You don’t got mail

Council Watch

“OMG, I use the post office all the time!” said no one ever. For all zero people at this school who regularly use snail mail to communicate, you may have heard of the proposed sale of the Downtown Berkeley Post Office. You may also not care.

This, however, is not the case for the citizenry of Berkeley, which has taken up arms and regularly protested against said sale over the past year. The Downtown Berkeley Post Office is special, you see, for it’s listed in the National Register of Historical Places, and its facade, crafted in 1915, is decorated with Works Progress Administration art. As such, it’s an expensive piece of real estate and costly to maintain.

Berkeley City Council formed a subcommittee last year to address the concerns arising from this proposed sale. As of a meeting held this past Tuesday, Feb. 12, the council stands with the people — it is very much in favor of preserving this historic building if at all possible.

Now, let’s make something clear — the post office isn’t closing altogether. If the sale of the building does go through, the post office will simply be moving to another more affordable location.

So what are some reasons for keeping it going in its current carapace?

Harvey Smith, president of the National New Deal Preservation Association and a staunch supporter of our lovely post office, wrote in an op-ed to the Daily Cal last summer that “The proposed sale of the nearly century-old Downtown Berkeley Main Post Office is yet another close-to-home example of the public surrender to corporate America.”

Wait, what? But actually … what?!

This reminds me of a Berkeley City Council meeting I attended last summer that was focused on Berkeley’s unsuccessful ballot measure that would have banned sitting on commercial sidewalks. Protesters congregated outside to express their dismay over the proposed ban, and to one side stood a group participating in the protests loudly shouting, “An acorn is no more a tree than a corporation is a person! A tutu is no more a ballerina than a corporation is a person!”

These both happen to be true statements, but what do they have to do with anything? Why does the supposed desecration of a public entity somehow have to link back to corporate power in America?

Dear Lord, it’s not as if we’re going to install a WalMart or Starbucks in the post office building. “Don’t give in to corporate entities!” is a great slogan to get the people riled up, but pitting public versus private in this matter is the incorrect way to frame this debate.

Simple facts: The Downtown Berkeley Post Office is suffering financially; the plight of the post office is so bad that it has been placed on the “2012 List of America’s 11 Most Endangered Places.” However, the proposed sale does not arise out of an insidious attempt to privatize public goods but an unfortunate reality brought about by technological shifts in the industry.

Let’s not turn this into an ideological debate where one doesn’t exist.

Another reason for not selling has been the consistent cry that this building is part of Berkeley history and that historical preservation is paramount. As a fellow history nerd, I can sympathize.

But let’s be honest here, folks; this isn’t Monticello, this is a freakin’ post office. It’s like saying, “Oh gee whiz, it’s 1932, but for history’s sake, don’t sell that Pony Express outpost that’s falling apart and not making any money! It’s pretty!”

At the last subcommittee meeting on the topic, Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said, “We paid for it,” in reference to the fact that taxpayer money has allowed for the building’s development and maintenance all these years.

I can understand how you can feel attached to a building because you’ve paid for it. That’s where I stop comprehending, though, because the arguments that are being made to save the building don’t follow logically.

If you love the building because it’s historic, well … the building isn’t going anywhere. It will remain a beautiful facade, regardless of its inhabitants. If you love the U.S. Postal Service because you would have been that person in 1932 using the Pony Express, well … that’s not being eliminated with the sale, only moved.

Why insist on maintaining a costly building/service and paying taxes for it when neither the building nor the service will be significantly tarnished by a sale?

The council’s next subcommittee meeting on the issue will take place next Tuesday, Feb. 26; voting on the issue will occur on March 5. As noted before, the council is fully in support of historic preservation. To which I must ask: To what end?

Or better yet: How often do you use the post office?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Contact Lynn Yu at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter: @lynnqyu.