Protesters continue occupation as sale of Berkeley post office falls through

Michael Drummond/Senior Staff

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Local developer Hudson McDonald failed to reach an agreement regarding the sale of the Downtown Berkeley post office last week after months of negotiations and prolonged community protest.

Despite termination of the sale and recent police intervention, some protesters remain outside the building on Milvia Street and Allston Way after more than a month of occupation. The protesters represent a coalition between Berkeley Post Office Defenders and First They Came for the Homeless and have opposed the sale and privatization of the post office for more than a year.

“The postal service is selling itself out of business, one post office at a time,” said Mike Wilson, organizer for the Berkeley Post Office Defenders.

Police from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service warned protesters Thursday that they were in violation of the law and warned them again Friday morning. Approximately 15 to 20 protesters left, and no arrests were made. Police presence was not connected to the sale of the post office falling through, according to David Guerra, spokesperson for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

“Our first concern is for the safety of our customers and our employees,” said U.S. Postal Service spokesperson Augustine Ruiz in an email. “The encampments present a situation that impedes access to the post office by our customers.”

The police also cleaned the area, which was a “long operation” due to the numerous pieces of abandoned property, Guerra said. Wilson said all unattended property, including his own tent, was confiscated.

“We’re sensing a lot of pressure and frustration from the post office to get out of here,” Wilson said.

As of Friday, Wilson and four other protesters remained on site. Although the deal between Hudson McDonald and the Postal Service fell through, Wilson believes that it is only a temporary delay for attempts to purchase the post office.

The 100-year-old post office building comprises more than 57,000 square feet, but according to Ruiz, it is now mostly vacant, as the post office only requires 4,000 square feet for retail space. The post office, he said, has faced a severe decline in mail volume over the years and fewer customers due to alternative mail services.

The post office first announced that it would close and relocate in June 2012, and a similar protest occurred last year, during which 20 to 30 protesters set up tents and camped outside the building.

In early November, the city’s legal representative, Antonio Rossmann, filed for a temporary restraining order against the USPS for failing to comply with federal historic preservation laws, which require federal agencies to undergo a review process before they take actions that could affect historic properties. A federal report submitted to Congress in April of this year concluded that USPS, with its proposed sale of the building, did not pass this review process.

On Nov. 5, U.S. District Judge William Alsup issued a temporary restraining order preventing the USPS from selling the post office. The restraining order was nullified Friday due to the termination of the sale contract.

A court hearing is scheduled for Thursday to determine whether the city’s case against USPS is still valid.

Contact Amy Jiang at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @ajiang_dc.