A small but spirited crowd turned up at a town hall meeting at Longfellow Middle School Tuesday, Nov. 24, to protest the proposed closure of Berkeley’s Park Station post office on Sacramento Street.
Officials from the United States Postal Service announced at the meeting that although the South Berkeley branch on Adeline Street had been taken off the list of stations being considered for the chopping block, Park Station was not so fortunate.
South Berkeley station has not been immune, however; the number of sales associates at the office was recently reduced from two to one, often resulting in longer wait times and no service during lunch break.
Berkeley Postmaster Ray Davis an-nounced toward the end of the meeting that Landscape Station on Solano Avenue might still be on the list of closures.
Faced with billions of dollars in deficit—exacerbated by historic declines in mail volume—the USPS is scrambling to find ways to stay afloat, slashing costs, downsizing operations, reducing customer service, and reducing mail service to five days a week. Consolidating stations, it says, is one method of addressing a rapidly changing communication system, in which more and more people prefer e-mail or text messaging to posting letters.
However, a certain section of the population—mostly senior citizens who often don’t have access to computers, cell phones or e-mail—feel that closing down the post office is akin to taking away one of their most important forms of communication.
The 30 or so senior South Berkeley residents in the audience reiterated this point at Tuesday’s meeting, defending the need for a “community post office” in their neighborhood.
Another complaint was that the U.S.P.S. had called the town hall meeting right before Thanksgiving, when most people were either busy or away on vacation.
“We appreciate the fact that you want to hold a meeting, but this is the worst time to hold a meeting,” said City Councilmember Darryl Moore, who represents District 2, where the Park Station post office is located. “I wasn’t even informed about this meeting. I learned about it from one of the postal union workers.”
The Berkeley City Council passed a resolution in September opposing the U.S.P.S.’s plans to consolidate the three Berkeley post offices.
Other South Berkeley residents said they were unhappy about the lack of proper notification about the meeting.
“Only residents in the 94702 zone were mailed letters,” said Susan Hammer, a retired Berkeley postal worker who is with the local postal workers union. “What about those in the 94703 zone, who are right across the street? The community that Park Station serves is not limited to 94702.”
Hammer, who submitted more than 800 signatures in support of saving the South Berkeley Post Office, added that station expenses represented only 2 percent of the total operating costs of the U.S.P.S.
“There are ways to save money,” she said. “Why don’t they turn the main post office in Berkeley solar like they did in Oakland? It even has a flat roof for the solar panels.”
Moore said that closing Park Station would negatively impact residents of at least three senior centers in the neighborhood.
“The postal service is in the business to serve, but we have to balance our service with our assets,” said Lowana Gooch, the post master for Oakland, where community members recently fought to save the Diamond station post office.
“How many of you use e-mail?” Gooch asked the audience. No one raised a hand.
“Well, the thing is, more and more people are now doing things online,” Gooch explained. “We have lost a lot of first-class mail because of that. We don’t get catalogues anymore—remember when JC Penny’s used to be like this?”
“But we get a lot of junk mail,” said Berkeley resident Carol Hochberg. “The post office is subsidizing all the heavy junk mail.”
Davis explained that the U.S.P.S. was “trying to automate a lot of things” to save money.
“You can now buy your stamps online,” he said. “You don’t have to wait in line anymore.”
Eleanor Neal, Park Station’s only sales associate, was greeted with applause when she joined the meeting. Neal, who has been at the branch for eight years, knows her customers by name and often skips lunch to help them out.
“The city of Berkeley has a climate action plan to reduce greenhouse gases—closing down neighborhood post offices will force people to take transportation; that undercuts the city of Berkeley’s climate action plan,” said another Berkeley resident.
Damon Moore, a grassroots legislative coordinator with the American Postal Workers Union, said a lot of low-income residents in Berkeley used the Park Street station like a bank.
“They don’t have credit cards or ATM, that’s all they have,” he said. “Twenty-one percent of residents around half a mile of Park Station don’t have vehicles. If you want to save the station, the numbers are there for you to save it. There is a lack of transparency in the process.”
Moore pointed to a rebuttal by Anita Morrison before the Postal Regulatory Commission on behalf of the APWU which cited statistics showing that studies carried out by the U.S.P.S. before consolidating stations discriminated against communities with high percentages of low-income, minority and transit-dependent residents.
Morrison is the founding principal of Partners for Economics Solutions, an urban economics consulting firm.
According to her report, the Park Station post office serves 1,151 senior citizens. The unemployment rate in the area is almost 20 percent.
“The postal service is in dire straits right now,” Gooch said. “The economy is hurting. Everyone here knows someone who has been laid off. We don’t want to inconvenience our customers, but we have to consolidate our services.”
Some community members said that they would like the U.S.P.S. to hold another meeting, this time with ample notification to the concerned parties.
Oscar Munoz, a U.S.P.S. post office operations manager for the Bay Valley district, which includes Berkeley, reminded everyone that the proposal to close Park Station was “still pretty much just a proposal.”
He said that U.S.P.S. would try to organize another meeting in the near future.
“The revenue in Park Station fell by 17 percent last year. Why? The economy,” he said. “You can help raise the revenue by going to Park Station more.”
“Why doesn’t the government bail out the U.S.P.S. like it’s bailing out all the other corporations?” asked Hochberg.
“That’s between our CEO and the president of the United States,” answered Gooch.
Gooch said that although there had been 3,700 post offices originally slated for consolidation or closure, the list had been reduced by 75 percent.
“The Postal Regulatory Commission takes into account demographics, culture and senior citizens,” she said explaining that notes from the meeting would be sent to the U.S.P.S. headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Munoz said that the U.S.P.S. would notify the Park Station community about its next steps—whether it’s a final decision or another meeting.
“It seems to me that this is going to be it,” said Moore. “Diamond had an opportunity to organize, we’ve not had an opportunity to organize. We have only 30 people here tonight—it will look like a set-up for failure. I don’t want your report to reflect that we don’t care about Park Station. We can easily fill this room.”
To find out more about the post office closures, go to http://www.prc.gov/prc-pages/default.aspx?AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1