Rio Nido Post Office

The fight appears over to save Rio Nido’s neighborhood post office after U.S. Postal Regulatory Commissioners have deadlocked on closure last June of the century-old post office on Rio Nido Road.

A deadline this week may mark the end of a Rio Nido community appeal of the sudden shutdown when postal officials said the tiny post office was a consistent money-loser, locked the doors and moved operations to Guerneville.

Last month, U.S. Postal Regulatory Commissioners were split in a 2-2 vote over the merits of a neighborhood protest of the closing. The deadlock means Rio Nido loses and the U.S. Postal Service wins in its decision unless Rio Nido residents take some new legal action before a Oct. 27 deadline.

“My clients still have some remedies,” said Occidental attorney Joe Baxter, who filed the protest petition on behalf of the Friends of Rio Nido and the Rio Nido Neighborhood Association. “They’re considering their options.”

The deadlocked postal commission vote indicated support for Rio Nido’s argument that their local post office provided the “sole source of mail delivery” for approximately 1,000 Rio Nido postal customers who don’t get carrier delivery to their residences and instead rely on the local post office to get mail, buy stamps and send letters.

However, postal officials contended that providing home delivery to Rio Nido would be too costly and otherwise problematic owing to Rio Nido’s substandard and flood-prone narrow winding roads.

But two Postal Regulatory Commissioners disagreed, saying the postal service has failed to make a convincing argument why it can’t simply deliver mail to Rio Nido postal customers the same way it serves the rest of the lower Russian River — by having carriers put mail in stand-alone curbside mailboxes or “cluster box units” installed in a convenient neighborhood location.

“The Postal Service prides itself on the lengths it will go to deliver mail—mule trains into the Grand Canyon, flat-bottomed pole boats through the Louisiana bayous, parachute drops from airplanes over Alaska,” said the dissenting opinion of two Postal Regulatory Commissioners.

“Yet confronted with more benign obstacles in Rio Nido — seasonal flooding that is no worse than the flooding in nearby communities — the Postal Service states that it is absolutely unable to find any dry plot of land on which to install simple cluster box units. It says this without making any showing that it ever even looked into the possibility,” said commissioners Tony Hammond and Nanci Langley.

After the June shutdown of Rio Nido’s privately operated contract post office, the postal service moved Rio Nido’s approximately 350 boxes to the Guerneville post office two miles away. Postal service officials said merger with Guerneville complies with long-established national postal service delivery policies especially since public access to Guerneville’s Post Office boxes is now available 24/7 with the installation of a new PIN-pad door lock system in Guerneville.

But in light of the commission’s split vote, Rio Nido postal customers should at least be allowed to provide more comment and ask new questions said Baxter.

“I think they should have acknowledged that a deadlock is a favorable decision for the Friends of Rio Nido, but they didn’t,” Baxter said.  “On the other hand I think we have to take credit for the fact that we at a minimum got a deadlock.”

Baxter said adequacy of mail delivery service in Rio Nido should remain an open question.

“A reasonable possibility exists that something may change,” said Baxter, in a September letter to the Postal Regulatory Commission.

Closure also drew letters of protest from Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano, U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman and Fifth District Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins.  

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