Berkeley City Council passes civic center overlay to limit use of Downtown post office

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More than a year after its first proposal, Berkeley City Council passed at its Tuesday meeting an overlay that would limit the future uses of historic buildings Downtown.

The overlay applies to Berkeley’s Civic Center District, which includes the Civic Center Park, the Downtown YMCA and the city’s main post office. It will designate these buildings as spaces for community use, such as libraries, public markets and government agencies. Some see the overlay as a way of preventing the development of the post office building, which is currently for sale.

R. Clark Morrison, an attorney for Cox, Castle & Nicholson LLP, has sent multiple letters to the city on behalf of USPS in opposition to the overlay. An August letter criticized the public comment process for developing the overlay and said the city must prepare an environmental impact report to address the possibility that the overlay will cause urban decay.

“Obviously, the postal service is concerned that the overlay will affect the potential sale of the post office,” said Councilmember Jesse Arreguin. “I am overjoyed that the zoning overlay is going to be law. This is a big victory for the people of Berkeley.”

According to USPS spokesperson Augustine Ruiz, the postal service still plans to sell the post office, although it is considering various options on how to respond to the overlay’s passage, including the possibility of litigation.

The council considered an overlay ordinance last September as well but was not ready to pass it then. Opponents of the sale of the Berkeley post office have held protests and rallies on the issue since 2012, including a July visit from Ralph Nader.

The current iteration of the overlay comes from a portion of Measure R, a ballot measure on Downtown development proposed by Arreguin. Although several council members are against the measure, the council passed the overlay unanimously.

Melissa Wen is the lead city news reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @melissalwen.