U.S. Postal Service makes motion to dismiss city’s complaint, removes building from market

Michael Drummond/File

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Due to ongoing litigation with the city of Berkeley regarding the sale of the Downtown Berkeley post office, the U.S. Postal Service removed the location from its commercial listings of buildings for sale earlier this month.

On Jan. 22, USPS made a motion to dismiss a complaint the city filed regarding the sale of the building, located on Milvia Street and Allston Way. The city first filed the complaint in November alleging that the Postal Service, in its negotiations to sell the building to local developer Hudson McDonald, failed to comply with federal historic preservation laws requiring review of actions that could affect historic properties.

The motion alleged that the city’s claims were moot after Hudson McDonald terminated the purchase agreement in early December.

“In a nutshell, rather artlessly, the post office is arguing that since Hudson McDonald canceled the sale, that’s the end of the matter,” said Antonio Rossmann, the city’s legal representative.

The ultimate goal of the lawsuit is to convince the post office not to sell the building or, alternatively, for the post office to justify the need to sell the building and to guarantee a long-term lease to maintain postal function of the building, Rossmann said.

Although the Berkeley post office has been removed from the listings, “that does not mean we are still not pursuing the sale of the building,” said USPS spokesperson Augustine Ruiz in an email.

Ruiz stated in December that the approximately 57,000-square-foot building is mostly vacant because the post office only requires 4,000 square feet for its operations. Over the years, the post office has seen a severe decline in mail volume and fewer customers due to alternative mail services.

“We’re Berkeley — we’re going to keep fighting,” said City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin. “We think it’s important to fight the sale and to hold the post office accountable, so we’re proceeding with the lawsuit.”

Arreguin, who authored a zoning overlay that restricted the use of building community uses, said he does not believe that the post office is backing off on selling the building but that they simply have not identified a buyer at the current time. The post office received multiple offers for purchase prior to entering an agreement with Hudson McDonald, according to Arreguin.

“They are just resolute that they want to sell the building, despite opposition from the community and city leadership, which has left us with little options,” Arreguin said. “We should not let our public commons be privatized. Once it’s sold, we’ll never get it back.”

Protesters, including individuals from the Berkeley Post Office Defenders and First They Came for the Homeless, have occupied the premises for more than two months to demonstrate against the sale and privatization of the post office. In the past month, the two groups and other community members have converted a strip of grass into a “garden of common good.”

“Not only do we want to change and oppose things, but we want to build new kinds of community; that is going to help us survive in the future,” said Carol Wolfley, a member of the Berkeley Post Office Defenders.

The city will respond to the motion to dismiss by Feb. 12, according to Rossmann. The motion by the Postal Service to dismiss the case will be heard March 19 by Judge William Alsup.

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