Mail Processing Would Move To L.A.; Affect On Ballots ‘Minimal’
By Sean Belk - Staff Writer
March 13, 2012 - Large customers entrenched in the mail system may soon have to conform to a new arrangement if the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) consolidates mail processing centers and eliminates most local "overnight" delivery of first-class mail service this year.
So far, no changes are expected for standard deliveries. But if new cutbacks are enacted, large businesses and users that send out bulk mail at processing centers may have to make adjustments to assure timely delivery. The USPS is working to accommodate customers that have large volumes of mail, such as bills and election ballots, which are given priority over standard mail on a case-by-case basis.
Richard Maher, spokesperson for USPS in Los Angeles and Orange counties, said large customers would have the option to sort their own mail, drop off deliveries earlier and drive to processing centers to receive next-day delivery. Some customers already take these steps to take advantage of discounts, he said.
“We’re hoping to make it as seamless as possible for our business customers,” Maher said. “We are working with them to be able to facilitate: if they get their mail to us at a certain time, we would be able to deliver the next day . . . It may be realigning their network to a new network . . . in order to meet their needs and have their mail delivered when they want it [delivered].”
Hit hard by the move to electronic billing and weak economic conditions, the financially stricken USPS has experienced a steady decline in mail volume and now plans to consolidate operations at 223 facilities nationwide. Eliminating local "overnight" delivery of first-class mail, a service standards change that has yet to be approved, would impact all customers.
The USPS has put a moratorium on the potential cutbacks until May 15, in hopes of Congress passing legislation to help resolve the budget problems and provide a more “flexible” business model. The reductions were announced last year to start notifying impacted employees.
Slated for closure is the processing center located at 2300 Redondo Ave. in Long Beach. The USPS plans to continue its retail services such as money orders, stamp purchases and large packages, along with business entry and P.O. Box services at the facility. Standard mail service, which takes three to 10 days, will also remain the same.
However, if cutbacks were to be implemented, the site’s mail-processing center would be closed and merged with the Los Angeles post office facility located at 7001 S. Central Ave. Maher said the L.A. facility and another facility in Santa Clarita would be the only processing centers in Los Angeles County. Facilities in Santa Ana and Anaheim would be processing some L.A. County mail as well, he said.
Currently, the Long Beach facility only processes incoming mail, which is then distributed to residents and businesses by letter carriers or to other post offices in the city. All outgoing mail is processed in Santa Ana, a function that was transferred from the Redondo Avenue facility in 2009. Depending on the destination, outgoing mail is then sent to local post offices, processing centers in other counties or to the Los Angeles International Airport for locations across the country.
Plans are to move processing operations from Pasadena and Long Beach to the Los Angeles facility, while operations in the City of Industry would move to Santa Ana and Anaheim facilities. The consolidations, however, would be done in a gradual process, Maher said. “It will be done facility by facility, step by step,” he said. “We would move operations from one facility . . . make sure everything’s going smoothly . . . and then bring the other one in . . . The implementation would be very deliberate to maintain service levels.”
The Long Beach processing center currently employs about 686 workers who may face layoffs. Maher said the USPS hopes some employees will retire or fill other open positions. The job reductions in Long Beach alone are projected to save the USPS more than $16 million annually, he said.
Nationwide, the USPS said it must reduce its annual costs by $20 billion by 2015 to return to profitability. In the past four fiscal years, the postal service has already reduced costs by more than $12 billion, cutting about 110,000 career employees.
For now, it is unknown what the future will be for the Long Beach mail-processing center, if it’s closed and once the lease terminates on the property. The USPS will notify the community of any changes to services other than mail processing, he said. “If, down the road, we repurpose that facility and place it on the market, we would still have to find an alternate location for those services,” Maher said. “So, that’s something in the future that we haven’t even addressed at this time.”
Meanwhile, the recently announced changes to the postal service have some state officials concerned that the cutbacks may delay vote-by-mail ballot deliveries during this year’s elections. Election materials are treated as first-class mail, although charged the third-class nonprofit rate.
California Secretary of State Debra Bowen recently sent a letter to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe in hopes of prolonging the moratorium on postal service consolidations until after the presidential elections.
Despite concerns, however, Dean Logan, the Los Angeles County registrar-recorder/county clerk, told the Business Journal that the impact on elections in Los Angeles County due to postal service closures would be “minimal.” He said the changes might have more of a profound affect on more rural areas in the state and states with all vote-by-mail elections, such as Washington and Oregon.
“We have an established relationship with the postal representatives here in L.A. County,” Logan said. “They understand our business model, so I’m confident we’re going to be able to do that without disruption of these elections.”
Still, postal service reductions remain an ongoing issue for the vote-by-mail system. “We see this as the beginning of rolling changes at the postal service based on economics and their business model,” he said. “It’s something we’ll be paying attention to on an ongoing basis.”
Voters participating in the June and November elections using vote-by-mail ballots should send ballots in earlier than normal this year to make sure their ballots are counted, Logan said. Voters may also take advantage of the online tracking system at www.lavote.net.
Long Beach City Clerk Larry Herrera said the city’s vote-by-mail ballots are also treated as priority over standard mail. By April, the city will send out some 160,000 envelopes, instead of sample ballot booklets, he said. But, Herrera said there shouldn’t be any impacts to the system.
In larger elections, however, booklets are required due to the amount of election materials and may take longer to deliver. The city may have to make changes if there are reductions to postal service, he said. “I suppose we’ll just have to adjust and mail it earlier than ever,” Herrera said. “I’m sure it’s going to take some growing pains, because what happens is all that mail is going to go someplace else . . . I wish it was different, but the postal service has a lot of issues.”