Angered by a decision by postal authorities to discontinue residential service at their complex following a fatal shooting, residents of a Del Rey public housing complex are demanding the restoration of what many say is one of their basic civil rights.
Postal authorities informed the management at Mar Vista Gardens that their mail carrier would no longer be making door-to-door mail deliveries following the fatal shooting of Braylon Williams, 22, on September 23rd at the apartment complex.
The letter carrier and her supervisor also alleged that the carrier had been the victim of harassment by gang members in the complex and that unattended dogs had attacked other carriers.
Armed housing agents subsequently accompanied a substitute carrier for a few weeks before postal officials informed the residents that they would be required to journey to Culver City to retrieve their mail.
Al Santos, the senior operations manager for the Los Angeles District of the Postal Service, sent an e-mail on October 17th to Sanford Riggs of the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, which operates Mar Vista Gardens, informing him of the agency’s decision.
“I regret to inform you that United States Postal Service may be forced to suspend mail delivery to the residents at the Mar Vista Gardens apartment complex due to continuous threats of dog attacks and gang violence against our letter carriers,” Santos wrote. “Our first priority is to provide the best possible delivery service to all customers while ensuring the safety and protection of our employees.”
Santos’s e-mail sparked an outpouring of anger and resentment among quite a few Mar Vista Gardens residents. After a number of the apartment complex’s tenants complained that they were being unfairly treated by the post office because of the shooting, Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl held a press conference on October 21st a few yards from where the fatal shooting occurred.
“People are being denied their basic constitutional rights,” Rosendahl, who represents Del Rey, said a week after the press conference. “I share my constituents’ anger and frustration.”
Soon after the press conference, the Postal Service sent two mail trucks to the 600-unit public housing development to disperse mail to the inhabitants. But because there are a number of senior citizens and disabled tenants, as well as many Spanish speakers, this method has not been a welcome solution.
“This is a big inconvenience for us,” said Joann Harvey Dixon, coordinator of the Resident Advisory Council at Mar Vista Gardens. “I understand how [the letter carrier] feels, but none of us put her life in danger.”
Residents complain of long lines at the mail trucks and feel that they are being unfairly treated because of where they live.
“The mobile [postal] units are inside the complex,” Harvey Dixon pointed out. “If [the postal workers] feel safe enough that they can come inside the complex, why can’t they deliver the mail like before?”
Rosendahl has notified Congresswoman Maxine Waters, whose district includes Del Rey, along with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, about the ongoing situation.
“Mail delivery is a federal issue, and Representative Waters has assured me that this issue is very important to her,” said the councilman.
Letter carriers who have worked at Mar Vista Gardens have encountered numerous problems with gang intimidation, said Larry Dozier, a Postal Service spokesman.
“At this point, our carriers don’t feel safe delivering the mail over there,” he said.
While he realizes that the mobile units are a temporary situation, Dozier said the Los Angeles Housing Authority has two options for mail delivery.
“They can provide armed guards to escort our carriers around the complex, or they can install centralized mailboxes,” the postal service spokesman offered.
Centralized mailboxes are banks of metal receptacles generally located at the front of a housing project, where a carrier would not need to go inside and residents would have to leave the complex to retrieve their mail.
Rosendahl rejects both of those options.
“Armed guards is an over-the-top suggestion,” the councilman asserted. “I am not going to accept anything less than regular mail service.”
Mar Vista Gardens residents have taken an active stance regarding their current plight, and on Saturday, November 1st, approximately 85 tenants marched from Del Rey to the Culver City Post Office, which delivers to Mar Vista Gardens.
“We want mail service to our homes, because it’s a civil right,” said Lorenzo Gomez, a resident of Mar Vista Gardens, who led the march.
Several tenants expressed hope that Reggie Hughes, a postal carrier who delivered mail at Mar Vista Gardens for more than a decade and was very popular with the residents, could return.
“Putting Reggie back there won’t solve the problem,” Dozier countered. “Our carriers feel threatened there, and we cannot send our carriers there without adequate protection.”
The trek to Culver City ended in a boisterous rally in front to the post office, with Mar Vista Gardens tenants waving signs and demanding restoration of door-to-door service.
“I want the public to know what we are going through, so that the same thing doesn’t happen to them,” said Gomez. “We hope that they can support us, so that if one day they need our help, we’ll support them too.”
Harvey Dixon added, “We want people to see how far some of us have had to go to get our mail. We’re taxpayers too, and we shouldn’t have to do this.”
Christine Ferreira, an administrator at Kentwood Elementary School in Westchester, was at the post office when the marchers arrived.
“It seems to me that there should be a way to keep the mail carrier safe and get the mail delivered to everyone’s house,” said Ferreira, who lives in Culver City.
In an ironic twist, one of the mobile postal units passed the procession of Mar Vista Gardens residents on Braddock Drive less than a block from the public housing development, where single-family homes make up the majority of residences.
“It’s not right, what they’re doing to us,” said Dixon. “We’re in the same area as all of these houses, and they still receive their mail. “If it’s not safe for us, it’s not safe over here either. So why do the homes still have their mail delivered?”
The Del Rey Homeowners and Neighbors Association received a briefing from Rosendahl’s Del Rey deputy, Cindy Mejia, about the mail delivery controversy on November 3rd.
Chris Nevil, the association’s president, sympathizes with the letter carriers who feel threatened as well as the residents of Mar Vista Gardens.
“While I certainly feel that everyone has the right to feel safe, in my opinion, you cannot selectively do this to any complex,” Nevil said.
On Monday, November 10th, Los Angeles Housing Authority officials, residents and management from Mar Vista Gardens, and representatives from Rosendahl’s, Waters’ and Villaraigosa’s offices will join postal authorities at a meeting to discuss what solutions can be pursued to rectify the current situation.
“I’m hopeful that this can be resolved as quickly as possible in a collaborative process,” said Rosendahl.
Calls to Riggs of the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles and Michael Levine, Waters’ communications director, had not been returned at Argonaut press time.