Inquiry Seeks to Stamp Out Mailbox Mishaps

Times Staff Writer

It was the ancient Greek historian Herodotus who, writing about the Persian Wars, lauded the Persian messengers with a compliment that many modern-day Postal Service employees have adopted as their mantra: “Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

It’s the “gloom of night” part that’s bugging residents across Los Angeles County. Is that a prowler lurking around your front door late at night or your letter carrier?

Lately, complaints have poured in from Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Calabasas and elsewhere that mail is being delivered as late as 10:30 p.m., far from swiftly and sometimes not at all. Residents also gripe that mail is being dropped off at the wrong address, often miles from the intended recipient.


Saving Faces, a Marina del Rey skin care salon with the ZIP Code 90292, recently left a misdirected letter tucked into its mail slot with the note: “Not even close to this address.” The letter was intended for the Barrington Post Office in Brentwood, 90049.

Concerns expressed to the office of Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) have prompted the veteran congressman to ask that the U.S. Postal Service figure out what’s going wrong and fix it.

Some residents speculate that the delays and snafus have been caused by the government’s decision last year to close a Jefferson Boulevard processing and distribution station just east of Marina del Rey. Most of the mail previously processed in that facility is now trucked to the main Los Angeles center on South Central Avenue, a 1.1-million-square-foot operation that handles 7 million pieces of mail a day.

But a spokesman for the Postal Service in Los Angeles denies that the July closure has had an effect. Other Postal Service employees told Waxman staff members that the problems were related to personnel shortages and even Hurricane Katrina.

Alan Rosenberg, a documentary producer from Pacific Palisades, marched into Waxman’s district office near the Beverly Center last Thursday -- the day he received his Nov. 11 issue of the Jewish Daily Forward, mailed from New York. On Tuesday, he got a few copies of the New York Times from early to mid-December.

“About six to eight months ago, these publications started coming a month to two months late, and in no particular order,” Rosenberg said. “Everyone in the Palisades is talking about the lousy service.”


In a letter sent last month, Waxman told Postmaster John E. Potter that his staff had contacted Postal Service consumer affairs representatives and station managers in the affected areas. Included among employees’ explanations for the delivery problems, he wrote, were the “extremely high volume of mail to deliver during the holiday season,” staffing shortages and a backlog created by Hurricane Katrina, which brought devastation to the Gulf Coast region in August.

Some residents have complained that mail has been routinely delivered after 8 p.m. and sometimes as late as 10:30 p.m.

The disgruntlement, Waxman noted, was not restricted to one community or mail route but rather emanated from every part of his district, including Beverly Hills, Agoura Hills, Woodland Hills and West Hills.

“The postal delivery problems in Los Angeles are unacceptable. I will be initiating an investigation to learn more about the extent of these problems in Los Angeles and across the nation,” Waxman said in a statement.

Kurt G. Toppel, chairman of the Pacific Palisades Community Council, said he has talked with local post office employees and concluded that the problem began, in part, when the Marina Processing and Distribution Center was closed. Moreover, he said, the Pacific Palisades post office on Sunset Boulevard has let employees go and hired temporary workers “who had no idea what to do.”

“Even if mail is generated in the Palisades, for the Palisades, it goes downtown to be sorted,” he said. “The mail is supposed to arrive [in the Palisades] by 8:30 a.m. from the downtown facility ... but many times it does not arrive at 8:30 because of traffic problems on the freeway.”


Toppel said community council mailings produced in the Palisades for residents there typically arrive eight days to two weeks after they’ve been mailed. “It’s a joke,” he said. “It is absolutely, totally absurd.”

Larry Dozier, a Los Angeles-area spokesman for the Postal Service, said the closing of the Marina facility has “had no effect on delivery.”

“We consolidated that plant ... to make our operations more efficient and take advantage of economies of scale and cut back on transportation costs,” he said.

Such centralization is “very common across the nation,” he said, adding that “we are not experiencing staffing shortages.” He noted that people “do retire and move on and we have to fill those vacancies.”

Dozier pinpointed one likely cause of the problems: Postal officials are in the process of examining and adjusting routes in the Los Angeles area. That, he said, could account for some late deliveries. “We do realize that some of our customers are getting their mail later than they’re used to,” he said. “We do apologize for that.”

Toppel said he found it vexing that these complaints have come as the Postal Service has imposed a 2-cent increase for a first-class stamp, to 39 cents. The increase, which went into effect Sunday, is the first since 2002. It was needed to fulfill the requirement in a federal law passed in 2003 that the Postal Service establish a $3.1-billion escrow account, with use of the funds to be determined by Congress at a later date.


“I know for a fact they had a hiring freeze,” Toppel said. “They figured that with the increase in rates there would be less business for the post office. Byzantine is the best expression I can use for that.”