Judge Rules in Favor of City in Its Fight to Save Post Office Building

A federal judge has ruled in favor of the city of Berkeley in its lengthy and complicated effort to stop the U.S. Postal Service from selling the historic main post office building in the city's downtown to someone who would use it for commercial purposes.

The saga began in 2012, when the Postal Service said it wanted to sell the building at 2000 Allston Way-which was built in 1914 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places-as part of a plan to sell hundreds of post offices across the country because it faced financial problems.

The city filed suit to stop the Postal Service from selling the building but a judge dismissed the suit.

In 2014 the city countered by creating what it called the Civic Center District Overlay, which restricts the use of nine buildings clustered around Civic Center Park, including the post office, Old City Hall, the Veteran's Memorial Building, the YMCA and other buildings, to civic or nonprofit uses.

The Postal Service fought back by filing a lawsuit against the city, claiming that the city had singled it out, thereby violating the supremacy clause of the Constitution, and that the creation of the overlay made the post office building impossible to sell by significantly reducing its value.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge William Alsup rejected the Postal Service's arguments, ruling that it "had established no entitlement to relief on its claims."

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin, who authored the overlay ordinance, said in a statement, "Historic preservation is a quintessential local matter. This decision confirms that local governments have wide latitude to protect vital historic resources without interference from the federal government."

According to city of Berkeley officials, Alsup disposed of the claim that the overlay prevented the sale of the post office based on the fact that the building "continues to retain considerable value in the real estate market" despite the overlay.

Berkeley City Attorney Farimah Brown said, "The city is not unsympathetic to the Postal Service's budget challenges. But the Constitution does not preclude the city from exercising its traditional police powers to guard its historic resources."

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