March 31, 2013
The post office in Freistatt, Missouri, closed today — on two days’ notice to customers. The Postal Service says it was unable to negotiate a lease renewal with the landlord, so it declared an emergency suspension.
As usual in these cases, the landlord says he was more than willing to reduce the rent and make other accommodations, but his efforts, along with those of the Village Board, were to no avail. The Postal Service just wasn’t interested.
The USPS facilities list for Missouri says the rent is $3,900 a year, so the disagreement could not have been over a very large sum of money. But when you’re looking at a $40 billion deficit, every penny counts. And that’s probably how the Freistatt post office ended up closing — over a matter of pennies.
The Freistatt City Clerk told the local news station KY3, "From what I have gathered from talking with the building owner, that lease agreement is not unreasonable. But it looks to me like they're using that as an excuse to close a post office."
The Postal Service wanted to close the post office in Freistatt back in 2011. It was on the list of 3,700 post offices being reviewed for closure under the Retail Access Optimization Initiative (RAOI). When the Postal Service held the obligatory public meeting in August of 2011, Mayor Mike Ortwein said, “"I don't see how they are going to save that much money. They only have two employees and no carriers. The one full-time employee will be moved and the other is part-time."
Thanks to the nationwide protest against post office closings, the RAOI never got implemented. Then a moratorium on closings went into effect from December 2011 to May 2012, so the Freistatt post office remained open. Then it found itself on the POStPlan list, set to have the hours reduced to four a day. Apparently that won’t be happening now.
There’s been a post office in Freistatt since August 14, 1884. The post office has been in this building since 1980. The Postal service has known for years that the lease ended on April 1, 2013. It’s hard to understand how lease negotiations could have ended in a last-minute “emergency” situation that has terminated a town's post office after 129 years of service.
Yet somehow the lease problem became public only a couple of weeks ago. According to the Monett Times, “Contradictory exchanges over the status of the post office surfaced in mid-March.” After the Postal Service let the town know that there was an issue with the lease, the Village Board held a special meeting on March 21.
The landlord said that he had encountered no problems in discussions about the lease, and once he learned from the town that there was a potential issue, he made several counter offers, including a cut in the rental rate.
Rick Belcher, manager for post officer operations for the Mid-America District, told the Village Board that one alternative to having a post office was placing cluster boxes on city property. The Board was concerned about liability issues — the town has a lot of seniors — and it said it would need to talk things over with the community.
On Wednesday, March 27, less than a week later, postal customers were officially notified that the post office was closing in two days. And that’s exactly what happened. On Good Friday afternoon, crews from the United States Postal Service emptied out the Freistatt Post Office and closed it permanently. They even sawed off the flag pole.
There’s no home delivery of mail in Freistatt. Everyone has general delivery and goes to the post office to pick up the mail. Now they’ll have to drive eight miles to Monett. Seniors who don't drive are just out of luck.
The Postal Service says rural delivery is not "economically feasible," so it's looking into installing a cluster box unit somewhere in town. There's no chance that the post office will open at another location.
De facto closings
In the Postal Regulatory Commission’s Annual Compliance Determination review (ACD), published just yesterday, there’s a discussion of emergency suspensions. (The Postal Service also shared a list, here.) The report says that there are currently 211 post offices under suspension, 92 of them as a result of “lease expirations,” i.e., a failure to negotiate a renewal.
Most of these post offices will never reopen. Just 21 of the 146 offices suspended in 2012 have reopened so far, and those were mostly due to temporary issues like bad weather, not leases.
One of the big problems with emergency suspensions is that they become, as the Commission’s report puts it, “de facto closings.” There are 87 post offices under suspension from before October 2011, some of them from as far back as the 1980s and early 1990s. In these cases, the Postal Service has never bothered following up with a formal discontinuance study or reopening the office, as the law requires.
The main focus of the PRC’s compliance report is postal rates and whether or not the Postal Service is in compliance with the law on rate matters. The Commission doesn’t make a point of saying that the Postal Service is out of compliance on the suspension issue.
But you don’t need to read between the lines to see that the Postal Service is failing to follow the law by using the emergency suspension provision to do de facto closures. The problem is that no one is doing anything about it.
(Photo credit: Google street view)
March 26, 2013
NEW YORK -- March 24, 2013. Labor leaders, community activists, and politicians stood together outside Manhattan's Farley post office to protest planned closures of neighborhood post offices, the end of six day mail delivery, and layoffs of postal workers. The speakers, in order of appearance, are:
· Charlie Heege, President Branch 36 National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)
· Mario Cilento, President of the New York State AFL-CIO
· Congressional Representative Grace Meng, New York 6th CD
· Congressional Representative Jerrold Nadler , New York 10th CD
· George Mignosi, NALC Vice-President
· Richard Gottfried, New York State Assembly 75th AD
· Victoria Pannell, 13 year-old Harlem Youth Community Activist,
· Bill de Blasio, NYC Public Advocate
· Jonathan Smith, President New York Metro Area Postal Union, APWU
March 22, 2013
Two things happened yesterday that may have put the nail in the coffin on the Postmaster General’s plan to end Saturday delivery.
First, Congress passed an appropriations bill that has a provision maintaining Saturday delivery, just as it’s done every year since 1987.
Second, at virtually the same moment, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) sent a letter to Congressman Gerald Connolly rendering its legal opinion that the Postal Service is bound by current law and the Continuing Resolution “to continue 6-day delivery and rural delivery of mail at not less than the 1983 level.”
At this point, Congress would need to pass new legislation permitting the Postal Service to eliminate Saturday delivery. This may be part of the postal reform that ultimately gets enacted, but that's looking a little less likely at this point.
After the appropriations resolution passed, Congressman Darrell Issa and Senator Tom Cole issued a joint statement saying that the Postmaster General could still go ahead with his plan since “the Postal Service is not eliminating a day of service, but is merely altering what products are delivered on what day.”
“Merely altering” makes it sound as if the Postal Service will continue to deliver much of the mail on Saturdays, but that’s hardly the case. The Postal Service delivers 160 billion pieces of mail every year. According to the 10K Financial Report, shipping and packages together account for 2 percent of that volume, and parcels alone represent just 1.6 per cent of the total.
The Postmaster General’s plan does not “merely alter” what products are delivered on Saturday. It would continue delivery of a tiny fraction of total mail volumes.
Using Issa and Cole’s logic, the Postal Service’s original plan to end Saturday delivery (in 2009) could be said to be consistent with the law because Express mail would have continued to be delivered. But that’s obviously not what the law on Saturday delivery is all about, as the GAO has made clear.
In addition to seeking a legal opinion from the GAO, Congressman Connolly has been trying to find out how much money the Postmaster General’s new plan might save. The Postmaster General claims the plan will save $2 billion, but the Congressman is skeptical, so he and Senator Claire McCaskill asked the Postal Regulatory Commission for an estimate. Last week, Chairman Ruth Goldway replied with a letter updating the Commission’s findings from its 2010 Advisory Opinion on Eliminating Saturday Delivery.
The PRC’s latest estimate is that going to five-day delivery would save $1.74 billion. The Chairman added, however, that “we caution that the methodology to estimate lost revenue resulting from a lesser delivery schedule suffers from material flaws.”
That’s a reference to the Postal Service’s market research on how customers would react to a five-day delivery schedule. The research and the way it was analyzed to develop estimates of lost revenues had numerous problems. The PRC revised the Postal Service’s estimates (tripling the losses), but it still did not have much faith in the numbers. The lost revenue could be significantly greater.
Indeed, as Congressman Connolly well knows (since he helped bring the facts to light), the Postal Service used the same market research company and the same USPS market analyst to develop the estimates on lost revenue for the Network Rationalization plan to consolidate about 240 mail processing plants. In that case, a first round of market research was tossed and kept hidden because the projected revenue losses looked so bad.
In any case, the PRC’s new estimate of $1.74 billion in savings refers back to the original 2009 plan. It’s not about the latest plan, with its provision to continue Saturday delivery for parcels. How might the changes to the plan impact the cost savings?
March 22, 2013
Despite a very well organized resistance effort that's been going on for over a year, the Postal Service has decided to go ahead with the sale of the historic post office on 1140 Wall Street in La Jolla, California. The final decision to relocate retail services was posted today on the wall of the La Jolla post office.
In January, activists and preservations in La Jolla succeeded in getting the post office on the National Register of Historic Places. That at least will prevent the building from being demolished or suffering significant alterations. The designation does not stop the Postal Service from closing the post office and selling the building, however.
Congressman and La Jolla resident Scott Peters joined the fight, along Congresswoman Susan Davis, by introducing legislation called the Community Post Office Relocation Act. The legislation would have given communities the right of first refusal to purchase post office buildings that are subject to closure. Things are moving very fast on the sale, though, and it doesn’t look like this legislation will be passed in time, if indeed if ever sees a vote in the Republican-dominated House.
The Save Our La Jolla Post Office Task Force is talking about having a community nonprofit purchase the building, and lease a portion of it back to the Postal Service to keep a post office in the same building. But the Postal Service has made no promises about cooperating, and it may look for the highest price it can get from a private developer.
While the relocation decision is moving forward, the Postal Service is also obligated to go through a Section 106 process as outlined by the National Historic Preservation Act. According to historic preservations familiar with the law, that process should have been begun long ago, as soon as the Postal Service began the relocation process, but the Postal Service maintains that a relocation is not an “undertaking” as defined by Section 106. It says the NHPA only comes into play when the building is subject to “disposal.” That view may be challenged in court one day.
Heath Fox, Executive Director of the La Jolla Historical Society, says the community isn't giving up. The federal regulations on post office relocations (CFR 241) guarantee a 15-day appeal period. Citizens of La Jolla are encouraged to contact their elected representatives in San Diego and Washington, D.C.
News of the Postal Service’s final decision to move ahead has disappointed everyone in La Jolla who’s been working hard to stop the sale. Leslie Davis, chair of the Save the La Jolla Post Office Task Force, says that the lack of a legitimate process leaves communities like La Jolla “at an extraordinary disadvantage.”
The Postal Service has misleadingly used its $25 billion dollar losses over the past five years — which USPS spokespersons mention at every opportunity — as a “scare tactic meant to misinform the public to garner outrage and sympathy," says Davis.
The Postal Service’s efforts at “communication” with the public have been “just for show,” adds Davis. “This is why people mistrust the system. Giving us only 15 days to appeal is ridiculous as our forces are 100% volunteer. It is an example of money having power and the people being silenced. A private, billion-dollar corporation (CBRE, the Postal Service’s real estate broker) has all the power to initiate, consummate, and profit from the sale of a community cultural icon.”
The La Jolla post office was built by the New Deal in 1935. It has a mural done by the artist Belle Baranceanu, which depicts the La Jolla Village landscape in a Cubist-like style.
(Photo credits: click on the link below the photo)