Petaluma postal hub's closure means lost jobs, slow mail

  • Chet Sennette, left, helps Paul Gawronski with mailing his parcel at the U.S. Post Office, on North McDowell Boulevard, in Petaluma on Thursday, May 17, 2012. The retail lobby of the post office will remain operational, while the North Bay Processing and Distribution Center, in the same building, will likely close within a few years.

Hundreds of U.S. Postal Service workers in Petaluma likely will face the choice of quitting or relocating as the agency closes mail processing centers nationwide — a move that also will mean delays in delivery of local mail that will be trucked to Oakland before being brought back to the North Bay.

Both mail processing sites in Petaluma, the main plant on North McDowell Boulevard and an annex on Southpoint Boulevard, will cease sorting operations by 2014. The North McDowell site will remain open for retail- and business-mail services.

About 350 workers are employed at the sites, mostly full-time, career workers. The offices process letters and packages from Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake and Marin counties.

At a news briefing in Washington, D.C, Thursday, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said the agency's mail processing network had simply become too big, given declining mail volume and mounting debt. As planned months ago, it will consolidate about 240 sites, including 48 this summer and the rest through 2013 and 2014.

The moves come as the Postal Service tries to cut $1.2 billion in spending by consolidating operations and reducing staff. Closing the two Petaluma sites would save about $2.5 million.

About 140 mail processing centers will be consolidated by February — the first four dozen by August and about 90 in January and February, with closings suspended during the Postal Service's busy election and holiday mail season. Ninety closings would occur in a second phase in early 2014.

Once fully implemented in 2014, the moves are expected to cut $2.1 billion in spending and reduce postal staff by 28,000 nationwide.

In phase one this summer, processing and sorting operations will be moved from the Southpoint facility to the North McDowell plant, Postal Service spokesman James Wigdel said. The Southpoint plant will close within nine months.

Outgoing mail that is now handled at the Petaluma processing facilities will be rerouted to Oakland by this summer.

That means a letter mailed from Petaluma to Santa Rosa will take a 120-mile detour to the East Bay before returning to a local mailbox. A local first-class letter is usually delivered overnight now.

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