Patrons locked-out of expired boxes just as election ballots are arriving

The customer lines at the Guerneville post office are much longer than usual these days, but it has nothing to do with lots of people trying to vote early. On the contrary, the socially-distanced queue of postal box holders are people trying to retrieve their ballots that were mailed 10 days ago but withheld by the local postmaster because of expired or unpaid box rental fees.

 How could so many box holders all default at the same time? That’s a question that comes with two sets of opposite answers. The postmaster said the renewal notices were distributed at the end of August, but many angry box holders claim no notices were ever sent.

After a grace period was extended due to the Walbridge wildfire evacuations in Guerneville and the 10-day closure of the post office from Aug. 19-29, new locks were placed on the expired boxes this week. The locked-out postal patrons now must stand in the long line and complete renewal forms, turn in all copies of old box keys, pay the box fee and receive new keys. Each transaction can take up to 30 minutes, according to some postal patrons.

That’s not all that’s unusual at the local post office. The lock to the main lobby entrance has been broken for several days and public access to the facility is now limited to daily “window hours” between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., according to postmaster Ron Combs. A new lock is “an involved process,” he said, requiring a special maintenance crew to embark from San Francisco. Combs tried leaving the door open after hours, but someone “defecated” one night in the lobby and forced Combs to deny after-hours access.

trashless_lobby_.jpg

An absence of trash cans due to new USPS policy has led to an onslaught of mail piled up on the counters of the Guerneville post office.

“It’s a shame an individual would do this. It’s a real disgrace,” he said.

Also new to the lobby — or missing — is the removal of all trash and open recycle containers. This is to meet a new national compliance at all USPS post offices, to prevent identity theft and the appearance that the USPS is throwing away election and political mailings. In place of the trash bins now are piles of the unsolicited mailers on the lobby counters. The new USPS policy is posted in several places in the lobby and instructs customers to “take all mail and correspondence with you, and dispose of anything you do not want in a secure manner away from the postal service.”

“We don’t own that mail,” said the postmaster. “Our duty is to deliver it. The customer needs to take possession and not leave it behind.”

Seeing discarded stacks of campaign literature could create a perception the post office is favoring one political campaign over another.

“We’re (USPS) getting lots of attention now due to the election. We’re getting some bad press and it’s just not true,” said Combs. He also said no election ballots are not being delivered and are secure while the expired box holders renew their permits.

Combs said as many as 40 to 50 customers may be impacted, but by the number of complaints on Guerneville’s local social media feeds, the number seems much greater. One postal patron, Mark Pedroia, has filed a formal written complaint to Congressman Jared Huffman’s office. (Pedroia’s box fee was on automatic renewal so he is not personally impacted, he said.)

Pedroia claims as many as 200 box holders are being impacted, including a local church, numerous businesses and the local recreation and parks district. “

This is all being made worse by a lack of good communication,” said Pedroia. “I think Ron means well, but it’s just not happening.”

Cynthia Bush said on social media she “received a zero apology from postal workers” and called for “accountability” instead of making customers be the victims.

Another postal customer noted recent staff turnovers and an erosion of good service. “I used to love dropping by but now I actually dread going to the post office.

(5) comments

BLD

The article didn't mention that the postmaster, along with nearly all staff, is new to Guerneville. While I support ADA and hiring, I went in on a Saturday morning for a package that failed to make my street box and the sole woman behind the counter was non-verbal hearing impaired - all communication was done via a notepad with a shared pen (no sanitizing) . I personally think any supervisor who puts an employee and customers in this position is irresponsible. Fortunately, I can read and write, but how many customers who cannot read and/or write walked out in frustration? People are also receiving notices in the mailboxes (street) that something doesn't conform to regulations. Finally, there were many people who paid their rental fee and still were locked out of their boxes. The postmaster in that place needs to be held accountable for his failures.

native dawter

Didn't they notice that 200 people didn't pay their box rent and wonder....did we put the notices in their boxes? There's a pandemic and fires that required everyone leaving town...I can't imagine our old post master in the 50,60's70[s and maybe 80's doing such a thing to his home town. He knew every family and every kid allowed to pick up their mail over the counter. If you forgot anything but the recipient's name, he and his staff would get it to the right box. He didn't send local mail to be photographed in Petaluma as they do now (for what reason? Big brother-ing.?) Mr. Pedroia, thanks for speaking up for all of us....our hero.

Maya

One more thing: The USPS is incredibly inefficient in so many ways. So, many of these problems begin at a higher level of bureacracy than the local P O staff. A good example is waiting for a post office employee from San Francisco to install a new lock on the door, rather than just hiring a local locksmith. And it takes months for the USPS to approve a new hire, which is why the Guerneville PO is understaffed.

Maya

I get mail delivery at my home, so I don't know anything about the problems boxholders are facing, and can't, therefore, comment on that. But, I do want to make one comment in the post office employees' behalf. When I returned from evacuation I waited a week for the delivery of a medication that I had ordred before the evacuation. Sensing a problem I called the Guerneville post office and the postmaster there hunted down the package for me and had it ready for me to pick up that same day. So, I think there is more than one side to this story, and wish your reporter had presented that.

Maya

I finally realized what bothered me about this story. The reporter wrote it as though the Guerneville P O were the "enemy" and only gave the postmaster the opportunity to defend himself, not to really talk about how things are from his end. What I know from just a brief conversation with him, is that, after the evacuation, the employees put in long ovrtime hours for which they were not paid. So, if they slipped up on the renewal notices, it is understandable, or if the customers missed the notices — in the turmoil of evacuation and worry — that is understandable, too. There is so much more to this story than "he said" "she said." Talk about truth in the media.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.