By Tracey Taylor, Berkeleyside
The House Appropriations Committee, in its recommendations accompanying the $1.1 trillion omnibus appropriations bill passed by the House Wednesday, calls for the United States Postal Service to “suspend the sale of any historic post office” pending the completion of an investigation by the Inspector General into whether the USPS is following the requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act.
This could mean the sale of the downtown Berkeley Post Office, a landmarked building at 2000 Allston Way, could be halted.
According to a spokesperson for Rep. Barbara Lee, who serves on the Appropriations Committee, recommendations do not have an enforcement mechanism, but are “typically followed.” She said that she was checking with the Congressional Research Service to find any examples of recommendations not being followed, but it would be “very rare.”
The spending bill easily passed the House 359-67 and passed the Senate on Thursday night. The Appropriations Committee recommendation is part of a 116-page report providing explanations for financial services and general government, including the Office of the Inspector General (the passage relevant to the USPS is on page 75).
USPS spokesman Augustine Ruiz said today it is too early for the Post Office to take any action as a result of the potential legislation. “It would be premature and irresponsible to speak on what may or may not happen,” he said. Ruiz said the organization would wait to see what happens before making any decisions.
Rep. Barbara Lee said the language was clear, however, and that the USPS needs to put sales of historic post offices on hold.
One recommendation instructs the USPS to enact a moratorium on the sales until after the release of a pending Inspector General report on the legality of the sales. A second recommendation directs the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to issue a report on how to ensure the USPS follows the law in its sales of historic properties.
In a statement, Lee said there is a need to press the pause button “while we wait to see what the Inspector General’s report and the ACHP reports say.”
The Inspector General report will examine whether the USPS is following applicable historic preservation laws in its historic building sales procedures and whether it has solicited sufficient public input in this process.
“Buildings like the Berkeley Main Post Office are central to our communities and our cities, and while the USPS continues to grapple with financial woes, it must not resort to selling off historic properties without complying with federal historic preservation laws,” Lee said. “Based on the legislative language included in the omnibus bills, I expect the USPS to immediately halt all pending sales.”
Tony Rossmann, a partner in Rossmann & Moore, who is representing the City of Berkeley in its efforts to preserve the Post Office, said the Appropriations Committee recommendations were a very good first step.
“Each brick builds the wall, and it’s an important brick,” he said. “But it’s not a decisive one. From the City of Berkeley’s perspective, our interest is in preventing the sale of that post office and maintaining its historic character and purpose. What Barbara Lee was able to accomplish supports that goal. But it’s not yet the force of law that would give us the release that we need.”
The downtown Berkeley Post Office was listed for sale in October 2013, nearly a year and a half after USPS announced that it intended to sell the building and relocate services to a smaller space in downtown Berkeley. Opposition to the decision has been voiced by discrete groups at the local, state and federal level. The Berkeley City Council voted unanimously to try to stop the sale. A campaigning group, Save the Berkeley Post Office, has organized petitions and community meetings, and been in consultation with groups across the country who are protesting the divestment of post office properties. Protesters pitched tents outside the building for almost almost a month, until the encampment was asked to leave in August.
The full text of the Appropriations Committee’s recommendation reads:
“The Committee is concerned by reports that the Postal Service is attempting to sell off many of its historic properties without regard for the preservation of these buildings. The Committee is particularly concerned that the Postal Service may not be following Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act in the relocation and sales process of these historic properties. The Committee notes that the Office of the Inspector General is currently conducting an investigation into whether the Postal Service is complying with its statutory and regulatory requirements in the relocation of services, closure, and sale of these types of properties. Until such an analysis is complete, the Committee believes the Postal Service should refrain from the relocation of services from historic post offices, and believes the Postal Service should suspend the sale of any historic post office.”
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