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Rain May Not Stop the Mail, but Violence Does

Times Staff Writer

It was bad enough when their mail stopped coming to their homes.

But when the U.S. Postal Service ignored letters of complaint from residents and city leaders, those in Pomona realized it was time to push the envelope.

Postal administrators had suspended delivery to the 2200 block of Carlton Avenue after a frightened letter carrier witnessed a drive-by shooting a year and a half ago.

The mail service cutoff came without warning. Residents also weren’t advised when the post office later installed a centralized mailbox for the block’s 32 families on a nearby street.

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Even after those living in the house that was involved in the shooting moved out, Carlton Avenue’s mailman stayed away.

“I was wondering what happened to that old post office saying, ‘Neither rain, nor snow, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,’ ” said City Councilman George Hunter, who represents the area.

After months of failing to get answers to their letters to the Postal Service asking that service be restored, Hunter and other city officials were preparing to take the unusual step of picketing the Pomona post office on downtown’s Monterey Avenue when postal authorities grudgingly agreed to restart home delivery.

That should begin in about three weeks -- after volunteers help residents move mailboxes from their front porches to the front edge of their property next to the street’s sidewalks. It’s part of a deal that residents had to accept so that mail carriers would not have to walk to the homes’ front doors and unnecessarily “expose” themselves to danger, as postal officials put it.

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In a twist, after home delivery resumes, the mailman whose anxiety over the gunfire prompted the disruption won’t be there to stuff letters into the new boxes. He’s on the lookout for flying bullets in Iraq -- where his military Reserve unit has been called up for active duty.

“Isn’t that totally unbelievable?” said Bill Maine, Pomona’s newly named postmaster.

It’s not unheard-of for the Postal Service to suspend service in an area after a dog attack or such violence as robberies of mail carriers. But those suspensions usually last days, not months. In fact, Los Angeles postal officials cannot recall a long-term suspension anywhere other than Pomona.

Postal Service officials say the need to protect letter carriers prompted the suspension of service to the block.

But those living along the working-class street of single-family homes are bitter about the whole thing. They described elderly residents with canes hobbling the length of two football fields to get their mail. Sometimes people would block traffic by double-parking their cars in the intersection near the drop box while checking their mailboxes.

Called the Valwood Estates subdivision when it was developed in 1955 on acreage next to the legendary Kellogg Arabian Horse Ranch, the 411-home neighborhood featured family-style houses.

The neighborhood is now inhabited by a mixture of retirees and working-class residents. Despite the shooting, city officials say, statistics show that crime is no worse there than elsewhere in Pomona.

“The post office overreacted,” said Mary Abasta, who has resided on the street for 25 years. Her home is at the end of the block, the farthest from the centralized “cluster” box with locked cubbyholes.

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“All of us here hate it. It’s just this one block that has gone through this.... We’re the ones singled out.”

Aerospace worker Nash Gonzalez said he bought the house targeted in the shooting after its previous tenants moved out. He was perplexed when he learned he would need to get a key to the mailbox around the corner on Augusta Street. After that, he began his own campaign to have home delivery restored.

“We’ve been calling them and writing them. We’ve written the post office over and over. We’re sorry about what happened here before we moved in, but it wasn’t our fault,” Gonzalez said.

Pomona city officials said they were dumbfounded by the Postal Service’s sudden suspension of service.

Hunter said he took it on himself to write to Carlton Avenue residents and tell them that they needed to go to the post office to get their mail after delivery was abruptly cut off in May 2004. Because there was no mail service, he recruited local youngsters to hand-deliver the notes to the 32 families.

“I felt this community was being treated differently from others in town,” he said. “It is a blue-collar community, a community of color.”

Hunter said he was preparing to lead a protest march outside the post office over what he said was the “sad state of affairs” when postal officials agreed to discuss the dispute.

When the meeting with them was held last month, Hunter came armed with Pomona Police Department statistics that showed Carlton Avenue did not have a major crime problem.

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Although no one was hurt in the 2004 exchange of gunfire, a 29-year-old woman was killed on the block 16 years ago by a stray bullet fired from a car that was linked to gangs.

These days, “I’d say all of those living on that block of Carlton are good, decent people,” Hunter said.

The Ganesha High School Junior ROTC plans to help other volunteers install sidewalk mailboxes for residents who need them, he said.

Debbie Wittenbrock, an administrative assistant in the city attorney’s office who helped draft city protest letters that she said went unanswered by the post office, has volunteered to acquire new mailboxes from a local hardware store. The city will pay for them. She said letters telling residents that home delivery is restarting were sent out Tuesday.

Postal officials in Los Angeles said sidewalk delivery, rather than front-porch service, has been specified because of lingering safety concerns.

They said mail delivery suspensions in whole neighborhoods are rare, although areas along two other Pomona roadways -- Reservoir and Olive streets -- have faced service interruptions.

Postal officials said they understood residents’ concerns but stressed that the postal carrier legitimately felt threatened by the shooting.

“There was crossfire. People were shooting at each other while he was delivering. Naturally, that will scare you. He was scared out of his wits,” said Larry Dozier, a Postal Service spokesman.

Another spokesman, Richard Maher, declined to identify the carrier because of fears of retaliation against the man’s family and because of a policy that prohibits the naming of postal personnel called up for military duty.

“It is ironic, when you think about it: on active duty in Iraq,” Maher said of the mailman. “Talking about going from the frying pan into the fire.”


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