By Joe Tash
A steep increase in rental rates for post office boxes was imposed on short notice last month, catching many Rancho Santa Fe residents by surprise and triggering angry reactions at the village post office.
“They’re livid,” said Yolonda DuBose, Rancho Santa Fe’s postmaster since 2008. “The ones that I’ve spoken to are not happy.”
Rancho Santa Fe is one of the rare communities in the United States where the Post Office generally does not deliver mail to residents’ homes. Instead, residents must rent a post office box at one of two locations — the village post office or an office at the Del Rayo Plaza on San Dieguito Road — in order to receive mail.
According to DuBose, as of Jan. 23, the monthly rent for a small box jumped from $70 to $120 per year, while the cost of a large drawer rose from $220 to $380 per year.
The increase on post office box rents nationwide came at the same time as a one-cent increase on first-class stamps, to 45 cents, and increases for most other shipping rates. The U.S. Postal Service faces severe financial problems, as Americans rely more on email and other private package carriers, such as FedEx and UPS.
The postal service has asked Congress for permission to end Saturday mail delivery and is looking at closing post offices across the country.
Adding to the confusion and indignation in Rancho Santa Fe over the rent increases was the handling of notifications to box holders.
When rent notices went out to box holders at the beginning of January, they contained the old rates, DuBose said. A second notice, containing the new, higher rates, was placed in boxes on Jan. 11 or 12, just 10 days or so before the new rates took effect. Those who paid before Jan. 23 were allowed to pay their yearly box rental at the old, lower rate.
The first notices were in white envelopes, while the second notices came on yellow cards, which may have also escaped the attention of some box holders, DuBose said.
Rancho Santa Fe Richard Rovsek, a box holder since the 1990s, said he understands the Postal Service is in financial trouble and needs the money. But he objected to the way the increase was handled.
“When they send you the bill and it’s due by the 31st, you don’t arbitrarily change it in between. There’s no rhyme or reason to that,” he said. He compared the situation to a hotel that gives one rate when a guest makes a reservation, and charges more when the guest arrives.
“Any quality, honest business would honor the bill they provided… and change (the rates) appropriately, this was very inappropriate,” Rovsek said.
DuBose said the postal service’s billing system did not generate the new rates until after the first billing notices went out in January. She conceded that it would have been better if the box holders had been given more notice.
Although residents may not be happy about the higher rates, the postal office is providing additional services for box holders along with the higher fees. They include a system for keeping signatures on file, to allow packages to be delivered directly to the boxes, so box holders can pick up their packages after hours. Box holders can also sign up for text notification for mail deliveries, and an option to pay their box rental fee automatically every three months on their credit cards, DuBose said.
Surveys taken by the Rancho Santa Fe Association show that most members like the current system of using post office boxes instead of home delivery, said Association Manager Pete Smith. For one thing, he said, the post office now uses unsightly cluster boxes serving multiple homes instead of delivering directly to each home.
Members also appreciate the opportunity to socialize with their neighbors when picking up their mail, and are concerned about security issues if they had to pick up their mail in isolated locations, Smith said.