January 13, 2010 > Niles Post Office supporters take action
Niles Post Office supporters take action
By Miriam G. Mazliach
Photos By William Mancebo
Everyone... or at least it looked like all Niles' residents poured in to fill the Niles Elementary School to capacity on the evening of January 5. The community meeting was called by the U.S. Postal Service to discuss potential closure of their beloved post office, a community icon since 1873.
Cedric Brown, Manager for Post Office Operations, addressed the determined crowd that filled every seat in the school's multi-purpose room as well as the overflow crowd standing against the walls.
Reasons for closures and consolidations nationwide were attributed by the U.S. Postal Service to the economic downturn, reduction of mail as the public increasingly utilizes e-mail for communication and overall declining post office revenues.
Originally, 3,300 of the country's 35,000 post offices were named for closure or consolidation. The number has since decreased and currently 169 remain on the list, including Niles. (Mission San Jose's Post Office was recently removed from the closure list.) When deciding which post offices to close or consolidate, the U.S.P.S. also looked at proximity to other postal facilities as factor.
Gus Ruiz, Manager of Corporate Relations for the Postal Services' Bay-Valley District, says, "The post office has done all they can to keep things afloat by eliminating 40,000 positions through attrition and overtime, to reduce the number of employees nationally." They had a $3.8 billion dollar loss in 2009, continue to process less mail and expect another 13 percent drop in mail from 2008 numbers.
Members of the Niles community had many questions for Cedric Brown and Gus Ruiz. But first a stack of over 3,000 petitions signed by Niles residents was presented to Brown. The meeting was then opened to address public concerns; a long line quickly formed at the microphone.
Q: "Why can't the Postal Service get as clever as Fed Ex and UPS, to generate ways to make more money?"
Response: "UPS and Fed Ex only handle certain types of shipments to high density areas. We deliver all over. We have a partnership with UPS which flies some of our mail to hub centers for us to distribute. Technology has been embraced by the Postal Service. Thirty percent of our customers are now using USPS.com for their needs."
A representative of the American Postal Worker's Union (APWU) stated,
"I commend the citizens for turning out tonight and showing the Postal Service how you feel about the Niles Post Office which has been open for 136 years and for supporting Eleanor, the wonderful postmaster there for 26 years! The Niles Post Office generated over $408,000 and its lease is less than $30,000 a year."
Response: "No one said that it's definitely going to be closed. We'll take your information into consideration. Alternate locations can be used for your postal needs. All transactions can be done at UPS. We can even pick up your package at your home."
Several residents were concerned that the closest post office is actually farther than the information distributed by the U.S.P.S., about 30 minutes roundtrip to Dusterberry Way and using a gallon of gas.
Response: "It's still under the review process. We did err in calculating distances and proximity to other post offices."
A distinguished elderly gentleman asked, "Did you look at how many older people are here? This is a community of seniors. We walk to the post office. Niles Post Office still makes money. What is the rationale of taking this away from us?" He finished to loud applause by saying, "Keep this open. Period. End of story!"
Response: We looked at a lot of things. The majority of post offices around the country don't make money. They rely on high-traffic post offices to make the majority of the money.
Several residents volunteered their assistance with maintenance of the post office, to help reduce costs and another inquired about getting rid of 'junk mail' deliveries as an option to save money.
Response: "Actually, you can opt out, if you don't wish to receive that type of mail," explained Ruiz. "We call it standard mail and it is 40 percent of our revenue. Standard mail is the lifeblood of the Post Office. You really don't want to see it go."
Michael McNevin, a local entertainer and businessman commented, "This town is a village, designed years ago for horses and carriages, without cars in mind, and for people to walk and ride bikes. The school and post office are in the center of town. We would be willing to chip in some money to save our post office. Ask the community! We can save the model American Community of Niles."
Business owner, Sarah Prudhomme, expressed her concern about losing money with changes to postal box locations. "We have money invested in printing of letterhead, business cards and invoices. It would be expensive to reprint postal box change information. I have lived in the area for over 40 years. Dusterberry Way Post Office is still difficult to access and parking is a problem. Also, the Niles Post Office has a pretty good profit and low operation costs."
Response: "We acknowledge that there are some issues at the Dusterberry facility."
An interesting verbal exchange ensued when the Mayor of Fremont, Bob Wasserman, spoke directly to Brown and the assembled crowd.
Wasserman: "I want to address a few things. Fremont is the 92nd largest city in the United States. We are unique. Over 50 years ago, we were formed as a city from five separate communities. We attempt to honor 'community integrity' of which Niles is the greatest example. Closing the post office will go a long way to destroying it and it takes people away from Niles." It's almost a closed community, with not a lot of roads in and out, a contained community. I don't think you've really studied it."
Response: "District and headquarters personnel researched it."
Wasserman: "I don't think they contacted the city or you would have learned something."
Response: "We haven't made a final decision."
Wasserman: "A few years back we put in motion to do some budget cutting, for example at the Niles Library. But people stepped up to volunteer and it stayed open. Niles is a different type of place. Community Integrity is the most important thing in the entire country. Please keep that in mind."
Michael Street brought up the disparity that Fremont, with a population of 213,000 has fewer post offices per person in comparison to Menlo Park (31,000 people and 3 post offices) and Atherton with (7,200 people and 6 post offices.) For comparison, Street asked the U.S.P.S. for an accounting of the profitability of those post offices and their number of customers served.
Response: "We'll look and see."
Linda Randolph who stood for 2-1/2 weeks in front of the post office collecting signatures tried to get her message across. "You don't know the people in Niles. These are the people who use the post office: A number of our residents with mobility issues or visually impairments, our many older residents, young parents with kids, home businesses and storefronts, a church shelter and homeless people from the canyon. We even have a large group of people from Union City who prefer to use the Niles Post Office as well as commuters to and from Pleasanton and Dublin."
When Brown was asked point blank why Niles Post Office is being considered for closure when it made $408,000, Brown responded by saying, "I don't have that information. There's a range of things we're looking at. If it's generating money, we'll consider it. We have to look at expenses."
Ruiz clarified, to TCV after the meeting, that $408,000 was the gross amount and did not take into consideration utilities, benefits, insurance, maintenance, and the lease, for example. He said, "An office like Niles, must be sufficient to sustain operation. I know a lot of emotion sometimes skews objectivity; but we do need to pay attention to our customers. Every decision has a human element; it's not only business. The people at the meeting told us forcefully that they didn't want Niles to close."
Fittingly, the last speaker in line was Ralph Bell, recently retired long-time postmaster at Mission San Jose Post Office. "When we first found out that MSJ might close, box holders left because they didn't know what was going to happen. You need to write politicians, do phone calls, and send Letters to the Editors and the media. Keep up the fight; I feel your pain."
Brown listened intently, however he stated that the decision was not in his hands. "I'll make sure the information gets back and your voices are heard before the decision is made," he told the Niles crowd.
The next step in the process is that meeting feedback, information and petition signatures will be handed over to the Postal Service's District Manager's office in Oakland. It will then be forwarded to the Postal Area Vice President in San Diego. Final determination will be made at Postal Headquarters in Washington, D.C., with a decision posted at the Niles Station sometime in 2010.
After the community meeting Councilman Bill Harrison commented, "This has been a very good turnout; 3,000 signatures is great. Niles is an island and it's important that the Post Office sees that and hopefully we can keep the post office open."
"I hadn't anticipated a 'Standing Room Only' crowd," added Brown. "I was very impressed by the turnout and will share their stories and the information with the District office."
If you would like to let your opinion be known, here is the contact information for the Postmaster General and Congressman Pete Stark.
John E. Potter
Postmaster General and Chief Executive Officer
475 L'Enfant Plaza, S.W.
Washington, DC 20260-0010
Write or call:
The Honorable Fortney 'Pete' Stark
39300 Civic Center Drive, Suite 220
Fremont, CA 94538
(510) 494-1388 Fremont office
(202) 225-5065 Washington, D.C. office