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Sonoma County laments plan to end Saturday mail

Merrie Dickinson, left, officer in charge of the Glen Ellen Post Office, helps Aaron Cargile with his mail in Glen Ellen, on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013. The Postal Service will end the delivery of first-class mail on Saturdays in August.

Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat
Published: Thursday, February 7, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 7, 2013 at 12:13 a.m.

In Glen Ellen, as in other small American towns, Saturday mail deliveries are often eagerly anticipated, especially by those who are unwilling or unable to venture into the world.

To lose that tradition, that connection, strikes some in this community as a violation of the common good.

“It's another hit to the spirit of public life,” Noelle Oxenhandler, a creative writing professor at Sonoma State University, said Wednesday outside the town's post office, which according to a plaque outside the door was dedicated in 1982 by President Ronald Reagan.

Across the nation Wednesday, people absorbed the news that the U.S. Postal Service will stop delivering mail on Saturdays as a cost-savings measure. The change will take effect in August.

Mail would be delivered to homes and businesses only from Monday through Friday, but still be delivered to post office boxes on Saturdays. Post offices now open on Saturdays would remain open on that day.

The announcement drew sharp reaction from the North Coast's congressional delegation and from representatives of labor unions, who fear the change will result in more job losses.

The Postal Service anticipates losing 35,000 employees nationwide to re-assignment or attrition once Saturday deliveries are discontinued, said James Wigdel, a spokesman for the agency in San Francisco.

Despite its status as an independent agency, one that receives no tax dollars for day-to-day operations, the Postal Service is subject to congressional control.

Congressman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, on Wednesday called the move to end Saturday mail deliveries “draconian.”

He advocated for other options, including modernizing the Postal Service and “fixing” a congressional requirement that the agency pre-pay retiree health benefits.

Those payments are the main cause of the Postal Service's red ink — not reduced mail flow. The agency reported losing a record $15.9 billion last year and of that, $11.1 billion was due to mandatory costs for future retiree health benefits.

“We have to balance what we can provide to the public against our financial situation,” Wigdel said.

But Congressman Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, also expressed opposition to the end of Saturday deliveries, saying in a written statement that rural, elderly and disabled residents who rely on mail delivery to their homes will be most affected by the change.

He urged “comprehensive reform” for the Postal Service and not “piecemeal changes that reduce service to the people who rely on it most.”

In Glen Ellen Wednesday, Jim Morris said one reform he'd like to see is the ability to use the Postal Service to ship the wines he produces at Alta Ridge Vineyards. Doing so could potentially save money, he said, and help the agency compete with other shipping companies.

From a personal standpoint, Morris was not saddened about losing Saturday mail deliveries. “Like other things in life, we will adjust to it. I just want to keep them (the Postal Service) in operation,” he said.

The Postal Service contends it can save $2 billion annually by delivering mail just five days a week. To cut costs, Wigdel said, the agency has consolidated about 200 mail processing plants since 2006 and also lost about 190,000 employees — or 28 percent of the workforce — in that period of time.

Labor union representatives expressed fears Wednesday that more jobs will be lost by stopping Saturday deliveries.

“They'll use that as an excuse to get rid of more people, but there is a lot of work that's not getting done now,” said David Ospital, general president of the Redwood Empire Area Local 1291 of the American Postal Workers Union.

Oxenhandler, who visited Glen Ellen's post office Wednesday to purchase Valentine's Day stamps, fears that it all adds up to a future without postal service and letter-writing.

“We just love our post office in Glen Ellen. It's the core of our little town,” she said.

(You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @deadlinederek.)

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