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Congress is contemplating reducing mail delivery to five days a week, eliminating Saturday deliveries, to save money and reflect a decrease in the use of 'snail mail' in favor of e-mail and online bill pay.

(photo by Maya Sugarman)

CITYWIDE — “A major inconvenience.”

“It wouldn’t affect me.”

“The economy would be hurt even further.”

Santa Monica residents and business owners appear to be split on the threat of losing Saturday mail — an option that’s “on the table” along with various other cost cutting measures, United States Postal Service (USPS) of Los Angeles spokesperson Joseph Harrison confirmed Thursday.

The cuts are being considered, in part, because of a “severe” decline in mail volume, Harrison said — down in Los Angeles from 2 million pieces per day a couple of years ago to 800,000 or 900,0000 pieces today.

Even if delivery does drop to five days a week, Harrison clarified that Saturday may not be the day that gets cut and that the quality of service will remain constant. USPS has asked Congress for permission to eliminate a sixth day, but no decision has been made.

Shannon McGarry, who works for a Santa Monica-based nonprofit, hopes Saturday mail will not be cut.

“We would definitely be affected,” said McGarry, who left the post office at the corner of Fifth Street and Arizona Avenue last Thursday with at least 10 envelopes after checking her organization’s P.O. box. “As a nonprofit, we’re not set up to pay bills online.”

Pedro Loureiro, a resident of Santa Monica Canyon, is starting a new job that requires him to work 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. — on top of his commute, meaning if the post office is closed on Saturdays, the lifelong stamp collector may not be able to send his mother packages containing videos of his kids and a short, sentimental note.

“Losing Saturday delivery would make it really hard for me,” he said. “Even a half day would make me happy.”

Other residents said losing Saturday mail wouldn’t be that big of a deal.

“It would make a lot of sense,” Ocean Park resident Barry Levy said. “I used to live in Canada, where there is no Saturday delivery — no one cares.”

Nationally, USPS reported a $2.8 billion loss for the 2008 fiscal year. Due to the troubled economy and the trend toward use of the Internet for personal and business communications, mail volume of 202.7 billion pieces was down by 9.5 billion pieces last year, a decrease of about 4.5 percent.

This year, postal officials predict a further drop in mail volume to about 180 billion pieces.

Sunset Park resident Constance Poremsky laments this trend — despite the fact that she’s moved almost all of her bill payments to the Internet to save on postage.

“When my mom was alive, we sent each other beautiful letters every week,” said Poremsky, who was at the post office to mail her son a letter — something she does once a month. “I write beautiful letters. I make the person at the other end of the line feel really good. To this day people love to receive a letter from me.”

A Santa Monica College student who said he comes to the post office about every three months — just to buy stamps for birthday and Christmas cards — also spoke to the symbolic weight of letter writing.

“It’s more personal, because a card is tangible,” he said. “You can set it on your desk or mantle or something.

“And you know that the person actually got up and walked somewhere to send you something,” he added. “He didn’t just click a few keys.”

Harrison emphasized that many postal services are available online — such as buying stamps, ordering boxes or requesting pickups. Along with realigning routes, raising postage rates and closing offices, these offerings are a way to cut costs and be environmentally friendly.

“The less people who walk through that door, the less it costs them,” said Jeff Frangos, who lives on Bay Street. Frangos was at the post office to mail bills and buy stamps. He said he hasn’t gotten around to paying bills online.

“I’m old school,” he said. “I’m still scared of people getting into my computer or my account.”

Levy agreed.

“I like a hard copy,” he said. “I’m not overly trustful of what happens online. It’s all ones and zeros — and they can disappear.”

Postal patrons wouldn’t be the only people affected by loss of Saturday service. Postal workers are concerned about what the possible change could do to their livelihood. Some are worried they may be laid off.

“Reducing delivery to five days would have a negative effect on postal employees,” said John Driver of the American Postal Workers Union in Los Angeles. “It would reduce the number of employees necessary to process and deliver the mail.”

Driver echoed customer concerns about the loss of Saturday services.

“A lot of people rely on Saturday mail,” he said. “Having only five days of service would also create more of a backlog of undelivered mail, causing more of a delay.

“There are other ways to save money,” he added, citing cutting excess management, reducing subsidies to private mailers that aren’t available to the public, and consolidating transportation to save on fuel. “The post office is not taking that into consideration.”

Frangos thinks Congress should reverse its course and expand deliveries.

“I think it should stay open on Sundays, too,” he said. “That would help even more.”

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