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Friday, January 25, 2013

Historic Berkeley Post Office Still Not Officially Up for Sale, But Slowly Getting There

Posted By on Fri, Jan 25, 2013 at 5:04 PM

Will the downtown Berkeley post office reach its 100th birthday?
  • Will the downtown Berkeley post office reach its 100th birthday?
Days may be numbered for the ornate, 99-year-old downtown Berkeley post office. In June, the United States Postal Service announced that the government planned to sell the Allston Way building, as part of its national budget-cutting strategy. More than 200 "consolidations" are scheduled over the next couple of years.

The proposal disappointed local preservationists, community members, and city officials. In July, the Berkeley City Council passed a declaration asking the USPS to keep open the branch. Through the summer and fall, protested gathered outside the branch with signs such as "Save The People's Post Office."

In the next few weeks, the dialogue is set to open up even more: The Berkeley downtown branch is part of a wave of closures set to begin in February. But before the agency makes a major move, it will host a public meeting at the City Council chambers Feb. 26.

"We are still in the discussion stage on it," says Augustine Ruiz, a spokesperson for the postal service.

The USPS is closing branches because of financial struggles. One reason is because, with more and more communication going digital, less people are paying for the post office's services.

As the Chronicle reported in July:

Gus Ruiz, a Postal Service spokesman, said carriers move about 25 percent less mail than they did just five years ago, and that far fewer people walk into brick-and-mortar offices just to purchase stamps.

"You can't lose that much mail without losing revenue," Ruiz said.

At the Berkeley post office, he added, "we have idle equipment."

Just as significant, though, in 2006, Congresses passed legislation that made the USPS the only government agency required to pre-fund retiree health benefits. The American Postal Workers Union argues that this policy is what led the USPS to twice default on $5 billion payments to the U.S. Treasury last year.

The agency targeted the downtown Berkeley branch for closure largely because its large upkeep costs are not supported by the decreasing revenues. Instead, the USPS says that it will open up a smaller branch nearby.

The outcry over the closure, though, has more to do with nostalgia than with having a nearby place to mail packages and buy stamps. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It has marble counters, a high ceiling, and the kind of wood-framed-windows that almost make you want to smoke an unfiltered cigarette while filling out your return address. It looks and feels like what a downtown post office should look like.

And that historical heft is one thing slowing down the sales process.

"It is currently not up for sale yet because we still have to go through the state preservation office," says Ruiz.

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Albert Samaha


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