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.
“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.