On Tuesday, a federal judge dismissed Berkeley’s lawsuit against the U.S. Postal Service, which had been trying to sell the 100-year-old Berkeley Main Post Office on 2000 Allston Way to a private firm, on the grounds that the case was moot.
The potential sale of the building to Hudson McDonald — a privately owned property management company — fell through when the company canceled the deal. The city, along with the mayor, several City Council members and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, had previously filed a complaint against the sale in light of the post office’s historical significance, while protesters occupied the building last fall for the same reason.
The case’s dismissal, despite having been requested by the defendant, USPS, benefited the plaintiffs in that the judge ordered USPS to provide the city with “written notice at least 42 calendar days in advance of the closing of any future sale of the Berkeley Main Post Office.” Additionally, the judge did not invalidate the objections made by the city in declaring the case moot, meaning that such objections could be raised once more in the event of a future proposed sale.
“Even though they dismissed the case, it was really a victory for us and for everyone who wants the post office building to be used for the public’s interest,” said Mayor Tom Bates.
In response to USPS announcing its intent to sell the post office building, Berkeley City Council passed an overlay last fall that designated it, along with other historic structures in Downtown Berkeley, as spaces for community use.
Meanwhile, Bates said he would support the hypothetical sale of the post office, even to a private firm, provided that the post office became, for example, “a farmers market or a series of stores” that would benefit Berkeley residents and that the sale ensured the site’s historic features were not disturbed.
“This is about making sure that if they do sell the post office, the landmarks in it will still be preserved,” Bates said. “The arrangement of the desks, the murals and the outside walls are all significant, and so whatever happens to the building, it’s important that those landmarks are maintained.”
USPS spokesperson Augustine Ruiz said in an email that USPS was pleased that the case was dismissed and that “retail postal services will continue to be provided at the Berkeley Main Post Office” for the time being. He added, however, that retail stores and online options have decreased the need for voluminous physical post offices.
“It is very simple economics,” Ruiz said in the email. “Why continue to absorb a cost for maintaining a largely empty building when we can continue to serve our customers more economically in a site that suits that purpose?”
Mike Lonergan, a spokesperson for the Save the Berkeley Post Office group, said in an email that requiring USPS to give advance notice of any future deals “protects Berkeley’s downtown post office from a secret sale.” Still, because the case was declared moot, Lonergan added that there was no definitive resolution to the issue of whether or not USPS “must comply with historic preservation and environmental laws across the country.”