Judge Rules Against the Postal Service in Lawsuit against Berkeley’s Zoning Overlay

Protections for Civic Center Historic District Remain in Force
San Francisco—(May 14, 2018) Berkeley’s Historic Civic Center District Zoning Overlay was upheld today in United States District Court.

In August of 2016, the United States Department of Justice, acting on behalf of the United States Postal Service, filed a lawsuit against the City of Berkeley seeking injunctive relief against Berkeley’s District Overlay “insofar as it regulates the Berkeley Main Post Office parcel, located at 2000 Allston Way, Berkeley.”

On Monday, Judge William Alsup issued an “Order Setting Forth Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law.” Judge Alsup entered judgment in favor of the City of Berkeley, finding that USPS “had established no entitlement to relief on its claims.”

Back in February of 2014, the USPS agreed to sell 2000 Allston Way for $9 million to Hudson McDonald, a developer who intended to convert most of the property to commercial use as, for example, a Target store.

And also in September 2014, the council passed the Civic Center District Overlay. The Overlay restricted the entire Civic Center Historic District — including the post office — to civic, nonprofit, cultural, and other similar uses. By restricting the kinds of activities in the Civic Center, the Zoning Overlay is designed to preserve the integrity of the area and protect its cultural and historical heritage.

The objection of the Postal Service to the Zoning Overlay was that 2000 Allston Way might command a lower price in the market with use restrictions in place.

The ruling in federal court upholding the District Overlay is cause for celebration. It is an important victory in the fight to preserve Berkeley’s historic Civic Center District and in the effort to preserve historic downtown post offices.

The Department of Justice argued the USPS case with DOJ attorneys who were flown in from Washington DC. We are grateful to the attorneys who successfully represented Berkeley: Andrew W. Schwartz of Shute, Mihaly and Weinberger LLP and Berkeley City Attorney Farimah F. Brown and her deputy attorneys.

The successful legal defense of the Zoning Overlay was only possible because of the steadfast leadership of the Mayor and City Council. Special recognition is owed to Jesse Arreguin, Linda Maio, Susan Wengraf and Kriss Worthington who have been working on this since 2012 when USPS first proposed selling the Berkeley Main Post Office.

And thanks are owed to each of you as part of the Berkeley community that attended numerous hearings and made clear to everyone that preserving the character of Berkeley’s Historic Civic Center is an issue that matters to us.

What happens now? USPS may decide to appeal the ruling. Or USPS could reconsider its decision to dispose of the building, recognize the value of the facility and location and bring back some services. Or USPS could go forward with its plan to dispose of the building, lease back a portion for retail sales, and find a purchaser consistent with the Zoning Overlay. In 2014, USPS walked away from ongoing talks to craft an historic preservation covenant for 2000 Allston Way. That action by USPS led to a suit by the City of Berkeley and the National Trust for Historic Preservation alleging violations of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). That suit was declared moot when USPS asserted they no longer intended to sell 2000 Allston Way. A sale of 2000 Allston Way that conformed with the Zoning Overlay but did not include an adequate historic preservation covenant could result in a refiling of the 2014 suit.

Read the US District Court decision in USPS v Berkeley

Read Maria Dinzeo’s article in Courthouse News: “Judge Finds No Issue in Bid to Block Sale of Historic Post Office

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