Tenderloin Takes Post Office Fight to City Hall

by Jesse Nathan on February 14, 2008

Today, Supervisor Chris Daly will consider a resolution to call on the U.S. Postal Service to take action. Specifically, Tenderloin community organizations want him to approve a resolution demanding the USPS convert its post office at the corner of Hyde and Golden Gate into a full-service station.

For years, the corner of Hyde and Golden Gate (the site of a minimum-service post office) has been an uninhibited trafficking point for drugs – not to mention a congregating stop for various unseemly, even dangerous denizens. It’s for this reason, say a coalition of neighborhood organizations that the federal government stop allowing criminal activities at the site. The coalition, including Hastings Law School, The New Tenderloin, Tenderloin Housing Clinic, Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation, Chinatown Community Development Center, the YMCA, the Safety Network and the North of Market Community Benefit District, support the resolution presently before Daly.

The problem, says Elaine Zamora of the Community Benefit District, is that the Post Office—and consequently the corner generally, since the building occupies a huge chunk of the block—is “poorly secured, has huge windowless walls, and is understaffed.” In turn, say Zamora and allies, this means the site is ripe for drug dealers, many of whom feel comfortable enough to do their business in broad daylight—with their backs safely against the windowless walls of the Post Office building.

“Drug dealing,” said a December press release by the coalition, “is a daily occurrence” around the perimeter of the building—one need only walk by at any odd hour of the day to confirm this. Men in stocking caps or ballcaps with the brims pulled low will casually toss out their offers to passersby who seem like likely drug-purchasing candidates. To Zamora, this is all very sinister.

But it’s not just the alleged drug dealing that’s driven these community organizations to go public with their complaints. Safety, too, has become a serious concern of theirs. David Seward of Hastings College of Law wrote the Postal Service and the office of Nancy Pelosi late this summer detailing a nightmarish experience one of Hastings’ students had had in the Post Office.

According to Seward, the student—a woman—was accosted by a man near the corner of Golden Gate and Hyde. She was able to escape, he says, and fled into the Post Office—thinking it a safe and federally-funded space. She was wrong. Instead of finding safety, says Seward, she found a nearly deserted warren of rooms (the building is staffed by one or two workers at most who operate behind a gated window in the far corner of the office). With no one around, she was all but cornered and only managed to escape, says Seward, by way of good luck and a quick dash for the doors.

The Federal Building suffices, says James Wigdel of the US Postal Service. Besides, he argues, the USPS isn’t in the business of fighting crime. It’s in the business of delivering mail. Safety, according to his position, falls on the shoulders of the whole community, not the proprietor of the building in front of which the crime takes place. And Wigdel estimates a conversion would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Still, he says, it’s hard to say exactly how much given the fact that such a conversion would have wildly varying costs, depending on staff and services to be offered in the new facility.

Randy Shaw doesn’t see it that way. The Tenderloin, he says, is a neighborhood that’s trying to grow into a healthy, clean community. Shaw heads the Tenderloin Housing Clinic and works out of the clinic’s law offices across the street from the post office. “How can a healthy, clean, growing community,” he says, “not have its own post office?”

Shaw discounts the accessibility of the Federal Building. He points out that districts like the Haight and the Mission and Pacific Heights all have easy access to at least one and often two full-services post offices. The building on the corner of Golden Gate and Hyde has only postal boxes and a window for mailings and postage.

To enter the Federal Building down the street one must submit, Shaw laments, to a series of searches—all just to send even one package. And most disturbing in his view is that Hispanic residents of the Tenderloin—especially those with less than secure status in this country—often feel too intimidated by the prospect of entering the Federal Building. For them, there is no postal service in the Tenderloin—and that, believe Shaw, is unfair and un-San Francisco: “What kind of community does that to some of its residents?” he asks.

As opposed to so many of the social problems that plague San Francisco, solving this one seems relatively easy. At least that’s what Zamora and Shaw say. She argues all that’s needed is a little political muscle to convince the Postal Service that it’s time to quit federally funding a crime zone and convert to a full-service station. “A full service post office will increase citizen traffic and commerce and improve security on the corner dramatically,” she says. “The Tenderloin is a residential neighborhood that deserves a full-service post office.”

Last December’s press release further implies solutions by pointing out that the building’s structure itself is part of the problem: “[The Post Office’s] concrete walls create a perfect screen for drug dealing on the sidewalk, a problem that could be reduced with the installation of additional windows.” Or, suggests the news release, “additional staff”—security personnel for instance—could also help keep drug trafficking and danger to a minimum. Wigdel had no comment about the feasibility or the cost of either option at the time this article went to press.

The best solution, however, says box-holder Michael Nulty, is for the federal government to convert the station to the full-service outlet the community deserves: “Postal Patrons want retail services along with safe facility to enhance our community 18 years in the making.” An analysis of neighborhood post offices reveals that Nulty’s got reason to ask, too. If the Fox Plaza post office moves—as Shaw claims it’s rumored to be doing—then all the Tenderloin will have access to is the uninviting and often hassle-filled Federal Building. The hearing tomorrow represents an opportunity for the Tenderloin to make a win-win move by getting, finally, a real post office.

Filed under: Archive

Translate »