Postal Officials Say They’ll Sort Out Delivery Problems

Times Staff Writer

As customer complaints about late mail service continued Friday, local postal officials pledged a new campaign to improve delivery times across Los Angeles County.

Officials acknowledged serious problems even as more complaints piled up about mail that is delivered late at night, magazines and newspapers that arrive months after publication, and mail that is dropped off miles from its intended destination.

But despite the new promise to improve service, officials still offered no clear explanation for what was causing the delays. Rather, it appears that several factors might be to blame.


Letter carriers have complained for months that the U.S. Postal Service’s automated mail-sorting system has forced them to begin their deliveries later, meaning that letters and packages often are dropped off late in the evening, as late as 11 p.m. in some areas.

Carriers say they have startled residents by arriving on their porches well after dark. Union officials say some carriers have suffered injuries after tripping in the dark or have been bitten by dogs who charged out at them through unlocked screen doors.

By many accounts, the region’s delivery delays and glitches became widely apparent after the postal service closed a large processing center near Marina del Rey last summer, forcing most of the mail from the region’s western portions to be sorted through the main Los Angeles Processing and Distribution Center in South Los Angeles. From there it must be trucked back through often busy traffic to outlying communities.

The Postal Service has also suggested that staffing shortages and even the effects of Hurricane Katrina are to blame.

Whatever the reasons, top postal authorities have now promised to adjust staffing and move up starting times for some carriers so they can hit the streets earlier. The officials also said they have been training additional supervisors and managers who will be shifted to locations that have experienced delivery problems. And they said a new processing facility in Santa Monica, set to open soon, should ease problems there.

Although portions of West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Calabasas and the San Fernando Valley appeared at first to be the most affected, customers and carriers have also reported problems in the South Bay, Central Los Angeles and the Inland Empire.

“There are pockets where these problems are, and that’s where we’ll focus,” said Larry Dozier, a spokesman for the Postal Service’s Los Angeles district.

But he added that it will take time for residents to see consistent delivery -- perhaps as long as 60 days in areas where routes are adjusted.

Susan L. Harris of Manhattan Beach said she posted a letter with a check two weeks ago that has yet to arrive at its destination in Rancho Palos Verdes, 16 miles away. The intended recipient, Carole Black, reported that she doesn’t receive half of her magazines and gets “invitations to events that arrive after the event.”

Brenda Ross, who lives in the Baldwin Hills area and has been battling with local postal officials for weeks over shoddy service, said problems in her area reached a peak Dec. 30 and 31, when no mail was delivered.

Residents of her tiny enclave of View Heights, tucked between Windsor Hills and Inglewood, came up empty as they awaited late Christmas gifts and the usual letters, bills and checks.

“This problem started in early to mid-2005,” she said. “Some days we’d get mail, some days we wouldn’t; some days we’d get somebody else’s mail. When our regular carrier is off, we don’t get mail or they’re around us with the flashlight at 7 or 8 o’clock at night.”

Her patience exhausted, Ross descended on the local postmaster to express her ire and demand improvement.

“I’ve become the rebel in the neighborhood,” she said.

There are plenty of other fed-up customers like Ross out there. A physician this week wrote to the Brentwood postmaster, complaining of his regular carrier’s late deliveries and erratic behavior.

Residents have been filing protests with the post office and other officials for months. But the issue came to a head when Rep. Henry A. Waxman asked U.S. Postmaster John E. Potter to find out what was amiss and to fix it.

Waxman, a veteran Los Angeles Democrat, acted after his office received an unprecedented number of complaints about the mail from constituents in his district, which covers West Los Angeles and parts of the San Fernando Valley, as well as Beverly Hills, Culver City, Santa Monica and Calabasas.

Waxman’s interest led to talks Thursday between his staff and top postal officials for the Los Angeles district, who have promised to fix the problem.

While residents were complaining to public officials or to one another, postal workers were complaining to their unions and supervisors about the later shifts.

For two decades, the Postal Service has been converting to automation, using machines that read and process mail much faster than could a human being.

With machines scanning and sorting most of the mail, the Postal Service has told carriers to start their shifts later than in years past, said Jerry Weinstein, president of the Beverly Hills Star City Branch 2293 of the National Assn. of Letter Carriers, the union that represents the carriers. Many must work well past dark to complete their deliveries.

Automation was meant to shorten the time carriers spent in the office and give them more time to make deliveries. But logistical problems -- notably Southern California’s heavy traffic -- often delay the trucks that deliver mail to the local post offices, and that leaves carriers waiting, Weinstein and others said.

In years past, carriers would arrive by 6 or so each morning to sort the mail before starting their rounds. They would finish by midafternoon. Now they’re starting as late as 8:30 a.m., they said.

Post office officials acknowledge that some carriers now start their routes later but said automation has made the entire mail process far more efficient.

Stephen Breen, a Santa Monica carrier, plans to return to work Tuesday after two months of stress leave after his supervisor ordered him to deliver mail after dark.

“I was out there trying to read black ink at night, so I started bringing the mail back,” Breen said. “The crux of the matter is that management’s position is we have a mandate to deliver no matter what.”