Cutbacks may seal fate of some neighborhood post offices

Twice a week, Deborah Gonzales drives to the post office on Lennox Boulevard in Inglewood to mail bills and packages and to buy stamps. The nondescript building is conveniently located a short distance from her home and she relies on it for all her postal needs.

But if the U.S. Postal Service proceeds with plans to possibly shut down dozens of post offices in Southern California as a cost-cutting measure, the station could be a victim, and local residents could be forced to travel miles away for mail services.

"I hope it doesn't close," Gonzales, 63, said Friday as she mailed a package to her incarcerated son. "It's close to me. . . . I live just up the street."

Nationwide, fewer than 1,000 post offices are being reviewed for possible consolidation, which would require closing some of them, according to Postal Service officials. Fewer than 100 stations and branches are being reviewed in the Pacific area, which includes California, said Don Smeraldi, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service in California.

Smeraldi stressed that no decision has been made about which post offices might be closed. But a list of stations "identified for full study" on the Postal Regulatory Commission's website includes several Southland communities that could be affected if branches were closed.

San Diego has six offices on the list, Santa Ana has five, and Inglewood, Anaheim, Newport Beach and Long Beach each have four. Other local cities that could lose offices if the list is approved include Huntington Beach, Irvine, Redondo Beach, Whittier, Fullerton, Pomona and Orange.

"If they close, it will affect a lot of people," said Danny Ray, 52, a taxicab dispatcher who works in Inglewood and often uses the Lennox Boulevard post office. "I always come here, because there's nice people and nice service. I'm in and out."

But the Postal Service is running out of cash, and consolidating some offices could save money, postal officials said.

Testifying before a congressional subcommittee Thursday, the Postal Service's acting vice president of network operations, Jordan Small, called the agency's financial situation "grave." Earlier this year, U.S. Postmaster General John E. Potter warned Congress that without changes, the agency would probably "exhaust our cash resources" by year's end.

The Postal Service's board of governors plans to release a third-quarter financial summary Wednesday for fiscal year 2009, said Susan Brennan, a spokeswoman for the agency. Potter is scheduled to testify on the issue next Thursday before the Senate.

Other cost-cutting measures being considered include reducing hours of operation and removing blue mailboxes from some locations.

Small testified that each year more postal transactions are conducted online "with customers rarely having to leave their home or business to access our products and services."

Smeraldi, the Postal Service spokesman in California, confirmed that there has been a significant change in retail customers' habits in recent years with 30% of retail revenues coming from alternative locations such as grocery stores, ATMs, and the Postal Service website.

"This is part of the reason why we are looking at the number of post offices we really need to maintain quality service, but also to be much more efficient," Smeraldi wrote in an e-mail. "We also are looking at eliminating excess work-floor space that our carriers don't need, through consolidating some facilities."

Some customers however, remain wedded to traditional mail service options.

Abigail Ascencio said she had never used the post office's online services.

"I didn't know I had that option," Ascencio, 18, said recently as she conducted business at the Crenshaw-Imperial post office, another Inglewood location being considered for closure.


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