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Waxman Wants to Know Why Snail Mail’s So Slow

Times Staff Writer

When it comes to getting first-class mail, two weeks is too long.

That’s what Wayne Adelstein told Rep. Henry A. Waxman’s staff members recently when he handed over two envelopes that he said were emblematic of slow mail deliveries in the region.

One of the local first-class letters had been received by the North Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce in Northridge, and one had been mailed by the chamber to a recipient in Long Beach. One letter had taken 10 days to arrive and the other two weeks.

“Either is way too long,” said Adelstein, president of the chamber. “The business community functions based on the mails.... I’m hearing across the board from businesspeople that there’s a major problem with delivery.”

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With constituents continuing to decry late delivery of first-class letters and magazines, Waxman, a Los Angeles Democrat, last week asked the U.S. Postal Service’s inspector general to investigate delays at the main Los Angeles processing center and several other facilities in California.

“I have not seen consistent improvements in my congressional district,” Waxman said in a letter to David C. Williams, the service’s inspector general. “I am requesting a thorough review to determine the extent of delayed mail.”

Waxman’s request was prompted by a report sent anonymously to his office. The document, an internal “Pacific Area daily mail condition summary” from May 4, showed that large quantities of mail had been delayed at the Los Angeles Processing and Distribution Center south of downtown Los Angeles. The summary indicated that the processing of 78,000 first-class letters had been held up by as long as six days and 265,000 periodicals had been delayed by as long as 10 days.

Postal officials for the region including Southern California said delays cited in the report resulted from problems with a new piece of equipment at the plant that is designed to sort large envelopes and magazines. In addition, the postal service for some time has been diverting mail from several plants to the Los Angeles Bulk Mail Center in Bell, the location of a new automated package processing system.

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“That was impacting what was going on at the L.A. plant at that time,” said Don Smeraldi, a postal service spokesman.

Michael Daley, the new vice president for the region, said mail processing had improved since then at the facility, which handles more than 9 million pieces of mail each day.

On Aug. 1, for example, the center reported no delays in first-class mail, but the processing of about 115,000 periodicals was delayed by as long as two days. Monday’s report again showed no delays in first-class mail, but about 1,000 periodicals were delayed by as long as three days.

Waxman’s latest request marks another salvo in the veteran lawmaker’s battle to get the postal service to respond to a barrage of complaints that began last fall. On Jan. 30, Waxman wrote to John E. Potter, the postmaster general, to request data about staffing levels, customer complaints, late-night mail deliveries and the effect of plant closings on the transportation of mail in the region.

He took that step after scores of customers in his district, which includes much of western Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, Agoura Hills, Santa Monica, West Hollywood and Westlake Village, complained about mail that was misdirected, delivered late at night or not delivered at all.

Congressional hearings on postal service issues, initially scheduled for February, were postponed at least twice by Republican leadership. Waxman’s office said he has had no luck getting them rescheduled.

Many customers and postal employees have contended that the closing last year of a Jefferson Boulevard processing facility near Marina del Rey accounted for many of the delivery woes. Postal officials disputed that, saying the closing was part of a consolidation designed to improve efficiency. But the service acknowledged at the time that deliveries were being slowed because of insufficient staffing. Waxman’s office said it appears that staffing continues to be a problem.

Postal officials in January sent a memo to Southern California post offices, reiterating the agency’s long-held goal of having most mail delivered by 6 p.m. at the latest.

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In some areas, mail delivery improved for a time. But Waxman’s office said complaints have persisted. In one case, a $36,000 check was initially delivered to the wrong address. Some businesses in Santa Monica have reported receiving no mail for days on end.

Waxman’s office said it was important to seek a review by the inspector general’s office. That office recently completed an audit of delayed mail in New Mexico that pinpointed problems including management turnover, insufficient staffing and delayed response to recommendations for improving service.


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