Redmond, Washington, is a town of 54,000 located just 16 miles east of Seattle. It’s best known as the home of Microsoft and Nintendo, and it’s one of the most affluent communities in the state. The town’s biggest problem seems to be growing pains — the economic boom of the past two decades has been causing a lot of traffic and sprawl.
The city has been trying to address the problems by promoting Downtown Redmond. They’re encouraging walking, biking, and public transportation, and they’re investing in capital improvement projects to make the downtown more vibrant with retail businesses, restaurants, apartment buildings, and recreation destinations.
The whole plan is described in a brochure called “Redmond: Creating Choice, Connecting Community.” It calls attention to downtown Redmond’s small-town feel and sense of history. It’s a place “oriented to pedestrians and bicycles, with attractive ‘local’ streets appropriate for a destination environment.”
Redmond is also known as the “Bicycle Capital of the Northwest,” thanks to an annual bike race, and there are numerous bike shops, sculptures and paintings of bicycles dotting the streets downtown, and bike lanes and unusual bike racks everywhere.
Downtown Redmond has just about everything — lots of restaurants, shops, parks, historic buildings, a pedestrian-friendly streetscape, and a booming economy. As of July 28, however, downtown Redmond will be lacking one essential civic amenity — a post office.
In a couple of weeks, the post office, which is currently located in the middle of downtown (A on the map), just a few blocks from city hall and the library, will be relocated to a large mail distribution center (the Seattle DDC-East) on the outskirts of town (B).
The new location couldn’t be worse for a retail business. It’s on an industrial strip without a shop or home in sight, and it’s separated from downtown by the freeway that goes to Seattle. No one will be walking to the new Redmond post office, and not many will be biking to it either.
News of the relocation did not come as a huge surprise to the folks in Redmond. The Postal Service announced in October 2010 that it had sold the downtown post office and was looking for a new location nearby. In the meantime, the Postal Service made arrangements to lease the current post office from the new owner.
A couple of months later, USPS Real Estate Contractor John Logan wrote Redmond’s mayor to say they’d found a great new spot downtown. “We believe this new location will provide the community with an upgraded, modern facility that offers a safe working environment for our employees and a level of service expected by our customers," Logan stated in his letter to the mayor.
In November 2011, however, the Postal Service announced that it had backed out of the lease negotiations at the last minute. Tom Markl, chief executive of Redmond-based Nelson Legacy Group, told the local news that his company had worked for several months to reach a 10-year lease agreement with the Postal Service, and they had even cut the proposed lease rate in half and put in a new 95-space parking lot. Then the Postal Service changed its mind, for reasons it wouldn't share with the public.
After exiting the deal with Markl’s company in November, the Postal Service said it was moving the letter carriers to the distribution center while it contnued to look for another retail location downtown. USPS spokesperson Ernie Swanson acknowledged, though, that if they couldn’t find one, it was possible they’d also move the retail services to the distribution center. At the time, the lease at the current location downtown still had six months to go, Swanson explained, so they were still working on a plan. "It could go back the other way, I suppose," he said. "It just sort of depends." Moving to the distribution center, said Swanson, was "not for certain."
It’s certain now. On June 25, customers received a letter stating that the Redmond post office would relocate to the DDC on July 30TH. It's not a temporary fix. All the p.o. boxes will be moved, and the promise of a new downtown location will be history.
Because the closing of the downtown Redmond post office is being classified as a “relocation” rather than a “closure,” the Postal Service says it doesn’t have to go through a formal discontinuance process as outlined in USPS Handbook PO-101. That means there’s no need for 60-days notification, a community survey, a town meeting, and all the other procedures outlined in the discontinuance handbook as well as various federal statutes and regulations. It means that the Postal Service doesn't have to consider the "effect on the community" as required by Title 39, and it means that if the city were to appeal the decision to the Postal Regulatory Commission, the PRC would dismiss the appeal as out of its jurisdiction, as it’s done in previous relocation cases.
There are a few references to relocations in section 241.4 of Title 39, which deals with "expansion, relocation, and constuctions" of post offices, and it does mention that there should be a public meeting to discuss relocations, but the Postal Service doesn't seem very concerned about that. There are no news reports that a public meeting was held for Redmond.
The Postal Service has been using the relocation gambit to close and sell other post offices, some of them valuable historic buildings, like the one in Venice, California. The Postal Service played the same legal word game, and when the community protested to the PRC, the appeal was dismissed. It now looks as though the beautiful Venice post office will be transferred to private hands and turned into the offices for a film production company.
The mayor of Redmond, John Marchione, said he thinks that the Postal Service decision to close and relocate post offices is motivated more by political than financial reasons. “It seems more of a political strategy to get people upset at Congress," Marchione said. "I truly believe that's their endgame."
Whatever game the Postal Service is playing, it’s definitely doing a lot of harm to places like Venice and Redmond. Perhaps more important, it’s doing a lot of harm to the country’s postal system.
For more on the Redmond story and the larger context, check out this excellent post on the Northwest Progressive Institute's website, The Advocate.