Communities Change Names, but Can’t Necessarily Crack the ZIP Code : Addresses: The U.S. Postal Service has refused to recognize all but one of three recent alterations.


The more things change, the more they stay the same--at least in the eyes of the U.S. Postal Service.

Authorized by Los Angeles City Council members, residents of several San Fernando Valley areas have changed the names of their neighborhoods, hoping to raise property values and dissociate themselves from crime and other problems tarnishing the images of their former communities. But postal authorities say they formally recognize only one such recent change, and all other residents who try to use the names of their new communities as a mailing address may delay their mail delivery.

“The mailing addresses remain the same,” said Richard Younce, director of operations for the U.S. Postal Service’s Van Nuys division.


He said the Postal Service has been overwhelmed by the rash of changes, of which there have been three this summer and six since 1986. “It is getting confusing. There’s various things going on, not necessarily in a coordinated manner,” he said.

Last week, residents of a Van Nuys neighborhood seceded and joined Sherman Oaks, arguing that they were a part of that community until the post office instituted ZIP codes in the 1960s. Two days later, a small section of Granada Hills was given permission to join North Hills. Earlier this month, another section of Van Nuys severed ties with that community and joined Sherman Oaks.

But none of these changes will show up on postal maps and no new ZIP codes have been created.

“Apparently a unilateral decision was made to move the signs,” Younce said, referring to the street signs that mark the community boundaries. “Unfortunately, the post office was not aware of that. . . . We have not received a formal request to change the name.”

Councilman Marvin Braude, who approved the Van Nuys-Sherman Oaks change last week, did not inform the post office “because we felt it didn’t have anything to do with the ZIP code or mail,” said Rosalind Wayman, a Braude aide.

But postal authorities said the change could cause big problems for them.

Residents who address their mail using their new community name, Sherman Oaks, with their old ZIP code, or who use the Sherman Oaks ZIP code, may cause confusion in mail sorting and distribution.

“They’re taking the risk of delayed mail,” Younce said. “Our distribution system has not changed.”

The one new name that is recognized is North Hills, a newly created community carved from Sepulveda and Granada Hills.

Last month, Councilman Hal Bernson and U.S. Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) went to Washington to ask the postmaster general to grant residents of North Hills and some residents of Northridge and Granada Hills a different ZIP code.

Inhabitants of those areas, classified as Sepulveda residents on postal maps, argue that they suffer financially because they must use a Sepulveda ZIP code, saying Sepulveda’s crime rate increases their insurance premiums.

Postal authorities in Washington denied Bernson’s requests but ordered local postal authorities to meet again with the councilman to try to work out an agreement.

In a meeting last week, the two sides agreed that, effective Monday, North Hills residents will be allowed to use that community name as an address, but also must continue to use the 91343 Sepulveda ZIP code, Younce said. Northridge residents discontented with their Sepulveda ZIP code are welcome to use the North Hills name as well, he said.

“We reviewed the North Hills-Sepulveda proposal and decided the cost was too great and we denied that,” Younce said.

The agreement allowing use of the name North Hills, without a ZIP code change, was an attempt to “accommodate the community as best we can,” Younce said.

But the arrangement falls far short of what residents and Bernson want.

“The councilman isn’t exactly thrilled with the accommodation the post office has made,” said Shelly Dritz, a Bernson aide. “We see it as a slight improvement.”

The Northridge Orphans, a group of Northridge residents who want a Northridge ZIP code instead of the Sepulveda one, are equally dissatisfied with the invitation to join North Hills. “There is no reason for us to be in North Hills,” Alma Camerini said. “We’re going to lose our Northridge identity altogether if they shove us in with North Hills.”

“We want what we legally are,” said Jeannie Lamalfa, organizer of the campaign.

The problem, they say, is that the postal map does not match the city map, which designates their area as Northridge.

Because Sepulveda has a higher crime rate, “the insurance companies grab on to that” and require them to pay more for auto insurance, she said. “The ZIP code 91343 is a problem. They say red-lining is illegal, but that’s a lie.”

Lamalfa and others say they plan to launch a national campaign to support proposed federal legislation to give local authorities input into the process of designating ZIP codes.

She is not alone.

Howard Cohen, who organized the effort to change the name of a section of Granada Hills to North Hills, is not content with his victory. He is also trying to get rid of the Sepulveda ZIP code.

“It’s more than just a name change . . . . When they did the ZIP codes in the ‘60s, they just ignored the city maps.”

But creating a new ZIP code or changing the boundaries of a particular code is a far more lengthy and potentially costly process than changing the name of a community, Younce said. “We look at the impact of each proposal and each one of them is totally unique. We look at the issues involved, we identify the cost, the impact to service and operations in the area.”

A postal code change could involve creating a new facility, changing routes, reallocating or retraining employees and reprogramming computers, he said.

Just allowing North Hills residents to use the new name in their mailing address means new sorting procedures will have to be memorized by postal workers and computers reprogrammed, he said.

“We’re concerned about the costs of operations,” Younce said, adding that the Postal Service is no longer subsidized by the federal government. “We try to do the best thing for the community and the total mailing public.”