USPS Uses Flawed Process to Close Historic Ukiah, CA New Deal Post Office with Art Mural

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Ukiah, CA Main Post Office New Deal Mural painted in 1938

Ukiah, CA Main Post Office New Deal Mural, "Resources of the Soil" painted in 1938 by Ben Cunningham

The Ukiah, California branch post office built in 1936 during the New Deal Era under President Franklin D. Roosevelt by the Works Progress Administration and opened in 1937, qualifies as a building protected under the National Historic Preservation Act. The mural inside the post office, “Resources of the Soil,” painted in 1938 by Ben Cunningham commissioned by the Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture, reflects the “American scene” of the surrounding community. The work features two leading industries in Mendocino County  at the time of the painting of the mural: farming and lumber milling.

However, even though the  Ukiah Main Post Office was pre-approved as qualifying to be on the National Register of Historic Buildings, according to a letter sent to USPS General Counsel Mary Anne Gibbons by Ukiah Mayor Rodin on April 23, 2011 (see petition brief exhibit 11, Docket No. A2001-21), the USPS failed to complete the necessary documents to get the Ukiah Main Post Office approved on the Historic National Register:

“Under the National Historic Preservation Act [Section 110(2)(1)], the USPS has an affirmative duty to nominate the Ukiah Post Office for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. USPS failed to perform this duty. The initiative of Congressman Mike Thompson on April 8, 2011 in submitting a completed nomination package to the USPS and the California State Historic Preservation Office assists the USPS in compliance and establishes that the Ukiah Post Office is eligible for listing on the National Register.”

“When it is put to the test, any independent judicial authority will find that it is “feasible” for the Postal Service to continue to use the Ukiah Post Office. Therefore, the National Historic Preservation Act, as presently written, makes the proposed closure illegal.”

Ukiah CA Post Office built 1936

Ukiah CA Post Office built 1936 during Roosevelt's New Deal

Despite serving the people of Ukiah for 75 years, the U.S. Postal Service decided to close the beautiful Ukiah Main Post Office claiming it will save money. The lack of transparency in the closure procedures and the USPS management officials’ refusal to complete documents that would put the Ukiah Main Post Office on the National Register, puts a cloud over the entire process. The community protested the closing of their beloved post office which is a centerpiece of the town’s downtown economy and historic heritage area, but the USPS decided to close it anyway. An article, “A First Class Farewell,” by Carole Brodsky on in the Daily Journal stated:

“It’s despicable,” said attorney Barry Vogel, who worked with a group of citizens to prevent closure of the Ukiah branch. “These closures take the guts out of local communities, subjugating us so that we become less free. We have fewer services and it makes life more difficult for hard-working people who have used this post office for 75 years.”

“Anger and sadness were palpable in the crowd, and no one seemed convinced that the closure would truly provide cost savings to the beleaguered institution.”

Touring Ukiah

This video at 54 seconds shows that the Ukiah Main Post Office is located next to many businesses in the downtown area.

The New Deal Era Ukiah Main Post Office was in easy walking distance for residents because it was located in the “heart” of historic downtown. The USPS leadership decided to close this beautiful historic landmark which it owned outright and move the post office to an out-of-the-way annex on the edge of town. According to the website, SaveThePost Office.com:

“5,000 signatures were gathered opposing the Ukiah closing.”

United States Post Office Officials Denied Ukiah Residents Key Information Regarding Decisionmaking Process for Ukiah Post Office Closure 

The USPS sidestepped having to notify the residents in the normal “discontinuance” process because the post office is moving to another “annex on the edge of town.” Instead of calling this a “closure” of a post office, USPS claims it is a “relocation” which has a different set of procedures surrounding how the public is notified. Residents filed an objection to the closing and proposed sale of the Ukiah Main Post Office with the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) on August 10, 2011. A portion of the brief filed with the PRC by the “Save Ukiah Post Office Committee and Michael E. Sweeney states:

The Ukiah Main Post Office, 224 Oak Street, Ukiah, is Postal Service property and has been a centerpiece of the city’s downtown since it was opened in 1937. lt has approximately 1500 post office boxes and receives heavy customer traffic, much of it walk-ins from the surrounding commercial and residential area.

In early 2011, it became known in Ukiah that the Postal Service was planning closure of the Ukiah Main Post Office. On January 31, 2011, Petitioner Sweeney made a Freedom of Information Act request to the Postal Service for the feasibility study, building survey, preliminary budget and other writings pertaining to the proposed closure. On February 17, 2011, Postal Service Facilities Manager James Barnett denied the FOIA request for all significant documents on the grounds that they were exempt from disclosure as internal deliberative documents. On February 23, 2011, Sweeney appealed the denial of the FOIA request to Postal Service General Counsel Mary Anne Gibbons [Exhibit 1]. The appeal was denied on March 25, 2011 [Exhibit 2].

Responding to public concern, Congressman Mike Thompson wrote to the Postmaster General on February 2, 2011, requesting a copy of the assessment study on the closure and the financial analysis [Exhibit 3]. The Postal Service denied his request in a letter dated February 15, 2011 [Exhibit 4].

Does the U.S. Postal Service have something to hide?

Why did the Postmaster General and other officials of the United States Postal Service, including the General Counsel of the USPS, Mary Anne Gibbons, repeatedly refuse to allow the people of Ukiah access to key documents about the Ukiah Main Post Office closure? Even Congressman Thompson was denied access to documents that would help the people more clearly understand how the decision to close their beautiful historic post office and relocate it to a location on the edge of town was made.

On March 9, 2011, Ukiah Mayor Mari Rodin sent a letter to the Postal Service requesting information so the town could conduct an “independent appraisal of the condition of the Main Post Office,” and the Postal Service also denied this request.

It is astounding how much effort the USPS top leadership went to in order to deny key information to the people of Ukiah which would help them clearly understand the process used to close their Historic Main Post Office. There is something terribly callous about the behavior of the USPS leadership to disregard the will of the people, from the residents to the Mayor and City Council of Ukiah to the County of Mendocino Board of Supervisors and even to Congressman Thompson.

Why isn’t the mainstream media asking more questions regarding the secrecy surrounding the methodology used by the United States Postal Service to suddenly push to close thousands of post offices throughout the United States? Then, in spite of a recent moratorium announced on December 13, 2011 of closures until May 15, 2012, the USPS seems to be closing facilities like the Ukiah Main Post Office anyway.

According to the petition filed with the PRC, eventually the USPS provided partial information regarding the costs involved in relocating the Ukiah Main Post Office. It would cost approximately $360,000 to make changes in the Orchard Avenue Post Office to replace the Main Post Office in Ukiah. Many residents believed this and possibly other costs would outweigh any potential “savings” by closing the Main Post Office and relocating it to the Orchard Avenue Post Office that was not properly suited to handle a steady stream of customers. The Orchard Avenue facility was used mostly as a bulk mailing processing center. It was never designed as a regular post office to serve the needs of all of the people in the town.

County of Mendocino Board of Supervisors said in their letter of March 22, 2011 to the San Francisco District manager of the United States Postal Service:

“The proposed closure and relocation of postal service to the periphery of the community will have profound negative impacts on the downtown core.”

“At the February 23rd meeting a sheet was presented allegedly documenting the cost savings of the proposed closure. The community members present were told that the underlying data is not available for inspection. It is completely unacceptable that the USPS intends to withhold this information from the local community. This refusal fuels the suspicion that the proffered numbers will not withstand scrutiny. For instance, it is alleged that the Main Post Office requires $780,000 in capital improvements, yet the USPS anticipates selling this single purpose building that requires major upgrades for $600,000.”

“We renew the request that the USPS release the data that supposedly supports the recommendation to close the Ukiah Main Post Office. We also believe many of the current box holders and package service customers will resort to other options if the proposed recommendation is not reversed, likely resulting in an unanticipated loss of revenue to the USPS.

We hereby state our strong support for the recent request by the City of Ukiah to conduct an independent assessment of the Ukiah Main Post Office facility. Refusal to honor this reasonable request will further call into question the accuracy of the USPS assessment of the building.”

Postal Regulatory Commission Advisory N2011-1 Claims Post Office Closures Lack Sound Methodology for Deciding on Closure and Consolidation of Postal Facilities Nationwide

There is a gross violation of the public trust occurring with the blatant disregard for how communities are affected on multiple levels by the closure of important historic postal buildings as well as other postal facilities. The Postal Regulatory Commission’s  advisory opinion Docket # N2011-1 published on December 23, 2011, states:

“One of the Commission’s primary responsibilities is to ensure that universal service is maintained. Alternative retail access, including alternative access channels, is extremely important to the Postal Service’s universal service obligation. Closing facilities has an impact on service and puts a strain on the Postal Service’s Network as well as customer access to the postal system. Accordingly, the Postal Service should consider how a potential closing affects alternative retail access, including access channels, before a final determination on the discontinuance of a particular facility is made. It is not enough for alternative access channels to have the potential to become available in the future. The effectiveness of particular alternative access channels and alternative retail facilities must be considered prior to, and simultaneously with, discontinuance studies. For example, as described above, Village Post offices are limited substitutes for full service postal retail facilities.”

In the Executive Summary the PRC’ Advisory Opinion Docket No. N2011-1 claimed:

“The Postal Regulatory Commission has analyzed the Postal Service Access Optimization Initiative, a program that identifies more than 3,650 post offices, annexes, stations, and branches for possible closing.

The Commission has evaluated the Postal Service’s presentation and the evidence submitted by interested members of the public, and finds that the Retail Access Optimization Initiative is likely to affect service on a nationwide basis. The primary Commission finding is that notwithstanding its name, the Retail Optimization Access Initiative is not designed to optimize the retail network.”

Basically the Postal Regulatory Commission decided that the USPS Retail Optimization Access Initiative (RAOI) does not “optimize” the “retail network” of USPS. In other words, there is no sound financial basis for the methods used to decide which postal facilities to close or consolidate. If anything, the closure of postal facilities would have an adverse affect on local communities financially and in reducing postal service, especially to the elderly population.

Therefore, why is USPS still closing the Ukiah Main Post Office when it fails in every instance to clearly explain its reasoning behind closing the Ukiah Historic Main Post Office under the thin guise that it is not really closing the post office, it is merely “relocating” it to the Orchard Avenue Postal Facility?