Post Office Inspectors cleared protesters from the steps after nearly 17 months. Photo: Lance Knobel
Post Office Inspectors cleared protesters from the steps in April after nearly 17 months. Photo: Lance Knobel

In a strongly worded letter, the U.S. Department of Justice has warned the city of Berkeley that a lawsuit could be coming over the city’s “interference” with USPS plans to sell its downtown post office on Allston Way.

The DOJ’s Civil Division sent the letter — stamped April 28 — to Mayor Tom Bates, and asked for a response by May 20 if the city hopes to resolve the issue without litigation.

Read more about the fight surrounding the downtown Berkeley post office.

According to the letter, from Director Joseph Hunt of the Federal Programs Branch of the Civil Division, the city’s downtown historic overlay is the issue. The overlay restricts a nine-parcel section of the downtown to civic, non-profit uses. The main Berkeley post office, at 2000 Allston Way, falls within those boundaries.

“In purporting to restrict the Berkeley Post Office parcel… to such civic or nonprofit uses, the Ordinance prohibits any commercially viable uses for the Property,” Hunt writes.

The post office has said it needs to sell the property because it is “underutilized,” according to the letter, “to reduce costs.”

But the city’s ordinance would “render a sale untenable” and “conflicts with the Postal Service’s ability to carry out its responsibilities under the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 to maintain postal facilities consistent with reasonable economies of postal operations; to determine the need for post offices and provide such offices as it determines are needed; and to sell or otherwise dispose of that property…”

Hunt writes that the city’s interference “constitutes a violation of the Supremacy Clause” and conflicts with the Postal Service’s plans for the parcel.

As a result, the DOJ has authorized the filing of a civil action against the city on May 27.

In 2014, the USPS itself wrote to the city numerous letters expressing concern about how the historic overlay would affect the property’s potential sale.

Berkeleyside has sought comment from the mayor’s office and will continue to follow the story.

Read the letter. Read past coverage on Berkeleyside related to the downtown Berkeley Post Office.

Berkeley post office protesters cleared out in early morning raid (04.12.16)
Judge dismisses Berkeley’s bid to stop sale of post office (04.15.15)

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...