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Editorials • October 1, 2008

Bureaucratic Thugery

Berkeley Court Apartments consists of two 12-unit buildings facing each other and are perpendicular to Dwight Way .  Each apartment has its own entrance off the court between the buildings.  There is a mail slot near each front door.  From the sidewalk to the farthest unit back is almost 300 feet. Since 1929, the postman has been delivering the mail to each unit.  This requires a walk of almost 600 feet. Last month, the branch post office which handles delivery to the buildings informed Beacon Properties which manages the property for me that mail delivery would be suspended the next day.  Beacon negotiated a one week extension and informed me of the problem. 

The post office claimed we had been given notice six months earlier of the need for gang mailboxes at the sidewalk.  They implied that the current regulation in effect required this arrangement.  I recalled no notice of the need to provide these new mailboxes.  Beacon regenerated an e-mail from months earlier which did inform me of an informal phone call from the branch post office requesting gang mailboxes. 

Procrastinator that I am, I did not deal with this matter within the negotiated week and in fact the mail service was suspended once the one-week extension had expired.  At this point, I had no choice but to deal with the problem.  I went to the main port office in downtown Berkeley where the administrative offices are upstairs.  There is a door at the top of the stairs but no one responded to several depressions of the bell beside the door.  I went downstairs and asked for a supervisor.  They told me they never answer the door upstairs.  The clerk attributed this to fear of the public they ostensibly are there to serve.  I asked for a supervisor.  The message came from the back room inquiring as to the nature of my inquiry.  I suddenly felt like I was in a scene from Catch 22 trying in vain to see Maj. Major Major Major (“People can only see me when I am not here.” He instructed his aide. “When I’m here, they cannot see me.”) 

When I finally got to see the guy in charge, I mentioned how difficult it was to get their attention.  He asked me if I would go to the White House and expect to see the President.  Not knowing whether laughter or tears was the proper response, I simply agreed.  Of course I wouldn’t go to the White House and expect to see the President. 

I was given several reasons why I had to provide gang mailboxes.  I asked what triggered the need for this change after 80 years of service and was assured they had the authority to make this demand.  I asked for a citation of said authority.  I asked how this issue might be resolved. 

He asked me by what date I could provide the new mailboxes.  He agreed I should have been notified in writing and that a letter from the branch office would be forthcoming.  I asked him to include in the letter the source of their authority to make this demand.  I told him that in a strict rent-control environment, I was not going to spend over $3,000 for mailboxes unless required to do so.  I did not see why 24 tenants should have to walk an average of 300 feet to get their mail (that’s 7200 tenant-feet of walking) so that the mail delivery person could avoid walking 600 feet. 

He reiterated his understanding that I had agreed to install the mailboxes by September 15th.  I reiterated what I had actually said : that I would install the mailboxes by said date if they showed me proper authority for their demand. 

In the meantime, one of my tenants spoke to Postal Consumer Affairs for the Bay Area and was told who that the local branch office had no grounds for stopping the mail or demanding mailboxes. He also says that any cessation of mail delivery would require proper written notice to the tenants.  This was never received.  A follow-up call from Consumer Affairs to Beacon Properties informed us that our mail will be resumed immediately and that there was a firm directive from the Postmaster to that effect.

At this point all has returned to the status quo ante and I have heard nothing further from the local post office.  Moral of the story?  Bureaucrats operate primarily to serve their own interest and toward that end, they are not loathe to assume authority that is not theirs.  Do not automatically assume you have to do what they tell you to do.  They will push you around if they can and if you let them.  Don’t let them. 


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