Moonlight shone over Mandeville Canyon on a recent night when Christen Carter noticed something out of place: a U.S. Postal Service truck making deliveries.
"Who's getting mail at night?" said Carter, 45.
An increasing number of residents both in Los Angeles and across the nation are asking that question as they deal with more nighttime visits from postal workers.
An audit published earlier this year by the Postal Service said that mail delivery after 5 p.m. is becoming an increasing problem in some parts of the country and cited staffing shortages as the main reason.
The audit found that Washington, D.C., and parts of Atlanta and Miami had some of the highest rates of night deliveries.
In Southern California, the complaints seemed to be focused in areas such as Santa Monica, Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach and Beverly Hills, according to a letter sent by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) in May to the postmaster general. Nighttime mail deliveries have also been reported in Pasadena.
Postal Service spokesman Richard Maher said staffing has been an ongoing issue — particularly on the Westside.
"We are working at increasing staffing there — and in many areas of L.A. — by hiring new employees," Maher said in an email statement. "But delivering mail is a much more labor-intensive job than most applicants realize and many leave during the first month."
He said the Postal Service has hired an additional 30,000 workers nationwide for the holiday rush.
Concerns about night deliveries are not new. In 2006, residents in neighborhoods both on the Westside and in other parts of L.A. complained for weeks about deliveries that sometimes continued as late as 11 p.m.
Some people have reported problems including mail that was delivered to the wrong address, or mail delivered as late as 10 p.m. Neighbors said they missed bills — but did get demands for late payment.
The night deliveries had some worried about stolen packages.
"It got to the point where I felt like we can't leave things in the mailbox anymore," said Sarah Piehl, a Mandeville Canyon resident. "We'd be afraid to leave it there that late at night, that something would happen to it."
There have also been concerns about the safety of mail carriers after dark. Last year, a Maryland carrier was shot while sitting in his truck at 7:30 p.m.
Maher said that although some late-night deliveries do occur in the 90049 ZIP Code covering Mandeville Canyon, it is a small percentage: about three or four routes out of 80. He said it he didn't consider it a widespread issue and that it could be due to route adjustments over the years.
Higher-income neighborhoods can also have higher mail volume and larger packages, leading to heavier workloads, he said.
Residents said they have had several problems with deliveries, including more than two dozen pieces of mail jammed inside a mailbox, with less than half actually belonging to the homeowner; letters demanding a response to a jury summons a resident said he never got; and a surprise $800 fine for a late mortgage payment.
Some residents said they have become de facto carriers, delivering mail they got by mistake to their neighbors, said Trudi Behr, a longtime Mandeville Canyon resident. She said she delivers mail to neighbors' homes a couple of times a week.
"We used to get our mail around 2 p.m. in the afternoon," Behr said. "That's long gone."
Some residents have taken matters into their own hands. Nancy Cochran, 79, has a locked mailbox to prevent mail theft after late-night deliveries.
"We expect the mail to be right," Piehl said. "I don't feel like we're asking a lot."