Noisy neighbor? : Residents label early-morning activity at USPS facility a nuisance

Photo By: Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Photo Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier

Nearby residents claim that U.S. Postal Service officials have done little to address early-morning noise pollution at the mail processing facility, above, located at 1535 Miramonte Ave.

A handful of Los Altos residents have accused the U.S. Postal Service facility on Miramonte Avenue of being a noisy neighbor. Worse yet, they say, their complaints have fallen on deaf ears.

Rosemont Avenue resident Teresa Morris told the Town Crier that her family and several nearby neighbors have been subjected to daily noise pollution by early-morning operations at the distribution facility, located at 1535 Miramonte Ave.

Among other things, she noted frequently experiencing loud banging sounds – the result of delivery trucks slamming tailgates down on a concrete loading dock, and mail carts crashing into each other as workers unload mail for sorting. The activities typically begin as early as 4:30 or 5 a.m., said Morris, who believes Permanente Creek – located behind the facility – amplifies the noise.

“If you’re asleep and you’re awakened by it, you initially say, ‘I’ll just go back to sleep,’” Morris said of noise at the facility, a USPS retail location prior to the 2010 closure of the First Street post office. “But then, you’re awakened by it again and again and again.”

Kevin Hatch, a six-year resident of Rosemont Court, said he’s no stranger to the noises heard by Morris, either. At times, he noted, USPS trucks can be heard before they even reach the facility.

“Sometimes it sounds like there’s a helicopter dropping these trailers on the roadway from 15 feet up,” said Hatch, who added that some neighbors also hear conversations between USPS employees echoing through the creek.

Morris said she met with the facility’s postmaster to discuss the issue, to no avail. That led neighbors to seek the help of the Los Altos City Council. In a Jan. 22 report to the council, Councilwoman Val Carpenter noted that her efforts, which included sending a letter on behalf of the neighbors and meeting personally with Postmaster Makhan Mahal, ended with mixed results.

“Although it is clear that cities have no jurisdiction over federal facilities such as the post office, city staff has attempted to mitigate the situation, with limited success,” Carpenter concluded in her report.

“It’s embarrassing,” added Morris, who said one neighborhood couple moved out of their master bedroom, which faced the creek, to another part of their home to avoid the noise. “We’re the taxpayers. They should be working for us. We should get some respect.”

Suggested solutions

Hatch said that while he’s “not insensitive” to the facility’s need to conduct its work, not even inexpensive steps have been taken to reduce the noise. He suggested solutions such as coating the concrete loading dock with rubber to mitigate the noise of tailgates slamming down and adding rubber bumper strips and wheels to carts that carry mail from the trucks into the facility.

Morris added that denying off-schedule trucks the ability to deliver mail is another step the facility should consider implementing.

However, Debbie Skelton, a 32-year Los Altos resident on Fremont Avenue, said she believes the only practical solution is for the federal agency to construct a sound wall that shields neighbors from the noise.

“We’re not asking the post office to leave,” said Skelton, a middle-school teacher. “We’re simply asking for a barrier-type fence. … That’s all we’re asking – that they take some steps instead of ignoring us.”

USPS response

Reached by the Town Crier, USPS spokesman James Widbel said postal officials are aware of the neighbors’ concerns and have tried to address them.

“We have taken steps and have reduced the noise level in the mornings,” said Widbel, who noted that most morning deliveries typically occur between 5 and 7 a.m. “At the same time, we are required by law to process and deliver the mail.”

Widbel said the postal service has switched from 53-foot to 38-foot delivery trucks. He added that backup beeping mechanisms have been disabled on USPS trucks – something Hatch and Morris said isn’t always the case.

“We’ve done all that we can do at this point,” Widbel said. “I’m not aware of anything else that can be done from the post office’s standpoint.”

Morris said residents living near the facility are simply asking for “less disconnect” and more cooperation from the federal agency.

“We can’t get rid of it,” she said, “so let’s figure out how we can work together.”

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