In response to the controversy surrounding the U.S. Postal Service’s efforts to sell the Berkeley post office and other historic post offices across the country, Congress called for the sales to be suspended in its recently passed $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill.
After the Postal Service announced its intent to sell Berkeley’s main post office in the summer of 2012, community members and local lawmakers alike, including Rep. Barbara Lee, rallied in opposition, accusing the USPS of disregarding federal preservation laws and ignoring the voices of the public.
The appropriations bill urges the USPS to halt the sale of historic post offices until the inspector general carries out a complete inspection of the postal system.
While Congress’ suggestion does not come with an enforcement mechanism, in the past, agencies have tended to heed its recommendations, said Carrie Adams, a spokesperson for Lee’s office.
USPS spokesperson Augustine Ruiz said it was too early to comment on what action, if any, the Postal Service would take.
“Every time something happens to a post office, people take it personally,” Ruiz said. “People are attaching themselves to the historical aspect of the building and the post office.”
The Berkeley post office was listed for sale in the fall of 2013, although USPS has not yet selected a site for relocation.
“We plan on preserving these buildings if we sell them,” Ruiz said of the historic post offices. “We don’t make these decisions haphazardly — we have to do our due diligence to the community.”
Attorney Antonio Rossmann, who is representing the city of Berkeley in its efforts to preserve the post office, said litigation against the USPS would be premature until the agency makes a decision to follow through with a sale.
“It would be extremely impolitic for the postal service to go forward before the inspector general examines the procedures and the rationale of the Postal Service,” Rossmann said.
While the city of Berkeley has thus far managed to stay out of court, Rossmann noted a similar battle against USPS in Stamford, Conn., as an example of successful litigation against the agency halting a historic post office sale. A federal court ruled in late October that the agency had failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act before selling the building.
“That’s the same claim that we have made,” Rossmann said, citing the act and the National Historic Preservation Act as two laws that could be used to protect Berkeley’s post office. “We believe neither of those laws have been complied with.”