Post Office management has been attempting to sell off historic Post Offices across the United States for a few years now. In some cases they've succeeded, despite massive and sustained public outcries, as in Venice, CA in 2012...
Last year, a post office in Venice, Calif., that was built in 1939 was sold to the Hollywood producer Joel Silver who is converting it into his company headquarters.
and, just last month, in the Bronx
Youngwoo & Associates has purchased the landmarked Bronx General Post Office, a spokeswoman for the United States Postal Service confirmed late Wednesday.
In other cases they've been stymied. It hasn't just been public outcry that did it, although that is a crucial component. In Santa Clara, CA
, it took the intercession of a powerful Congressperson...
Congressmen Mike Honda (D-CA17) today lauded US Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe for his decision not to close the historic Santa Clara Post Office on Franklin Mall.
"I am grateful to the Postmaster General for this decision," Congressman Honda said. "The Franklin Mall Post Office is historic, beautiful, convenient, and necessary for downtown Santa Clara. This is a facility, in the heart of an old mission city, which services small businesses, students, older residents, and everyone else in the area."
, it took both political intervention and the threat of the Post Office appearing to be callous towards civil rights history...
The Postal Service ignited community outrage in January after Third Ward residents learned about the potential closure of the Southmore Station at 4110 Almeda... The Southmore Station sits at the historic address of the city's first civil rights sit-in...
In Stamford, CT
After grassroots activism in Houston and Washington and the intervention of at least two members of Congress, the Postal Service dropped its plan to close Southmore...
, it took a lawsuit - filed literally at the last hour - that ultimately resulted in a judge issuing an order temporarily preventing the sale, on the basis that the Post Office hadn't followed its own rules...
The U.S. District Court issued a preliminary injunction to stop the sale of the historic building to developer Louis Cappelli, who has plans to raze a 1939 addition to the structure and build two high-rise apartment buildings.
And in Berkeley, CA, for almost two years now, it's taken a combination of people power, Occupation
, political pressure (every single politician of note in the area has stated their opposition to the sale, but we don't have ones powerful enough), serious threats of lawsuits, a Congressional "request" for a moratorium, and ultimately the threat of a zoning ordinance
and a ballot initiative, to keep the property from being sold off. Nonetheless the property is still on the auction block.
How the Zoning Overlay Ordinance Ultimately Got Passed.
The Zoning Overlay Ordinance restricts use of property within the Civic Center Historic District, an area around a public park which includes Berkeley's Old City Hall, its Veteran's Memorial Building, and the Post Office, to "civic uses." The Post Office, in other words, would be useless to a developer hoping to purchase it to turn it into condos, office buildings, a shopping mall, or a super-sized McDonalds.
Having made its way through the Planning Commission in the Fall of 2013, the Berkeley City Council majority buried the ordinance proposal in committee once it came before them in early 2014. The Mayor and his allies didn't want to offend powerful business developers who (completely coincidentally, of course) provide much of their campaign war chests.
But a last-minute ballot initiative (now known as Measure R) which included the Zoning Overlay Ordinance along with other zoning provisions for downtown Berkeley to create a "Green Downtown," made it onto the ballot in late Spring of 2014, with assistance from Berkeley Post Office Defenders and Save the Berkeley Post Office, groups opposed to the sale of the Berkeley Post Office - and with the fierce opposition of the majority of the City Council and business interests.
That reality forced the powers-that-be to make a 180 degree turn. Suddenly, having the City Council pass the Zoning Overlay Ordinance (and thus undermining the rationale for voting for Measure R, which would have more far-reaching effects on Big Developer's profits than one measily Post Office property) became of paramount importance.
And thus it came to pass that last night, September 30th, more than a year and two months after the idea had been initially floated, the Overlay Ordinance passed into law (it will take effect in 30 days).
How effective will it be? We know that it is perceived to be problematic by Post Office management, because they have repeatedly engaged high-priced lawyers to testify before the Planning Commission, write arrogant letters to the City Council making absurd claims, and engage in "negotiations" which are nothing but a smokescreen.
Plus, now that it has passed, USPS management is floating the idea that they will sue Berkeley over the terms of the legislation.
Postal Service spokesman Augustine Ruiz Jr. said via email Monday that "The Postal Service is evaluating all options with respect to the actions taken by the City of Berkeley, including evaluating the possibility of litigation."
Not only is Post Office management worried about their ability to sell the Berkeley Post Office, but we can hypothesize that they now need to be worried that this meme - protecting historical Post Offices using zoning - will spread across the country, throwing an additional monkey wrench into their privatization machinery.
All that said, the Zoning Overlay Ordinance does not stop the sale of the downtown Berkeley Post Office. Post Office management could insist on cutting off its nose to spite its face by selling an incredibly valuable asset for a fraction of what it is worth - instead of using those parts of the facility it needs and renting out the rest. If that happened the only legal avenue left would be a lawsuit akin to the one that halted the sale in Stamford, Connecticut - one which the City of Berkeley and its citizens are more than willing to undertake.
But with a town willing to Occupy its Post Office for a month to signal its opposition to a sale, who knows what might happen should the Post Office continue to be as intransigent as it has been in the past in ignoring the wishes of Berkeley's populace.
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