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Neighborhood mailboxes being stamped out

March 18, 2009|Martha Groves
  • Mary Gonsalves, owner of Postal Center & More in West Hollywood, rushes customers? packages to the nearest post office before it closes for the day. Carriers no longer make collections at her store or from mailboxes just outside.
Mary Gonsalves, owner of Postal Center & More in West Hollywood, rushes… (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles…)

If you're suddenly having trouble finding a neighborhood mailbox, you've got lots of company.

In recent weeks, one-quarter of the 3,700 collection boxes in the Los Angeles area have been removed, said Joseph L. Harrison, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service's Los Angeles district.

The purging of 930 boxes throughout the area, including in Beverly Hills, Inglewood, Santa Monica and neighboring communities, is part of a nationwide reduction prompted by government cutbacks and the shift to online bill-paying and e-mailing.

Irate residents and business owners in Northridge, Cheviot Hills, Santa Monica and West Hollywood have complained to the office of Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) about the loss of the familiar blue boxes, which many considered fixtures, like streetlights and telephone poles.

For more than 20 years, Mary Gonsalves' customers could pop letters and bills into the two U.S. mailboxes in front of her Postal Center & More store in West Hollywood, and Gonsalves could count on letter carriers picking up bulky mail from her three times a day when they cleared the boxes.

No longer. In late February, with little notice, the U.S. Postal Service removed the boxes and halted the collections.

Now, Gonsalves must close her store for part of the afternoon to drive packages and other mail to a post office in time for the final 5 p.m. pickup.

"It is an inconvenience," she said. "I don't feel I should send my disabled and senior customers tramping up to the post office."

Postal officials say the mailbox removals are part of an ongoing effort to reevaluate mail collection and delivery routes nationwide, a process accelerated by the economic downturn. Surveys found that each of the removed boxes in the L.A. area collected fewer than 25 pieces of mail a day over a six-day period, Harrison said. Twenty-five pieces is the minimum required to make a collection point economically worthwhile, he added.

A spokeswoman for Waxman said the office is considering complaints on a "case-by-case basis" in the hope of getting some boxes reinstalled.

David Meltzer, who lives near the Grove shopping center in the Fairfax area, rued the removal of a box half a block from his home. But what really irked him, he said, was the treatment he got when he called both a nationwide "800" postal service number and a local post office to find out the locations of remaining boxes.

"In essence," he said, "they told me to go look around, 10 blocks one way, 10 blocks the other. Maybe that's good for my heart but not for my attitude. . . . They didn't make an effort at all to mitigate the pain."

Meltzer said the nearest post office is 12 blocks from his residence.

The number of mailboxes nationwide has dropped to 187,000 from about 204,000 in September 2007, said Don Smeraldi, a spokesman for the postal service's Pacific area, which includes California and Hawaii.

Spurring the removals has been a profound shift in how people communicate. E-mail and social networking Internet sites have contributed to steep declines in paper mail. The biggest reduction, Smeraldi said, has been in single-piece, first-class mail.

Complaints about mailbox removals have spread around the region, including Orange County and parts of Southeast L.A.

In Lakewood three years ago, residents in one neighborhood successfully lobbied to get their blue box back, arguing that it was a community meeting place.

Jonathan Weiss, a Cheviot Hills resident, said he had filed under the federal Freedom of Information Act a request for information about the postal service's collection surveys conducted in his neighborhood. All five mailboxes closest to him, many used by elderly neighbors who still prefer paying bills by mail, were taken out, Weiss said.

"They removed every single one in my neighborhood, instead of taking out half of them," he said. "I think it makes no sense."

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martha.groves@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Vanishing mailboxes

The number of U.S. mail-collection boxes has declined sharply in the last decade:

1999: 337,000

2005: 295,050

2007: 204,342

March 2009: 187,000

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Source: U.S. Postal Services

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Los Angeles Times

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