous among foodies as the Gourmet Ghetto and anchored by Alice Water's Chez Panisse. BON APPETIT! Because there is unlimited options for food within blocks.

      But you will have to literally jump on BART or the 1R bus if you want to find a place to sell you Hane's underwear. (Or Jockey or whatever). So the idea of converting the Main PO in standard retail is not at all nutty.

      As opposed to keeping it in use as a quasi-industrial sorting and shipping facility whose actual functions have 97% been shifted down to the Port of Oakland (JPs other pet area of concentration BTW).

      SocSec dot.Defender at gmail.com - founder DK Social Security Defenders Group

      by Bruce Webb on Thu Dec 05, 2013 at 12:09:56 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  That Post Office has been in several movies... (0+ / 0-)

    Including "Twice Upon a Time"...  It was where "Greensleeves and the Figmen of Imagination" were based out of.

    "Death is the winner in any war." - Nightwish/Imaginareum/Song of myself.

    by doingbusinessas on Wed Dec 04, 2013 at 11:35:31 PM PST

  •  W00t! A least it's one place that (0+ / 0-)

    Patrick Kennedy won't take over. ;)

    Thanks for the news that the ongoing work by the PC and by the people is having some positive effect. People SHOULD be cowering over the idea of being in possession of stolen property, shouldn't they? OK - there's a poster if someone tries to buy it: WANTED for possession of stolen property.

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