Berkeley sues United States Postal Service over pending sale of historic building

Michael Drummond/Senior Staff

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The City of Berkeley filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the United States Postal Service, alleging that it took steps toward selling the Berkeley Main Post Office before publicly evaluating historic impacts as required under both the National Historic Preservation Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

The suit, filed in federal court, requests a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction seeking to prevent the sale of the post office. U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup granted the restraining order Wednesday, preventing USPS and its employees from selling the post office until a hearing on the preliminary injunction is completed.

A preliminary injunction is an order entered in court to restrain a party from continuing with a course of action until the case has been adjudicated.

In October, USPS disclosed that it had entered into an escrow agreement for the sale of the post office. The suit alleges that it refused to reveal the terms of its proposed sale, the name of the future owner and the future use of the building.

Although the lawsuit referred to only an “undisclosed purchaser,” local developer Hudson McDonald confirmed it is in negotiations to buy the post office, according to Berkeleyside.

USPS is required to comply with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, which necessitates that federal agencies weigh the effect of decisions on sites included in the National Register of Historic Places, in which the Berkeley Post Office is listed.

The suit alleges that USPS violated Section 106 by not documenting “adverse effects” on the building and surrounding community.

It further alleges that without injunctive relief, the sale will cause “immediate and irreparable harm” and that relief cannot be provided monetarily.

“The only response is that we will turn it over our attorneys to handle,” said Augustine Ruiz, USPS spokesperson.

Ruiz said USPS will ideally be able to lease back the front part of the building from the buyer, but if that is not an option, the postal service will find another location in Downtown Berkeley out of which to operate.

The movement to defend the Berkeley Main Post Office from sale began in 2012 after the postal service decided to sell the building July 25 of that year. Activists have organized in front of the post office multiple times, notably in August of 2013, when many set up tents and camped in front of the post office for 30 days.

Margot Smith, a member of Save the Berkeley Post Office, said the post office contains historic murals that Berkeley residents’ parents and grandparents paid for with their tax dollars.

“It’s incredibly awful that they would sell it despite all the local opposition,” Smith said.

Earlier this year, City Council unanimously passed an overlay that designates historic buildings in Downtown Berkeley for community use, including the Berkeley Main Post Office. Despite this measure limiting the development of the space, USPS still planned to sell the building.

“Fundamentally, this building was paid for by taxpayer dollars,” said Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, whose district houses the post office. “It shouldn’t be sold to private hands.”

The hearing on the motion for the preliminary injunction request will take place Monday at 8 a.m.

Contact Suhauna Hussain at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @suhaunah.