By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
U.S. Postal Service officials on Monday said they are not in favor of re-establishing a post office in downtown Healdsburg to replace the one destroyed by fire, despite acknowledging that it was “beloved in the community.”
Bay Area officials said they will recommend to their superiors in Washington, D.C., that the Foss Creek carrier annex a half-mile away from the downtown site be made Healdsburg’s permanent post office.
Postal officials who attended the City Council meeting Monday said they also would suggest some type of contract postal unit downtown where customers could conduct all mail business except buying money orders.
While one member of the public lauded the idea of a contract postal facility, others said they were not satisfied.
Councilman Jim Wood criticized the plans as counter to Healdsburg’s intent to create a “livable, walkable, sustainable community.”
Councilwoman Susan Jones noted that it is a tough situation because the Postal Service has been losing money.
“The Post Office downtown was part of our community. It provided community,” she said. She expressed qualms about a contract facility that would not be manned by postal employees.
Her comments followed those of Healdsburg postal clerk Maureen Mosley, who raised security and theft concerns about poorly-paid, non-postal employees handling mail in a contract facility.
After the council meeting, postal spokesman Jim Wigdel said the comments will be forwarded to officials in Washington who will make the final decision. But he said the recommendation still stands to make the Foss Creek annex a permanent post office.
Wigdel and several other officials heard an earful Monday about access and traffic problems at the Foss Creek facility. They heard about jammed traffic, fender benders in the parking lot and a pedestrian’s foot that was run over.
“The number one comment I hear is, ‘I hate getting in and out of that place.’ I never heard that downtown,” said Wood.
“Better circulation is needed,” said Councilman Gary Plass. “You need different traffic flow in the parking lot.”
“The Foss Creek location is challenging for me whether I drive or walk,” said Councilman Steve Babb.
Public works officials said they are working with the post office on measures to improve traffic flow.
Postal spokesman Wigdel made a presentation that highlighted fiscal woes of the Postal Service, which experienced growth for 230 years before mail volume took a precipitous drop in 2007, he said.
Although the agency can’t discuss financial performance of individual post offices, he noted that it faced an $8.5 billion net loss at the end of the last fiscal year. The downward trend is predicted to continue.
Re-establishing a 6,000-square-foot downtown post office would cost almost $1.3 million in building costs and more than $192,000 in annual lease fees, officials said.
But skeptics questioned the figures, saying they may be vastly inflated because the old post office was bigger than needed.
The agency announced in 2008 that it was going to close the facility as a cost-cutting measure, but dropped the plan after a community uproar.
The Aug. 14 fire changed everything. In its wake, postal officials said they would not rebuild there, although they did not entirely rule out a downtown facility.
In the meantime, they spent $250,000 upgrading the annex, installing more than 1,700 postal boxes and providing counter service. Parking also was expanded to 35 spaces.
Postal officials said a survey sent to all Healdsburg residents and businesses showed that more than 80 percent had no opinion or thought favorably about using the Foss Creek annex. Critics say the survey was poorly worded and too generic.
Ray Holley, a local newspaper columnist, told the council the survey showed local businesses would suffer without a downtown post office.
If officials ran the post office like a business, he said, they “would listen to customers and stop taking away things we want to pay for.”
Mayor Tom Chambers told postal officials their lack of support for a downtown facility “doesn’t make much business sense. We’re telling you we want a service, and you’re telling us we can’t have it.”