BERKELEY -- The steps of the city's downtown post office and surrounding sidewalk were crowded Tuesday afternoon by more than 100 people protesting plans to sell the historic building.

The United States Postal Service is broke; its officials say it must dispose of post offices as part of a plan to regain solvency.

But speakers -- and others making their point in song -- argued for alternatives to keep post offices across the country in public hands.

Congressional action can stop the red ink, Stephen Lysaght, president of American Postal Workers Union Local 47, told the crowd.

Lysaght said that while post office officials blame the agency's financial woes on electronic mail, the core problem is the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, requiring the agency to prefund retiree health benefits 75 years into the future.

"It is that kind of congressional action that is truly destroying the post office," Lysaght said, adding that passing The Postal Service Protection Act of 2013, legislation making its way through both houses of Congress, would resolve much of the problem.

The act would eliminate the requirement to prefund retiree health benefits, create criteria for closing postal facilities, allow the post office to ship beer and wine, something it cannot to do at present, and prohibit USPS from reducing service to less than six-days-a-week.

In the House, H.R. 630 is sponsored by U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore. Co-sponsors include Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, and seven other Bay Area Democrats.

Neither U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer nor Sen. Dianne Feinstein have signed onto the Senate bill, S. 316, sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. (Feinstein's husband, Richard Blum, heads CB Richard Ellis, the realty firm charged by USPS with selling post offices.)

Neither Boxer's nor Feinstein's offices returned this newspaper's calls by deadline for comment on the legislation.

Other efforts to save historic post offices across the country include legal means, Jacquelyn McCormick of the National Post Office Collaborate, told the crowd.

USPS rendered its decision to sell the post office April 22, first determining there would be a 15-day window for appeals, then, in a May 3 letter, extending the deadline to allow receipt of appeals until May 22.

Save the Berkeley Post Office activists called the change "a small victory," having argued that USPS was violating its own rules by imposing the shorter appeals period.

An appeal letter was signed April 30 by a unanimous City Council.

Mayor Tom Bates, State Sen. Loni Hancock and Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner announced at a May 3 news conference that they had also signed the appeal, along with Supervisor Keith Carson.

"We are opposed to closing this building and will do everything we can to stop this," Bates said at the news conference. "We won't go gently."

In addition to describing the historic significance of the downtown post office, the appeal letter criticized the decision to sell, noting the council's March 5 resolution asking USPS to suspend sale efforts for a year to allow time to explore alternative solutions.

"USPS unilaterally announced the sale," the appeal letter stated, "without taking into consideration the requests made by the Berkeley City Council."

City Councilman Jesse Arreguin, whose district includes the post office, spoke at this week's rally.

"The entire Berkeley City Council is united on its opposition to the sale of this beloved post office," Arreguin said. "When has the City Council ever agreed on anything? It's because we agree with you that selling this building, which is part of our public commons, is not only wrong, but would have a major impact on not only the residences of our community but the businesses. We cannot privatize our public commons. These buildings were built with taxpayer dollars; they should remain owned by the taxpayers."

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