Killing Our Neighborhood Post Offices

November 15, 2009

The US Postal Corporation wants to shut down our urban post office stations . . . because they aren’t located in the suburbs

What a rude, arrogant bunch of clowns. I’m talking about the collection of Albany Postal Service officials and bureaucrats who conducted a required public hearing at 4 PM on a Thursday with only minimal public notice. Despite their best efforts to keep us away, at least 120 of us showed up at the Elks Club Hall at 25 S. Allen St.reet last November 4. We came out to support the Delaware Avenue PO and the Pine Hills PO, both of which are marked for extinction by the US Postal Corporation.

And the politicians showed up. Observers were sent from the offices of Congressional Representatives Paul Tonko and Kirsten Gillibrand. City of Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings Himself showed up vowing to fight the closures, a politically safe commitment for Him. We had several Common Council members, both current and elect. And more. I’ll bet the politicians who didn’t show up are kicking themselves for missing this show.

After the Postal Clowns displayed their arrogance for several minutes the audience lost all semblance of respect for them. The more they tried to manipulate us and feed us horsecrap the angrier we got. Openly defiant of procedure, at least 70 people stood up in turn to speak, every comment intelligent and almost everything said either building upon earlier comments or bringing up new points. By the end of the hearing the Postal Clowns, including the Acting Postmaster of Albany who hardly said a word, looked dazed, exhausted and somewhat terrorized. That’s a sure sign of a successful public hearing.

Delaware Avenue PO Delaware Avenue PO

Overall they were a very clumsy bunch of horsecrappers, most of their misleading statements were so transparent to us as to be laughable. But during the hearing there was one very seriously untrue statement that went right by us. It cannot be called anything but an apparent lie. For liability reasons I do not use that word lightly. They apparently lied to us about their recent financial losses.

Starting with their stupid powerpoint, backed up with graphs, they repeatedly stated that last fiscal year the USPS lost $7 billion. But their own official published financial statement says they lost $2.8 billion. (To put this in perspective their total revenue was $75 billion.) Pardon me, perhaps that’s not exactly a lie, shall we call it an exaggeration? A fib? An enhancement of the facts programmed to amplify a decision? And how did they come about this official much smaller figure of $2.8 billion, does it represent real losses due to lower volume of mail, or are these losses . . . apparent?

Like most lies, apparent or otherwise, this one backfired into their faces. Right from the very first comment the audience pointed out repeatedly that if the USPS can lose that much money in a year perhaps they have demonstrated an inability to make intelligent business decisions. Perhaps they are not qualified to decide on the closure of our neighborhood post offices, facilities which we claim as ours, not theirs.

Shawn Morris Shawn Morris

I was stunned when the third speaker, Common Council President Shawn Morris forthrightly declared that these closures were discriminatory decisions made by uncomprehending people who did not have any conception of why we have walkable neighborhood post offices in an urban environment. Much applause to that. She said approximately half of what I’d been planning to say, but it turned out that she was saying out loud and eloquently what most everyone in the audience was thinking. If she’d done more speaking like that this past year she’d surely be mayor-elect today.

One recurring line of questioning centered on the Postal Service’s methodology for arriving at this decision, or what little of it that they would reveal to us. “Um, we’ll have to ask first to see if you can look at the report,” they said, and that’s when the audience came close to turning into a lynch mob. Several analysis experts in the audience left the Postal Clowns speechless, and Auditor-Elect Leif Engstrom gestured belligerently and shouted as he accused them of skewing their data.

Brian Levine Brian Levine

Some particularly cogent comments came from Albany Library Trustee Brian Levine. “In the original library facilities plan,” Brian told them, “ the library board wanted to consolidate the Albany Library system ‘suburban style’ the same way the Postal Service is trying to consolidate. But the community wanted neighborhood branches of the library kept open, and we listened.” Voters approved the library bond issue by a two to one margin, he said, showing that they are willing to pay more for improved services.

Brian also suggested that the Postal Service might look hard at cutting energy expenditures like the library did, which resulted in substantial savings. A good place to start would be to cut back on the use of postal vehicles by localizing transfer points for mail, an idea which I’m sure went right over their suburbanite heads. “It’s important to not hurt local businesses by cutting services,” he added, and the best way to do that and to increase revenue for the Postal Service “is to make post offices more visible and more usable.”

Afterwards I overheard the representative from Paul Tonko’s office tell 1st ward Common Council member Dominick Calsolaro that the local postal districts have been told by Washington DC to cut back, which confirms what everyone at the hearing already knew. He was a young kid dressed in a fancy suit. “They’re making money in the suburbs,” the kid said, implying that this alleged fact was all that mattered, much to Dom’s apparent exasperation.

One of the final comments from the 2 and a half hour session (which was only supposed to last an hour) came from a lady of very advanced age who rose unsteadily to her feet and spoke in a quavering voice. She addressed the unreasonable suggestion that from now on we should patronize suburban post offices such as Stuyvesant Plaza and Karner Road. It takes her, she told us, three hours by bus to go to one of these places. “I don’t have three hours,” she said, “I don’t have that much time left to spare.”

Pine Hills PO Pine Hills PO

The Postal Service was required to take written comments from the public as part of their “Consolidation Study.” We were given a strict time limit of ten days after the public hearing to submit them, but later I discovered that the guy who is collecting the comments was about to go on vacation starting the very next day (the 5th) until the 18th of November.

So who knows if our written comments will become part of the official record. Not that anything we say matters to these Postal Clowns. So for your amusement, here are my own written comments for you to read. And I should add that if anybody else has posted online their interesting or amusing submitted comments for either Delaware Avenue or Pine Hills I will be glad to provide a link through this article.


Consolidation Study – Consumer Affairs
Re: The Imminent Closure of the Delaware Avenue PO
30 Karner Road
Albany NY 12288-9631

Attn. David H. Desrosiers, etc.

I realize that your decision to shut down the Delaware Avenue Post Office in Albany NY is a done deal, so this letter will make no difference. Spelling out common sense is wasted on corporate minded suburban fools who are hell bent on destroying our urban community. So I will take this opportunity to explain what any citizen of Albany understands, simple obvious things that you suburbanite corporatists are apparently unable to grasp. And of course, this comment will also be published and archived for all to read.

The US Postal Service is, first and foremost, a communication network. What good is a communication network without access points? Without a telephone I cannot make phone calls, without a computer I cannot use the internet. How can I access the US Postal Service without a Post Office?

Your answer to that question, given during the recent angry and well-attended public hearing that you held on November 4, 2009 here in Albany, was that those of us who live in or near the Delaware Avenue neighborhood [and in the Pine Hills neighborhood] are from now on expected to greatly inconvenience ourselves by using difficult to find and difficult to use access points to your communication network located somewhere in your automobile slum suburbs.

From now on if we want to mail a package we will be required to drive an automobile out to one of your suburban malls. This is pure anti-urban discrimination, which I fully understand comes easily and naturally to you people. I suspect that you were greatly shocked by the unanimous reaction at the Nov. 4 hearing to your suburbanist assault on our community.

This past Columbus Day (Oct.12) which for most people other than Italian nationalists is a bogus holiday devoted to shopping, the post offices were as usual closed. For me, a small business person, this was a work day. Unfortunately, I had a time expedite matter, a letter which needed to be postmarked that day. Since you people have never seen fit to upgrade or update the Delaware Avenue PO with 24 hour automated service, my only option was to take time out of my work day and drive an excessive distance to your Karner Road facility.

Karner Road Karner Road

This was one hour and thirty five minutes of sheer hell. Suburban traffic is always bad on a weekday due to the poor planning of your suburbs, with your deliberately choked trunk highways which are the only way to get to your stupid curvilinear dead end streets. This day your suburban traffic was excessively bad. Once again I sat stuck in one of your traffic jams and wondered to myself, How can these people choose to live like this? If the Delaware PO had been open, this errand would have taken less than ten minutes and could have been pleasantly combined with several other minor tasks.

It appears that one of your goals in closing the Delaware Avenue PO is to force us to waste time. How dare you impose upon us this massive reduction in quality of life! You suburbanites can’t buy a quart of milk or mail a letter without driving your automobiles an absurd distance. Well, that’s your poor choice of lifestyle, although I must add that I am tired of subsidizing your unsustainable suburban sprawl.

It is plain to see that your drive to exterminate our urban post offices is based upon the assumption that the middle and upper classes will continue to exit the City of Albany for the foreseeable future. This assumption is wrong. The trend is reversing as you read this, a significant number of suburbanites have already begun to develop common sense and have been moving back into Albany. This is in defiance of a City government that is still doing everything it can to drive taxpayers out of the City.

Inside The Delaware Avenue PO Inside The Delaware Avenue PO

I see this clearly in my own business, which is owning and renting apartments in downtown Albany. Fifteen or so years ago demand was poor, a renter’s market. Starting about ten years ago it became easier and easier for me to rent my apartments. Today the demand is so great that I usually rent my apartments in one day, with one showing.

Why? There are a myriad of reasons, but the most obvious is the rising price of gasoline, which has spiked ever higher these last few years or so. Right now the price of gasoline is depressed, but nobody except delusional persons believe that this is going to last. Certainly the independent experts agree, in the long run the massive government subsidies that keep the price of gas low will not make up for the undeniable fact that the supplies of inexpensive oil are running out.

What this means is that more and more middle class consumers will find it unreasonable to part with a greater and greater portion of their incomes simply to buy a quart of milk or mail a letter. One by one they are coming to realize that there is a better alternative.

Let me spell out what this means. You are closing the Delaware PO at the exact moment when demand for the services at this station are beginning to rise.

So let’s talk environment. I own a vehicle that does not get very good gas mileage, yet I only need to fill the tank every six to eight weeks. I drive it almost every day, yet I don’t believe I take it to the gas station more than eight times a year. How can that be? I live and work in the City, I access shops and services that are local, and I only occasionally venture out of town. I don’t need a “hybrid,” I don’t need to brew ethanol or biodeisel in a barrel in my backyard.

Battery Powered EV Minivan Acquired By USPS This Year Battery Powered EV Minivan Acquired By USPS This Year

By trying to force me to drive to your malls, you people are trying to force me to consume more gasoline, create more exhaust, put more wear and tear on my vehicle and add me to your constantly backed-up traffic. Why are you doing this to me? What’s in it for you?

Could it be, possibly, maybe, the US Postal Service Corporation wants to bring more business to the big suburban shopping malls? Before we dismiss that thought as far-fetched, consider this. I understand that your corporation pays $250,000 a year on rent for the PO facility at Colonie Center Mall. Hell, I didn’t even know there was a PO at Colonie Center! And consider that the three suburban POs that you people recommended that we go to, Karner Road, Colonie Center and Stuyvesant Plaza are all within a mile of each other. Except none of these pits are accessible to pedestrians or bicyclists, and they are accessible only in the most limited sense of the word by bus.

Meanwhile, you OWN the building that houses the Delaware PO. Tell you what… why don’t you shut down the redundant Colonie Center PO and use the money to pay bills on Delaware Avenue, the Pine Hills PO and on the other local urban POs that you are destroying? That hasn’t occurred to you? I’m starting to see why your corporation lost seven billion dollars last year. [Or actually… oh never mind.]

I could not help but notice that at the public hearing you were careful to not suggest that that the most accessible suburban PO to Delaware Avenue in Albany is actually in Delmar, right on Delaware Avenue as a matter of fact. Over the years you have put a lot of money into upgrading the Delmar facility, indeed it looks mighty nice and has multiple services that we don’t have in our neglected PO in the City. Our Delaware Avenue PO looks the same way it did 50 years ago. In all that time I don’t think you people have invested any money into our PO except to paint the interior once and to add the required handicap ramp.

Delmar PO, A Ten Minute Drive From My House In Light Traffic Delmar PO, A Ten Minute Drive From My House In Light Traffic

That neglect, plus your careful refusal to direct us to Delmar, convincingly reveals your snide suburban anti-urban bias. You have decided without any basis that we who live in Albany are undesirable customers, while those who live in automobile slums and waste time at shopping malls are desirable. Why? Are we not white enough for your taste? Is that the problem?

Then there’s your decision making process, which you did your best to hide from the angry crowd last Thursday. You sure didn’t expect to be dealing with so many people who were intimate with cost analysis and demographic surveys, huh? C’mon, this is a state capital full of universities, what did you expect? We noticed right away that you skewed your data by lumping Albany in with larger Cities, such as that big one at the other end of the Hudson River.

And how about revenue that you will lose by closing the Delaware station and denying postal access to the neighborhood? You go on about how usage has declined, claiming that you factored in the recession and the ongoing reconstruction of Delaware Avenue, which blocks ready access. Pardon me for disbelieving you, but your refusal to provide us with your actual analysis casts grave doubt on your assertion that you considered these factors. But by your puzzled faces it is all too clear that it did not even occur to you that your corporation will be losing revenue from those of us who have been continuing to patronize Delaware PO despite the impediments in our path.

From what you people reluctantly revealed of your methodology, it is clear that your decision making process was conducted very much like how the Cheney – Bush administration started the War Against Iraq. They decided they wanted to conquer the Middle East, and then they manufactured “facts” to back up their decision. Typical corporate mindset.

Try considering this analysis of usage at the Delaware Avenue PO: Unless I catch the right times on the right days, I expect to stand waiting in a line that goes right out to the door. Perhaps this problem could be alleviated by assigning a second clerk to serve the customers. But no, you aren’t going to do that, are you now?

New "Green Roof" On The USPS Main Building In NY City New "Green Roof" On The USPS Main Building In NY City

You’ve been starving our PO to death for years, hoping we would stop using it and go away. Your plan didn’t work very well, did it? While you literally poured money into the suburban POs we continued to use our half starved urban PO because it is convenient. It is accessible. We don’t have to waste half our day driving around in your god forsaken automobile slums just to buy a roll of stamps or mail a package.

But wait, you told us with smirks on your faces, the other option is to do your postal business online, through the internet via your computer! Right. I do not know one single person who has a happy satisfied story about dealing with the US Postal Corporation online. But really, does that make sense? This reminds me of how the Western Union telegraph corporation tried to stay alive by abandoning their own technology and using the telephone.

That brings us to the heart of the matter. It is very evident to me that you people at the US Postal Corporation have decided that your own communication network is outmoded, about to be superseded by newer technology. I say that’s a load of horsecrap. Did the telephone put you out of business? I have yet to observe a single instance of my desktop computer transmitting a package or a paper document. Sure, I can order a package and someone much like yourselves will carry it to my door. But I have yet to figure out how to send a package through my keyboard.

Can Your Mobile Device Send A Package? Can Your Mobile Device Send A Package?

I suggest that you learn a lesson from the movie industry. For several decades the proliferation of television sent movies into a slow steady decline. Then in the 1970s VCRs were legalized, which the movie industry fought bitterly. Suddenly accessibility to movies increased massively, anyone could park their butts on their living room couches and become authorities on film. As a result, today there are more movies being made and more movie houses operating than ever before.

Did you catch that? Finding a new and innovative way to increase access to movies caused a massive expansion of the movie industry. I would not presume to be able to tell you how to increase access to your own communications network. But I sure as shoot can tell you that cutting back access is a sure way to kill yourselves.

Or is that what you want? Is that the plan?

I reject your corporate mindset, I spit on your self destructive business model. I am perfectly aware of what college business textbooks teach, that a sure way to enhance the bottom line is to fire employees and cut back on services. That works great for money extraction outfits like Goldman Sachs. For them the customer is nothing but a source of revenue, the sole purpose of their corporation is to extract money from the customer units.

That does not work for you. Your ultimate purpose is to provide communication, your purpose is not to enhance your bottom line. Back in 1970 Tricky Dick Nixon, who resigned the presidency in disgrace, transformed your service into a corporation like Goldman Sachs. This has been an ideological experiment, one that we can see has failed miserably.

It is time to cast off the corporatist ideology that has turned the US Postal service into a financial failure. Don’t kill your communication network by denying access. Don’t close our Delaware Avenue Post Office, leave it alone. You’ll be glad you did. And so will we.


Daniel W. Van Riper

November 12, 2009

Prior Post * * * Next Post