Los Altos resident fights to ensure carriers don't violate federal law with delayed delivery practice

Ron Ligon
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Los Altos resident Ron Ligon said construction crews working across the street from his house have blocked access to his mailbox on multiple occasions. His mail carrier has refused to exit his vehicle and deliver the mail on foot, citing a policy instituted by Postmaster Anli Zhao.

Los Altos resident Ron Ligon is on a mission to ensure that the Miramonte Avenue U.S. Postal Service adheres to federal policy that requires a mail carrier to deliver his mail even if access to his mailbox is obstructed.

Ligon said that after engaging in fruitless discourse with Postmaster Anli Zhao over the USPS holding his mail because construction trucks blocked his mailbox, “I told her, ‘If you want a war, you’ve got one. Because I’m retired. I’ve got time.”

His problem with USPS dates back years, as construction has been long underway across the street from his Raymundo Avenue home, with crews parking their trucks in front of his mailbox for months at a time.

Ligon’s mail carrier has refused to get out of his truck and deliver his mail – on one occasion for three days in a row – when trucks are parked in front of his house. The mail carrier informed Ligon that it was Zhao’s policy that mail carriers not stop at houses, exit their mail trucks or walk on foot to a mailbox if access is in any way blocked.

In one of his conversations with Zhao, Ligon said she admitted that quick delivery saves the post office money because they don’t have to pay mail carriers overtime if their routes are completed efficiently.

“Every business wants to save money,” Zhao said in a phone call with the Town Crier.

Postal problems

After calling, writing letters and visiting the post office in person, Ligon failed to reach Zhao and became frustrated. A retired deputy and former lawyer, Ligon started digging. He uncovered two federal postal codes – U.S. Code 1701, Obstruction of mails generally, and U.S. Code 1703, Delay or destruction of mail or newspapers – he believed the USPS could be violating.

“If the problem of a mailbox being blocked is ongoing, and the problem is (created by) the owner of the mailbox because he or she is parking there, the carrier must inform the postmaster, who sends a letter to the owner that if they keep blocking the mailbox, they will no longer deliver to their home and they will have to pick it up,” Ligon noted.

Ligon said he never received notification. Zhao told Ligon that the codes he cited did not apply to Los Altos because in this area, it is dangerous for mail carriers to exit their vehicles to deliver mail.

“This is the only issue I have ever had in Los Altos,” Zhao said of Ligon’s complaint. “His mail was held because of the constant construction (across the street). We had no option. This subsidy carrier gave (Ligon) the wrong information.”

Ligon disputed Zhao’s contention that the policy had not created problems in the past. In 2011, he recalled, residents in the Los Altos High School neighborhood complained that their mail was not delivered when students were parking their cars in front of their mailboxes. The complaints reached the Los Altos City Council, but Zhao refused to change her policy of carriers remaining in their trucks, Ligon said.

Los Altos City Clerk Jon Maginot, who has worked for the city since 2009, told the Town Crier in an email that the matter had not formally gone before the council during his tenure, but there was a chance the postmaster had sent a letter to the council. However, Maginot said, that letter would no longer be on file, as such communications are only retained two years.

Ligon asked Zhao to send a letter he had written about the situation to her supervisor, Noemi Luna. Zhao agreed, and weeks went by before she claimed she had still not received a response. Ligon went above Zhao’s head and contacted Luna himself. His letter was sent to the marketing department in the USPS San Francisco office, which he said tried “to smooth it over with him, saying (Zhao) was wrong and was not supervising her people properly.”

“They said she had been scolded and would come to (my) house to make an apology with a letter,” Ligon said. “I told them it was not just our delivery, but was a systemic issue in Los Altos for years. I said I was concerned my complaint would be flagged and I would be labeled a troublemaker, but everyone else in the city would be ignored.”

Zhao’s in-person apology echoed that of marketing manager Debbie Brady’s. Zhao apologized, but she would not acknowledge her policy and would not agree to have a meeting with her carriers, Ligon said.

“I said to her, ‘I’m not stupid,’” and she looked at me and said, ‘I know you’re not stupid, because you’re the only one in Los Altos that’s figured out this regulation,’” Ligon recounted.

With construction ongoing all over Los Altos, mail delivery should be treated differently, according to USPS communications manager Augustine Ruiz.

“Construction does create havoc,” Ruiz said. “Los Altos is much like Mountain View, Cupertino and Los Gatos (in regard to growth) because of the high rate of employment there. The hazard could very well be more than a blocked mailbox.”

Ligon plans to continue reaching out to the USPS in hopes of getting someone to agree to enforce the policy. The resistance he has met, he contends, is because no representative wants to admit that his or her company may have committed a federal crime that warrants a minimum of six months in jail.

“My mail is 4 feet from my mailbox in that truck, but you won’t come to my box. That’s a delay,” Ligon said.

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