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Mail delivery resumes at L.A. public housing complex

Apartments at the Mar Vista Gardens public housing complex in Los Angeles' Del Rey neighborhood.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

The U.S. Postal Service says that mail is again being delivered at Mar Vista Gardens, a public housing complex with more than 1,800 residents, after an outcry from local leaders over delivery being suspended.

“The idea that a decision was made to delay mail in the middle of a pandemic is heinous,” said Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), who initiated a formal inquiry into the decision. “How many of those packages were medications? How many were checks? How many were letters from loved ones? This can’t happen.”

Last month, Culver City Post Office Postmaster Roderick Strong suspended delivery to the 43-acre complex in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Del Rey, stating that safety issues were putting mail carriers at risk.

Among the recent incidents cited by Strong were an “uncontrollable dog” and a threatening tenant; the Postal Service did not provide further details about those incidents. Strong said last month that delivery would be halted until centralized banks of mailboxes could be installed at the complex, a plan opposed by many Mar Vista Gardens residents.

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The decision to suspend delivery alarmed Bass and Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin, who said it was unacceptable to force elderly and disabled residents to pick up mail at a facility more than a mile away during a pandemic. Bonin said safety could be addressed without resorting to the “extreme action” of cutting off mail to more than 600 households.

Resident leaders denounced it as a form of discrimination against poor renters of color. Some were especially alarmed that the move came ahead of the November elections, when many voters are expected to cast their ballots by mail.

John M. Barger is brother to Supervisor Kathryn Barger and a Republican donor. As a Postal Service governor, his life is suddenly filled with complaints and picketers.

USPS spokeswoman Evelina Ramirez said this week that delivery resumed Sept. 3.

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“We listened to the concerns expressed by the residents,” Ramirez said in an email. “We will work with our employees to be vigilant for safety issues and security of the mail and communicate with the housing authority leaders for the opportunity to correct concerns.”

Postal officials will “reevaluate the opportunity to install cluster box units at a later time,” Ramirez added.

Eric Brown, a spokesman for the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, said Wednesday that he had not heard anything directly from the USPS about the decision, but that mail was being delivered door to door again at the Del Rey complex. In response to the concerns cited by the postmaster, Brown said HACLA staffers had been doing “dog checks” daily and educating residents about the rules.

Mar Vista Gardens has had mail delivery suspended before: Twelve years ago, delivery was put on hold for months after a fatal shooting and other reported safety issues, a move that was reversed following protests from residents and elected officials.

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Former housing authority official Sanford Riggs said that at the time, “we pointed out that crime statistics in the development were lower inside that community than outside.”

Mar Vista Gardens resident Daisy Vega, president of the resident advisory council, said Thursday that she was relieved that older and disabled tenants would no longer have to head to a Culver City post office to pick up their mail. Now residents want an agreement that would guide how any future changes to mail delivery are rolled out, she said.

“We’re getting the mail now,” Vega said in Spanish, “but we don’t want this to happen again.”


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