Christmas cards sent between neighbors in Petaluma will first take a detour to Oakland under the United States' Postal Services new sorting system.

The city's correspondence is racking up travel miles because of a new plan to consolidate mail-processing locations that went into effect last year. The change means that a letter mailed from anywhere in the city is initially sent to the East Bay — even if it is only being mailed across the street.

"All sorting is now done in Oakland for the Petaluma area," said James Wigdel, spokesperson for the United States Postal Service in San Francisco. "It's like that all over the country now. The postal service has made business decisions to help with efficiency. We're a business and we operate like one. But delivery from anywhere in Petaluma is still overnight."

After losing 29 percent of its first class mail volume from 2000 to 2010, the United States Postal Service had to make changes to its longtime service to reduce its overall costs by $3 billion and find a way to increase revenue that dwindled as more and more people sent letters and packages online. Post offices across the county — including Petaluma's processing hub — closed down or cut back hours, stamp prices climbed and postal positions disappeared.

Locally, Petaluma's downtown post office on Fourth Street still offers regular retail postal service, as does the former processing hub on North McDowell Boulevard. Despite centralizing certain operations to the East Bay, Wigdel said the postal service did not reduce its local workforce.

"We didn't need as many people in Petaluma, so those jobs went to Oakland, or to the general Petaluma area," said Wigdel. "We didn't have any layoffs. In fact, we are actually hiring people right now."

Confusing as that may sound, Wigdel said that the wide-sweeping restructure left a variety of jobs open in the North Bay area. "Especially during the holidays, when our package delivery is up by 12 percent," he added.

Wigdel couldn't estimate how many jobs had been relocated, but stressed that the postal service retained as many positions and workers as possible. He said that relocating the sorting operations to Oakland was completed without any major difficulties.

The postal service's statement that it would maintain its overnight delivery of first class mail were proven accurate twice this week when letters were mailed locally to and from the Argus-Courier's office on Southpoint Boulevard, both of which arrived at their destinations within one business day.

"It may seem strange to drive the mail all the way to Oakland before delivering it down the street, but it has worked out very well," said Wigdel.

In 2012, the United States Postal Service estimated another 47 percent drop in mail volume by 2020 as more and more people utilize the Internet for things that previously sent them the post office.

(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at