Berkeley Post Office under sales contract with unnamed buyer

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The United States Postal Service and the city of Berkeley are in the process of potentially selling the Berkeley post office located on 2000 Allston Way.

In a letter leaked last Thursday to the Berkeley Daily Planet and confirmed by city spokesperson Matthai Chakko, City Attorney Zach Cowan says the post office may be sold to an unnamed buyer. Cowan subsequently directed outside counsel Tony Rossmann to prepare litigation against the USPS.

Some community members and city staff hope to prevent the sale in order to preserve the historic building that houses the post office.

USPS spokesperson Augustine Ruiz confirmed that a contract of sale exists between an unnamed buyer and the Postal Service for the building.

“The building no longer fits our needs,” Ruiz said in an email. “We can satisfactorily provide retail customer service at another downtown location where we only need a storefront instead of a large empty building. Our preference has always been to sell the building and lease back the front end of the Post Office and continue to serve our customers there.”

According to Ruiz, the Postal Service has worked with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation in accordance with regulations under the National Historic Preservation Act. Ruiz said the USPS is working toward establishing a preservation covenant and believes that the potential sale of the post office would lead to “no adverse effect” on the community.

At this time, the USPS has not received any restraining orders for the possible sale but is currently evaluating all options regarding any actions taken by the city of Berkeley, including the possibility of litigation.

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, in whose district the post office is located, said that the USPS backtracked from negotiations to join the contract and that the city will initiate litigation if the sale occurs.

“The lawsuit would be based on the fact that USPS improperly proceeded with the sale before completing the 106 process and before procuring a covenant that would protect the historic features of the property,” said Anthony Sanchez, Arreguin’s chief of staff, in an email.

Since negotiations with the USPS ended, the city of Berkeley and the USPS have been trying to agree on a suitable covenant holder, a party liable for the preservation of the post office. But Arreguin, along with community members involved with Save the Berkeley Post Office, believes that the USPS is not the right entity to enforce the covenant.

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak said he would like to see a solution where the building could be used by the public for an indoor farmers market or where the public could access the historical parts, such as the murals.

“I would like to see something that would bring people Downtown that could add to the mix and the vibrancy,” Wozniak said. “It would be a shame (to keep) the post office empty for the next 50 years. Someone needs to find a creative way to use it.”

Contact Robert Tooke at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @robertono_t.