By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Postal officials have agreed to a public meeting in Healdsburg to discuss the results of a survey they say demonstrates little need for a new downtown post office to replace the one destroyed by fire.
Postal representatives will be at the Jan. 3 City Council meeting to discuss the survey sent to 8,000 Healdsburg-area residents and businesses, Postal Service spokesman James Wigdel said.
But Healdsburg officials are skeptical of the results.
“I know I don’t agree with the conclusions they drew from the data,” City Councilman Jim Wood said.
The Postal Service received more than 2,000 responses to its survey and 82 percent of those responding had no opinion, or thought favorably about using the Foss Creek annex versus a downtown post office, Wigdel said.
The remaining 18 percent had an unfavorable attitude toward the Foss Creek facility.
Wood and other critics said the survey only asked general questions about mail service and how often residents used the downtown facility.
There was no specific question about whether the post office should be rebuilt downtown, or whether a scaled-down facility should locate there, they said.
Instead, the survey relied on written comments from respondents.
“We focused on the comments people wrote,” Wigdel acknowledged.
But Wood was critical of the survey’s method.
“If you want to write a survey to justify the reason not to have a downtown post office, that’s the way I would have written the survey,” Wood said.
“It seemed like they had it go the way they wanted it to go,” said Mayor Tom Chambers. “You could construe the survey and the results a couple ways. They took the one favorable to their position.”
Since the Aug. 14 fire, the Postal Service has transferred all operations to its Foss Creek facility a half-mile away.
The agency, which is suffering billions of dollars in annual losses, announced a couple of years ago that it was going to close the post office a block off the Healdsburg Plaza as a cost-cutting measure. But it dropped the plan after a community uproar.
The fire changed the picture. In its wake, postal officials said they would not rebuild at the Center Street site, although they did not entirely rule out some type of facility downtown.
In the meantime, they upgraded the annex, installing more than 1,700 postal boxes and providing counter service, including stamp and package service. Parking was expanded to 34 public spaces.
But many residents have rallied to keep a post office downtown, saying it helps businesses, is more convenient and is part of the fabric of the community.
Wood also complained that the Foss Creek facility opens at 9 a.m., a half hour later than the downtown office, which was a much more convenient time for merchants to conduct their postal business before opening their shops.
The Postal Service is struggling, Wood noted, but “why would you make it harder for customers to get to you and shorten the hours to make it less accessible?”
Healdsburg officials have been urging the Postal Service to hold a public meeting so that residents can voice their opinions.
Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, asked repeatedly for a public meeting but was put off by postal officials who said they preferred to rely on the survey results.
Wigdel said Tuesday that the Jan. 3 meeting was not necessarily a result of that pressure.
“Part of the survey told us people are very passionate about the post office downtown,” he said. “We felt it was important to come to the City Council meeting and discuss the future and get more public input from the community.”