Playing Post Office with our Mail 092111
Tom McClintock Responds to Rupert’s Requests
In the world of humans, nothing is ever what it seems. The Great Post Office Closure Scare of 2011 is like that. It seems pretty bad, but what if it isn’t what it seems, and if it isn’t what it seems, what is it?
Renee Brown and Lorraine Kirkpatrick, Postal Service representatives from Reno and Las Vegas, respectively, visited Sierraville to inquire what residents thought about a proposal to close the PO. They faced a room of about 35 people in the activities room at Sierraville School.
Things aren’t often what they seem: at least half of the people in the room weren’t from Sierraville at all. Word got around Sierraville that the Post Office Closure Meeting wasn’t going to take place. The town wasn’t ready. As a result, very few pillars of Sierraville social life were there, and most notably, the Sierraville Postmaster was not. Sierraville isn’t the kind of town that meets with dignitaries just because dignitaries are there to meet.
Many of the people present were from Calpine, because Calpine is threatened with closure and Sierravile would have been the next logical place for a PO. The suggested city of Clio is out of the question. It isn’t even in Sierra County, and it’s eleven or more miles over a road that many people literally refuse to drive in the winter, and some people refuse to drive ever. Sierraville became the Post Office-apparent for Sattley-Calpine when Renee Brown put the stink of death on Calpine earlier in the year by holding a similar meeting.
Incidentally, the post office persists in calling Calpine Sattley because they moved the Sattley Post Office from the Sattley Store to Calpine but continued to call it Sattley or Sattley-Calpine. The story of why they moved the historical post office from Sattley is mildly humorous and quintessentially Sierra County, but would reflect badly on people who are readers, so we’ll decline to tell it.
The meeting, which was attended by such local politicos as Tim Holabird, representative of Congressman Tom McClintock, and three County Supervisors, Peter Huebner, District 2; Lee Adams, District 1 and current Chair, and Bill Nunes, in whose district both Sierraville and Calpine lie, and who has been working very hard to create as much heat and noise as he can to save the local POs. Don Russell, Editor of the Mountain Messenger Newspaper attended the meeting in Sierraville because Los Dos Hermanos was open and he could bend his elbow and enjoy what is certainly the best food for miles. Though he mostly dozed, occasionally emitting fumes as his aging digestive tract struggled with the rich and spicy dinner, he likely wrote a piece about the meeting in the Messenger which will bear reading.
There was intended to be a structure to the meeting. Though Ms Brown and Ms Kirkpatrick would answer questions when possible, they did not make the decision to close, and they could not answer for national policy. National policy is likewise not what it seems.
The attendees at the meeting conducted themselves in the only way a person can in such a meeting. Some were baffled that such an important and vital service could be snatched away. Many, many people had questions, the answers to which were either too long and complex to explain, or were out of the purview of the PS representatives to answer.
For example, the question was asked, “why do you print so many different kinds of stamps? Why don't you print one forever stamp and leave it at that? The answer to this questions is both outside the purview of Ms.s Brown and Kirkpatrick, and long and complicated. To answer it, one would have to know and understand how many stamps collectors purchase but don’t use, since those are essentially free money; one would have to evaluate the prestige stamps bring a postal service and a nation; one would have to know the actual cost of printing a million of this and a million of that instead of two million of this. There are no doubt other factors of relative cost and value which analysts who work with the figures daily understand, but which are opaque to Brown & Kirkpatrick, and to us.
The problem is, when something is personally important, we want to bargain away things which are generally important. Who cares if printing one kind of stamp only saves $500,000 over ten years, the estimated savings of closing Sierraville, as long as it is enough to save our little PO. There were other questions and suggestions also of a national level which impact the closing of our Post Office very little, and are far beyond the scope of B&K.
Astute and well informed (i.e. frequent) readers of the Prospect will recall a conversation with David Rupert, (link) in which he essentially provided the recipe the Postal Service would like to see to repair their problem. In previous articles, the Prospect has described how the Postal Service is a self-supporting branch of the government, essentially a business run by congress, and as such can’t take advantage of some business strategies which might keep them afloat. The internet denies the PS a lot of revenue, since people pay bills, keep in touch with friends, and most importantly get their news from the internet.
Rupert provided three changes we might request not of the mail recipients of Calpine-Sierraville, nor of Ms Brown or Ms. Kirkpatrick, but of congress. In short, almost none of the frustration and worry and agita suffered by the letter getters of Sierraville and Sattley Calpine had anything to do with whether or not the Sierraville Post Office will close.
The USPS can’t change certain things: the way stamps are priced; the days of service, the amount of the medical surplus. What they can change is to move around and close distribution centers and post offices.
The Prospect asked Tom McClintock what his position is on the PS, and he replied, below. This editor would like to go on record as having voted for Congressman McClintock, something I’ll probably do again. But as nothing people do or say is ever what it seems, that is never more clearly demonstrated as when a politician says something. Tim Holabird did a great job of representing the Congressman’s position, but it begs some questions.
Here is the text received from Congressman McClintock:
"The USPS is suffering in part from technological changes that have vastly reduced the volume of conventional mail that supports its operations and increasing fuel costs. But it is also suffering from chronic poor management. For example, personnel costs consume 80 percent of the USPS budget but only 45 percent for Federal Express and 66 percent for United Parcel Service budgets.
The USPS proposes to resolve its predicament by eliminating Saturday delivery and raiding the only adequately funded retirement plan under federal oversight. The former trims just two percent off the agency's budget and the latter exposes the Postal Service to the same unfunded pension obligations that are bankrupting states and localities all over the nation.
Finally, the USPS proposes mass closures of rural post offices. I have vigorously opposed any such attempt while the USPS maintains its monopoly on first class mail delivery. If the USPS wants to close rural post offices or reduce services and leave residents with no alternatives, I believe - and will insist - that it should surrender its monopoly status so that energetic entrepreneurs can fill the breach and offer these communities alternatives that may be more efficient and more economical than the current bureaucratized arrangement."
Let’s briefly analyze the Congressman’s reply. First of all, compare this line “it is also suffering from chronic poor management…personnel costs consume 80 percent of the USPS budget but only 45 percent for Federal Express and 66 percent for United Parcel Service” with this line “USPS proposes to resolve its predicament by …raiding the only adequately funded retirement plan under federal oversight”. Note here that Fed Ex and UPS don’t provide the kind of employee benefits USPS does, and it is not USPS which determines the funding reserves, but congress. Part of the mismanagement Tom complains about might be on the part of congress, which David Rupert asks to be changed. Tom says the USPS should shape up so “energetic entrepreneurs can fill the breach and offer these communities alternatives that may be more efficient and more economical than the current bureaucratized arrangement.” Will the energetic entrepreneurs have to have years of retiree medical saved in advance? Will they have Congress as their board? Besides, you can already have mail or packages delivered without the Postal Service, so it isn’t really much of a monopoly.
The Congressman says ending Saturday delivery will impact delivery but only save 2% of the budget. We’ll pause to note that the Post Office used to deliver seven days a week, but the clergy noticed that people were going to the Post Office instead of church on Sunday and appealed to the government to curtail Sunday (or in some locations, Saturday) delivery. Most people we’ve questioned would let go of Saturday delivery to keep their PO.
At the meeting, several people called “BS” on the USPS and particularly on their statements in response to previous meetings, where they presented opaque bookkeeping and data, mileage for example, which isn’t even close as a guess. Lee Adams complained that USPS estimates of the distances between Calpine and Sierraville and Clio were far short, and no one even bothered to check facts. “Don’t you have a map? I just did it on my phone.” Several times people told the PS representatives they had little confidence in their figures, and one resident said “we don’t believe you.”
Bill Nunes and Lee Adams both had letters to read, they’re found below. They are detailed in their representation of local need and concern, but they don’t really touch the source of the problem.
Don Russell took the floor to make things worse. “I’ve heard they’re thinking of closing the Reno distribution center and all our mail will go through Sacramento.” A letter mailed from Loyalton to Downieville would go to Sacramento; there would be no “way pouch” system as there is now.
This news stoked the fires afresh, and people complained in advance of a letter taking three days to go across the county. Ms.s Brown and Kirkpatrick do not make the decision.
What does this mean to us? Likely a few post offices will be closed. We’ll guess Sierraville won’t be. There are 3700 POs under consideration; only a few will really be closed. There might eventually be more closed, though, as the general trend is away from the Post Office and to the computer. The junk mail that makes up a huge portion of Post Office business will have to bear more of the weight as first class mail decreases. Increased prices on junk mail will drive more marketers and retailers to try email and on line approaches, and the Post Office will lose even its junk.
Until then, little post offices like ours will be tennis balls swatted back and forth by Congress and the USPS, and Brown and Kirkpatrick are simply the racquets.
September 14, 2011
Yul J. Melonson
United States Postal Service
1001 E. Sunset Road, Room 2002
Las Vegas, NV 89199
Dear Mr. Melonson:
The Sierra County Board of Supervisors has voted unanimously to oppose the closure of the Sierraville Post Office. I would like to offer my own opposition as the county supervisor representing Sierraville and other communities in the Sierra Valley.
I strongly urge the U.S. Postal Service to be more forthcoming with answers to residents’ questions and concerns tonight than it was at -- and following -- the meeting in Calpine. Residents there presented thoughtful and important input to postal representatives and received what appeared to be generic answers that provided little insight into plans for their post office. In short, you have not answered the questions, nor addressed the concerns, raised by residents in Calpine and I urge you to be more responsive here in Sierraville.
The latest proposal now is to close the Post Office sites in both Calpine and Sierraville and deliver our mail from Clio in Plumas County. This is absurd. It is a 40-mile roundtrip drive from Sierraville to Clio – this is too far to ask residents to drive in good weather – and nearly impossible to drive at times in the winter. There can be white-out conditions between Sierraville and Sattley. The road over the summit from Calpine to Clio is narrow, windy and despite the best efforts of Caltrans, frequently under chain controls.
This does not provide the access to postal services to which residents are entitled.
Placing postal boxes outside and asking residents to meet a courier to mail packages and access other services is difficult to understand. Where are you going to locate these boxes – on private property, Caltrans right-of-way, county right-of-way? Any of these will require snow removal and lighting. The boxes will freeze, they could be struck by snow plows, and maintenance and repair will be an ongoing – and expensive operation.
Sierraville – like most small, rural communities – has home businesses as an important sector of its economy. Many of these home businesses depend on the postal service for shipping and communication. Closing the Sierraville
Post Office has the potential for placing a greater burden on senior citizens – some of whom don’t drive or have access to the internet. The postal service is one of their principal means of communication.
As I assume you are aware, postal service is much different in rural areas than in urban and suburban settings. There is no home delivery so people have to access service by some form of transportation. Moving service 20 miles away in rural and mountainous country with severe winter weather is much different than closing a branch Post Office in a larger city.
Finally, like many residents I represent, I would like to see the actual savings to the U.S. Postal Service as a result of closing any of the Post Offices in Sierra County. I suspect the savings – if any – will be miniscule in comparison to the hardship you’re proposing to place on the residents in Sierraville and other communities in our county.
Sierra County Supervisor
September 6, 2011
United States Postal Service
1001 E. Sunset Road
Las Vegas, Nevada 89199
Attn: Yul J. Melanson
The Sierra County Board of Supervisors has approved this letter and directed that it be forwarded to the appropriate administrator of the United States Postal Service to express extreme displeasure and opposition to the closure of the Sierraville Post Office in Sierra County, California. The recent list of the potential postal facility closures now extends to four (4) of the six (6) postal centers which serve the rural, unincorporated communities of Sierra County. These potential closures, individually and collectively, will have a long-term and devastating impact to the rural quality of life in Sierra County and will add to the considerable burden that is being thrust upon rural communities, threatening their very existence.
Briefly and to provide some critical and recent history, this Board of Supervisors transmitted a letter to the United States Postal Service on May 3, 2011 responding to the potential closure of the Calpine-Sattley Post Office. Furthermore, a community meeting was held in Calpine in May 2011 and was attended by over 100 concerned residents who offered responsible, detailed, and heartfelt comments for consideration. The responses of the US Postal Service to the residents and to this Board of Supervisors can only be characterized as “boilerplate” and have demonstrated an insensitivity and a lack of understanding of the true and considerable impacts that will result from closure of the postal center. While in the middle of responding to the Calpine-Sattley potential closure, it was subsequently announced by US Postal Service representatives that Sierraville will be evaluated for closure, creating a most perilous condition to the very existence of not only Calpine-Sattley, but now Sierraville. As just one indication of the dysfunctional evaluation that is being undertaken by the US Postal Service, the stated options to receiving mail, should Calpine-Sattley be closed, was identified to be mail delivery at Sierraville, which as previously noted is now foreclosed due to the slated closure of Sierraville. Let this Board of Supervisors be clear in its opposition to closure of either one of these postal facilities. This Board will not engage in a process that pits one site or one community against another. These facilities stand alone as critical community facilities with access by residents and business owners to postal services being of utmost importance. Access to postal services for the increasing number of rural home-based businesses is a vital component of this rural economy and not everyone has access to internet services. The US Postal Service must gain an understanding of the important relationship between the preservation of the rural postal centers and the survival of these rural communities.
Sierra County is one of the most rural counties in California and is categorized within State law as a “frontier county” which applies considerable significance to the importance of governmental services and infrastructure to the most rural regions of California. The economic condition that is being experienced in most of the rural counties in this state reflects the downturn in the national and state economies. It should demonstrate a clear and present priority to maintain and preserve local private business opportunities, various governmental services, and community infrastructure in these rural communities. The Sierraville Post Office is a critical component of the community of Sierraville and greater Sierra Valley and the potential loss of this anchor service business, the loss of community identity, and the loss of another source of employment will have a considerable and measurable impact on the economic and social well-being of this region. Sierraville is showing improving economic conditions with the addition of a ranch supply business, a new restaurant, and the location of the school district and office of education office complex at Sierraville School. A newly constructed park and community center along with several new housing starts gives one the hope that Sierraville is rebounding in a positive direction. The loss of the US Post Office will cause a significant setback to the community and the region.
The Sierraville Post Office has become a social focal point for people to gather, converse, and conduct business. It is a school bus stop and has evolved into a drop off point and numerous community meetings are held directly across the State Highway at the Sierraville School Community Recreation Center/Sierra Plumas Joint Unified School District/Sierra County Board of Education Office Complex. The identity of this community will be impacted at a significant level through loss of its postal center. The community has a large senior population and a number of in-home businesses that depend on broad band internet access and a postal center. As you likely understand, this community and the region it serves receives significant snowfall during winter months and the safety factors alone that are served by having a local postal center removes persons from being required to travel to some distant regional postal center in treacherous and difficult driving conditions. The geographic location of Sierraville places it at the center of Sierra County and it is referenced as a transportation hub with the intersection of two major State Highways (State Highways 89 and 49) connecting Interstate 80 to the larger Sierra-Plumas County region. This includes connectivity to US Highway 395 and State Highway 70 and the entire region served by these transportation routes. The State of California, Department of Transportation, as a direct benefit to the postal center and community, assigns highest priority snow removal for the post office as well as the community building and school office complex located directly across the street from the post office. There has never been a time when access or loading/unloading has been compromised due to storms.
In summary, the Board of Supervisors for the reasons stated herein, strongly opposes any contemplated closure or relocation of postal services at Sierraville. To propose merging of facilities, relocation of the postal center, or the construction of exterior mail boxes makes absolutely no sense under these circumstances and offers no financial incentive to the US Postal Service. A most ridiculous solution has recently been proposed by US Postal Service representatives suggesting that the post office at Clio, Plumas County be designated as the postal center for Calpine-Sattley and Sierraville. This site is not a functional nor a practical solution as it is nearly one hour away in an adjacent county and accessed over a treacherous mountain pass. The mere suggestion of Clio serving the postal needs and requirements of Sierraville demonstrates the most fundamental lack of sensitivity being displayed in the evaluation and understanding of the role of the postal centers in these communities. It also makes no sense to target the remote, efficient postal centers, as a potential budget saving effort when the overall costs provide such direct benefits with low overhead and the overall cost is likely the equivalent amount to a rounding error in comparison to the costs of operating the more suburban or urban postal centers. This is not the area of service to propose for budget reductions for the US Postal Service and the damages that such actions can cause to the very existence of rural communities cannot be overstated.
The County has enjoyed a long-standing cooperative relationship with the US Postal Service regarding the Calpine Post Office and we share an equally positive relationship with the Sierraville Post Office, offering assistance and services when needed or requested. This Board of Supervisors urges you to strongly consider this relationship as well as the overwhelming evidence in support of terminating further consideration of any closure or relocation of the Sierraville facility. We will look forward to your written reply and would ask that you provide any proposed timeline and details of your procedure that will be implemented to complete your decision-making process, including any review under the National Environmental Policy Act.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment and for traveling to Sierraville on September 15, 2011 to conduct a community meeting. We will look forward to your written reply.
Board of Supervisors
Chairman of the Board
CC: Members of the Board of Supervisors
Congressman Tom McClintock
Congressman Wally Herger
Senator Dianne Feinstein
Senator Barbara Boxer
State Senator Ted Gaines
State Assemblyman Dan Logue
Ms. Loretta Kirkpatrick, USPS