Mayor's Appeal on Berkeley Post Office Rejected – for Now

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates's appeal to block the sale of the city's historic Post Office was dismissed today, Tuesday, by the Postal Regulatory Commission. The commission chair nevertheless criticized the Postal Service's handling of the issue.

More than 100 protesters gathered at the Berkeley main Post Office on July 27, 2013 in opposition to the planned sale of the building by the U.S. Postal Service. Photo Credit: Charles Burress
More than 100 protesters gathered at the Berkeley main Post Office on July 27, 2013 in opposition to the planned sale of the building by the U.S. Postal Service. Photo Credit: Charles Burress
The U.S. Postal Regulatory Commission today, Tuesday, dismissed the appeal by Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates to block the planned sale of the city's historic downtown Post Office.

The rejection, however, dismissed the appeal "without prejudice" as "premature," leaving open the door for an appeal to be filed again once the U.S. Postal Service decides when and where it will relocate the services now provided at the Berkeley Main Post Office.

The commission chair also admonished the Postal Service's handling of the issue, saying that agency's decisions to close Post Offices without identifying where the services will be transferred "damages its relations with the customers it is trying so hard to retain" and "appears to cause needless confusion in the affected communities, as evidenced by the appeals filed with the Commission."

The Postal Service has been selling its large old post offices and transferring its dwindling operations to smaller spaces as a way to reduce its financial losses. It issued its final decision to relocate the Berkeley Main Post Office on July 18, despite strong local opposition.

The Berkeley City Council and the California State Legislature have passed resolutions calling for the sale to be halted, and Bates helped organize a campaign with other cities to save their traditional post office buildings.

The mayor's appeal was accepted for review by the commission on Aug. 8, but the U.S. Postal Service filed for dismissal, arguing that the authority of the Postal Regulatory Commission does not extend to a relocation of existing services.

Bates told Patch today that he filed the appeal on the assumption that, given the shortage of alternative space for Postal Service operations in downtown Berkeley, the Postal Service is likely to sell the building and then lease back part of the space inside for its operations.

"That's not a relocation," Bates said. "That's a sale."

Bates sharply criticized the Postal Service for its approach. "They've double-dealt, they've misled, they've distorted."

If the Postal Service decides to sell the building and then continue its operations under lease in the building, Bates said he will probably appeal again, though he said he didn't expect to win.

He also said the city plans to sue the Postal Service for not adequately assessing the environmental impacts of the sale as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The Postal Service told the commission that its plans for relocating services have not been decided.

"The Postal Service mentions that it may consider a sale of the building and a lease-back of the required space so as to allow existing retail service to remain in place," according to the commission's ruling, which was issued today. "It states that postal operations require approximately 4,000 square feet of the approximately 57,000 square feet of space in the existing building."

The Postal Service said it will provide the same level of service, with the same operating hours, within the same zip code as the current Main Post Office, the commission ruling said.

Postal Regulatory Commission Chair Ruth Goldway issued a "concurring opinion" in today's ruling that admonished the Postal Service and concluded, "The process would be improved if the Postal Service identifies the new post office location contemporaneously with announcing its decision to relocate the existing post office."

The full text of the five-page ruling can be viewed here.


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