Millions at stake

Residents in various communities are fighting the possible closure of five post offices statewide
Honolulu Star Advertiser - September 28, 2013
By: 
Timothy Hurley

Five Hawaii post offices are on the chopping block in a U.S. Postal Service plan to cut costs. But those who object to the closures aren't just mailing in the opposition.

No one's gone postal or anything, but they are voicing their displeasure, gathering signatures for petitions and urging their elected officials to rally against the proposed shutdowns.

"The post office is an institution. They can't do that," said Ernest Abrams, who has collected nearly 300 signatures over three days in an online petition at kaimukihawaii.com in support of the targeted Kaimuki Post Office.

In addition to Kaimuki, the Postal Service is aiming to close branches at Kapolei, Ewa, Hanamaulu on Hawaii island and Kukuihaele on Kauai.

The last of nine community meetings about the proposal was held Thursday in Kaimuki. At each meeting officials met a slew of customers who expressed disappointment about the inconvenience and fears about the impact on business and community, especially the potential hardship on seniors.

Officials say it's all about cutting costs. The recession and a growing public preference for electronic mail have conspired to act as a double whammy against the Postal Service, which lost $15.9 billion last year and has already recorded a net loss of $3.1 million in the first half of this fiscal year.

Postmaster General Patrick Dona¬hoe has asked Congress for yet another rate increase after having reached its debt limit of $15 billion and having defaulted on an $11.1 billion obligation to pay retiree health benefits. Payment on an additional $5.6 billion due Monday will not be made either, he has said.

To help stop the bleeding last year, some 3,700 post offices across the country were targeted for closure, as was Saturday delivery, before the Postal Service backed off under political pressure.

This year Honolulu officials are back at it again, this time looking to trim expenses by axing only relatively small retail locations. They figure the five closures will save the Postal Service $3.66 million over 10 years, a fraction of the overall Postal Service budget in Hawaii.

"We're trying the best we can to reduce costs and achieve savings where we can," explained Duke Gonzales, USPS spokesman in Honolulu.

Officials are hoping to pick up some of the slack by contracting with existing stores to provide retail postal services, he said.

Gonzales was one of a half-dozen postal officials who greeted customers during a meeting at the Kaimuki Post Office on Thursday. They were not happy.

"I don't want to live without the post office. It's going to make my life a whole lot harder," said Anne Titcomb, who works for a property management company near the small Koko Head Avenue post office. She said there are days when she goes to the Kai¬muki branch three times in one day and no less than three or four times a week.

Kaimuki Community Board member Lori Yamada said she was caught off guard when she heard the branch was put on the list.

"It's a busy post office. A lot of businesses depend on it," she said. Moments later a peek around the corner found a small lobby with a dozen customers and a line out the door.

Over in Ewa Villages, Vera Kaaikaula has collected more than 500 signatures from residents opposed to the shuttering of the 55-year-old plantation-era Ewa Station post office on Renton Road. There is no other post office closer than three miles away.

Kaaikaula, who was born and raised in Ewa and is now office manager of the neighboring Ewa Credit Union, said she can't understand why her post office is in danger. A lot of people like the friendly, accessible service at the neighborhood facility, she said.

She and others pointed out that the Ewa region continues to grow in population and still needs the services the post office provides.

"This place is absolutely booming out here," said customer John Bond, an Ewa resident. "It makes no sense to close it. It's an ideal post office in an ideal location."

City Councilman Ron Menor agreed, saying there are some major developments planned nearby in the coming years.

"They should be talking about maintaining or expanding services, not cutting back," he said, adding that he's asked Hawaii's congressional delegation to intervene.

Bond said it's no wonder the Ewa post office is losing money. The Postal Service has drastically cut back hours over the years, and now the window is open only from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.
"Those are ridiculous hours for anyone who works," he said.

Perhaps the most surprising target in the closure proposal is the post office in the "Second City" of Kapolei. One of the biggest reasons the branch is on the list, officials said: The rent is too high at its relatively new and spacious Kamokila Boulevard spot.

Among the politicians coming to the aid of those fighting the closure is state Sen. Mike Gabbard, who has urged his constituents to rally behind the post office.

Under the Kapolei proposal, box customers would be directed to travel to the existing postal facility at Kalaeloa.

But Shasha Oliver, who was checking her post office box yesterday, said she doesn't relish the possibility of having to venture over to Kalaeloa, especially at nights and on weekends.
"It's scary over there," she said.

A final decision on the closures isn't expected until the new year, Gonzales said.