Delivering Clients From Postal Woes

TIMES STAFF WRITER

What happens when mailboxes get boxed in? In Compton, they get boxed up.

Residents who are angry over missing the day's mail because cars parked on their street block their mailboxes have decided to exchange traditional home delivery for apartment-style mail service.

From now on they will pick up their mail from cabinet-size neighborhood drops that serve as many as 16 families at a time instead of curbside boxes in front of their houses.

Some might call that a step back. But not residents of a 300-home neighborhood near Compton Boulevard and Wilmington Avenue.

"I love it. Now I'm not going to have to go out every day and tell people to move their cars," said Nadean Abney, a 10-year resident of West Laurel Street.

Neighbors say that dealing with cars parked in front of their curbside mailboxes was a daily chore. Some drivers refused to believe that letter carriers will skip any house whose box cannot be reached from the mail truck window.

It's true, according to Compton Postmaster Bill Hector.

"Carriers are not allowed to dismount. They have to stay in their vehicle," Hector said.

"That neighborhood is old enough so kids are grown up and they all have cars and there's a shortage of parking places. When people come over to visit, they know not to park in front of their friend's box. So they park in front of somebody else's."

Homeowners initiated the change, petitioning on a block-by-block basis for what the Postal Service calls "neighborhood delivery and collection box units," Hector added. Residents who do not want to give up their private mailbox are not forced to.

"Those that don't will still have parking problems," he said. "It's my strong conviction that all of the residents will eventually want to come on board."

Holdouts such as Geraldine Tarkenton said she plans to keep her old box--even though she gets furious when she is denied the day's mail because someone's car was blocking her West Laurel Street mailbox when the letter carrier rolled past.

Tarkenton was jolted last week when her carrier mistakenly started delivering her mail to her block's new multifamily drop-off. Four days' worth of mail piled up before Tarkenton got to the post office and obtained a key so she could retrieve it.

"I don't want to have to be running back and forth across the street to get my mail. It's dangerous," Tarkenton said.

Postal officials say Compton's use of neighborhood mail drops is the highest in the Los Angeles area. About 8% of its 35,000 household deliveries now go to the locked boxes. And that number is increasing.

Officials say multifamily mail drops are particularly popular in areas where theft of mail is a problem. The locked boxes--accessible to letter carriers from a single rear door--are installed for free if a majority of a street's residents opt for them. And if a cost savings for the Postal Service seems likely.

That's usually an easy choice for officials.

It costs about $110 a year to deliver a household's mail to a centralized box. But it costs $154 for individual curbside service and $243 for front porch delivery, according to postal figures.

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