Op-ed: Beware deceptive ‘Save Post Office’ ballot petition

caption here
Berkeley’s downtown. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Don’t be deceived. Backers of a proposed measure for the Berkeley ballot in November are circulating voter-signature petitions under the guise of “saving the Post Office.” But the main thrust of the measure is to impose prohibitively restrictive fees and requirements on new projects in Berkeley’s core downtown. It would not guarantee that the Post Office would continue operating.

The result would be a devastating blow to our acclaimed Downtown Area Plan. This successful plan was formulated through extensive public input and won strong voter approval (64%) when Measure R passed in 2010. In January this year, it achieved prestigious national recognition when it won the National Planning Achievement Award for a Best Practice from the American Planning Association.

The proposed ballot measure would sabotage several pending projects to deliver needed housing units and cultural amenities designed to realize our Climate Action Plan strategy of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by concentrating housing and public activity near transit hubs.

The “Save the Post Office” pitch by the petition circulators is a deceptive artificial sweetener. The vast bulk of the petition is devoted to blocking the Downtown Area Plan. A small part of the petition proposal calls for an “overlay” that would ban commercial development in the Civic Center historic zone, including the Post Office building. But it wouldn’t oblige the Postal Service to stay in the building, and the Post Office building itself will continue to exist whether the proposed measure is passed or not. The petition’s goal for the Post Office building is my first priority and that of the City Council too – to keep it in public use, including the Postal Service if possible.

Regardless of what happens with the Post Office, the main issue is the impact on Berkeley’s downtown. The stakes are too high for us to gamble on draconian constraints. It’s no secret that cities are threatened by increasing economic stresses. Several cities have fallen into bankruptcy, and a growing number of others are teetering on the edge.

Berkeley is far from immune to such stresses. The city’s general fund is projected to have a $2 million deficit by fiscal 2016, growing to $3.6 million by fiscal 2018. More ominously in the long term, the city faces future unfunded liability for infrastructure and employee benefits whose combined cost is estimated to be as much as a staggering $1 billion, or more. Berkeley’s financial welfare depends on economic vitality and growth, and no area of the city matches the downtown in terms of direct impact and influence on what happens in other parts of the city.

I urge voters not to sign this misleading and irresponsible ballot petition.

Berkeleyside welcomes submissions of op-ed articles. We ask that we are given first refusal to publish. Topics should be Berkeley-related, local authors are preferred, and we don’t publish anonymous pieces. Please email submissions to us. Berkeleyside will publish op-ed pieces at its discretion.

Tom Bates is the mayor of Berkeley.