USPS admits removing some Berkeley collection boxes in error. Seven have been replaced. Photo: wikimedia

Last month Liza Lutzker noticed that in the space of a week, three out of her four neighborhood USPS mailboxes, all within walking distance of her Berkeley home, had disappeared.

Lutzker wasn’t the only Berkeley resident to notice that mailboxes were being removed. Councilwoman Susan Wengraf, who serves District 6, said that, beginning in late September, her office started receiving calls from constituents saying that neighborhood mailboxes were disappearing without any notice being given to the community.

Wengraf made several calls to the Berkeley Post Office, and was told there were plans to remove up to 40 collection boxes. Boxes are earmarked for removal if there are fewer than 25 letters a day left in them, she was told. But the Post Master would not provide details on which boxes were affected, saying that was “classified information.”

“Many of the people in the hills who are my constituents are seniors and they rely on these boxes,” Wengraf told Berkeleyside. “They don’t want to leave their mail to be collected in their personal mailboxes as they worry about identity theft. They were upset about the removal of the collection boxes.”

Wengraf tabled an item for the City Council on Oct. 16 requesting that the City Manager seek clarification from the Post Office. This was done on October 18.

She also liaised with the office of U.S Representative Barbara Lee and they received an official response from the Post Office which suggested that due process in removing the boxes had not been followed:

“When collection boxes are removed, a review-audit would have to be conducted to justify removal of the collection boxes,” they wrote. “In the case of Berkeley, the collection boxes were removed without conducting the review/audit. Therefore the 40 collection boxes that were removed will be returned back to those 40 sites/locations. When the review/audit is completed and it is deemed that the collection boxes will be removed, then a posting will be placed on the collection boxes indicating when the removal of the collection boxes will take place. In addition, the local Post Office will retain and post a notice for the community that the collection boxes will be removed on a set date.”

Post Office spokesperson Augustine Ruiz Jr. said seven boxes were refurbished and reinstated in Berkeley after being removed because “density checks” had not made prior to removal. A density check is monitoring how many pieces of mail are left in a box over a two-week period. Ruiz said the Post Office will continue to monitor the use of collection boxes and remove those that are under-used.

A total of five boxes were permanently removed in Berkeley this year, according to Ruiz. Ruiz said that was either because the boxes had low density or because there were multiple boxes in the same general area. He said Berkeley currently has a total of 172 collection boxes in the city.

The Post Office does not suggest consumers leave mail in their personal boxes for pick-up as an alternative to USPS collection boxes. “We encourage customers not to leave outgoing mail at their mailboxes, and instead encourage them to drop it in a blue collection box or bring it the nearest Post Office and deposit it in collection boxes there,” said Ruiz.

Meanwhile, Lutzker has noticed her local boxes have reappeared. “All three are back!,” she told us this week. “They were removed for a couple of weeks, but suddenly reappeared. I can’t imagine why they were removed, as it certainly wasn’t to clean them  — one, in particular, was filthy.”

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...