Three months after door-to-door mail delivery at Mar Vista Gardens was suspended following a fatal shooting incident at the Del Rey public housing complex, the United States Postal Service has reinstated direct service.
Congresswoman Maxine Waters, whose district includes Del Rey, brought the good news with her from Washington, D.C. at a press conference at the complex’s community center on December 18th.
“It gives me great pleasure to announce that regular door-to-door mail delivery will return to Mar Vista Gardens,” Waters announced.
The congresswoman told the audience that her office had been working with postal authorities to secure a new mail carrier for the public housing complex over the last several weeks.
Initially, representatives of the United States Postal Service seemed reluctant to restore direct service at Mar Vista Gardens. After Waters and postal commissioner Ruth Goldway, a Venice resident and a former Santa Monica mayor, intervened, postal officials decided to put the route out for bid to any mail carrier who was willing to come to Mar Vista Gardens.
Goldway learned of the controversy after reading a story in the November 3rd issue of The Argonaut.
The new carrier, Charlie Co, began delivering tenants’ mail to their buildings Saturday, December 20th.
Residents at Mar Vista Gardens had been without door-to-door service since September 23rd. Postal authorities informed management that the mail carrier who had been assigned to the apartment complex would no longer be making door-to-door mail deliveries following the fatal shooting of Braylon Williams, 22, not far from the community center on Marionwood Drive.
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.
Tenants at Mar Vista Gardens immediately protested the loss of direct mail service as well as a decision by postal authorities to consider installing centralized boxes in front of the complex instead of door-to-door service.
Officials from the Los Angeles Housing Authority, which runs Mar Vista Gardens, were reluctant to explore that option, due to residents’ complaints that seniors and physically challenged tenants would have difficulty walking to the front of the complex to retrieve their mail.
A temporary solution to deliver tenants’ cards, letters and utility bills was to dispatch mail trucks to the front of the complex. This lasted for two months until December 20th, when Co arrived at the apartment complex to great fanfare.
The postal employee took several photos with Waters and Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Del Rey, as dozens of cheering residents welcomed them during a toy drive.
Waters introduced Co and gave him a slice of cake before being photographed with him.
“Please welcome Mr. Charlie Co,” said the congresswoman.
Waters feels that now that the residents have experienced losing and regaining their direct mail delivery, they will be even more conscientious about reporting aggressive dogs or harassment of the carrier to the housing authority.
“Mail delivery is a service that we often take for granted,” Waters told The Argonaut. “But I believe now that the residents are aware of how quickly that right can be lost, they will be more proactive to do everything that they can to make their mail carrier feel safe and welcome.”
Joann Harvey Dixon, coordinator of the Resident Advisory Council at Mar Vista Gardens, concurred with Waters.
“I think that we know how important it is to do everything to make sure it is safe for our new mail carrier,” said Harvey Dixon.
The resident coordinator felt at first that the congresswoman’s office was slow to respond, but she was thankful when she learned that the foundation for bringing a mail carrier back to Mar Vista Gardens was being laid behind the scenes with the postal workers union and the federal authorities.
“Representative Waters really came through for us when we needed her,” Harvey Dixon said.
Los Angeles Housing Authority chief executive officer Rudolf Montiel acknowledged that getting a new carrier to Mar Vista Gardens was not easy in the early stages of the controversy.
“The congresswoman was very instrumental in making this happen,” Montiel said. “The residents of Mar Vista Gardens should be very happy about that and thankful for her efforts. The U.S. Postal Service did the right thing by bidding the job again, and we got a very good postal carrier to take the route.”
Al Santos, senior operations manager of the Los Angeles District of the U.S Postal Service, also attended the ceremony.
“I want to thank Representative Waters and Councilman Rosendahl for bringing all the parties together and making this all happen,” Santos said. “It was their leadership that allowed us to do what we want to do, which is deliver the mail.”
Mark Redick, president of the Del Rey Neighborhood Council, was also gracious in his praise of how Rosendahl and Waters responded to the troubling situation at Mar Vista Gardens.
“Councilman Rosendahl is a notable exception” to many public officials, one “who truly works on behalf of all their constituents,” said Redick, who distributed over 200 flyers in support of residents at Mar Vista Gardens. “And Representative Waters’ response to this crisis was planned, measured and methodical.”
Rosendahl, whose office worked with Waters and Goldway to help bring door-to-door mail delivery back to Mar Vista Gardens, noted that the return of direct mail service came at a very special time of the year.
“As we go into this holiday season, thanks to the leadership by Representative Waters, Mayor [Antonio] Villaraigosa’s office and the cooperation of the Postal Service and the Housing Authority, this is a great day for the residents of Mar Vista Gardens,” said the councilman.
“This is a great outcome — it’s a wonderful early Christmas present for Mar Vista Gardens,” Waters added.
Montiel said that his agency hoped that it would not have to install the outside bank of mailboxes.
“From the standpoint of changing something that the residents already had, no, we were not in a position to consider centralized boxes here,” he said. “At a new development, the law says that you have to put in centralized boxes, but not at an existing development.”
Rosendahl said, “The best things happen when a lot of people get involved. It was a combination of things, with Maxine realizing how important this issue was to her constituents and my constituents as well, and that cluster boxes was not an option. Maxine got the post office to post the job, and then to post it again after there were no takers the first time.”
The former mail carrier at Mar Vista Gardens, Reggie Hughes, also played a role in having direct mail service restored, along with postal commissioner Goldway.
“In his conversations with me, Reggie convinced me that the route was safe, which was a very courageous thing to do,” Rosendahl said of Hughes. “And Ruth Goldway also stepped into the picture, and after she read the story in The Argonaut, as a member of the postal oversight committee, she began to work behind the scenes with the personnel and union people in the post office hierarchy in Washington.
“And that dynamism at the national level, combined with my office’s efforts on the local level in my conversations with Ruth led to this wonderful and very positive outcome.”
Waters smiled as she watched her constituents welcome their new mail carrier to the housing complex and pledge to make him feel at home.
“This is the product of a lot of hard work and cooperation from a number of agencies and the diligence of the residents at Mar Vista Gardens,” Waters concluded. “This really is the best possible outcome for everyone involved.”