When a package intended for Jennifer Moe package was sent back to its sender, the action resulted in a four-month delay before her daughter could get a needed surgery.
Moe’s is just one of many anecdotes residents of Shandon tell when they try to illustrate how seemingly small hiccups with their mail can completely screw with their lives. They talk of smaller problems (like missing out on rebates from cable providers), larger headaches (like car parts not getting to a local mechanic), and more serious issues like what Moe experienced.
“This has been going on for about two years, and I finally had enough of her stuff when she started sending people’s medications back,” said Shandon resident John Barrett, who’s been at the forefront of the residents frustrated with their local postmaster.
By “her,” Barrett meant the newest Shandon postmaster, Katherine Kennerly. And by “her stuff,” he meant Kennerly’s strict adherence to postal policies, which has irked many residents in the unincorporated town of about 1,300 people.
Kennerly took over as postmaster for Shandon in 2012, replacing Rosario Cano, who in turn replaced Donna Ellis in late 2008. Though the issue can be hard to grasp at times, Ellis described it this way: “In Shandon, if it has street address and not a P.O. Box, it is returned to sender.”
That wasn’t always the case. About 80 percent of the town’s population relies on a P.O. box, Ellis said. The other 20 percent of people are able to have mail delivered directly. But it’s the 80 percent who’ve experienced issues.
Residents who rely on P.O. boxes are technically supposed to have all mail addressed to their P.O. boxes. If a letter or package is wrongly addressed to a physical address, it’s sent back per postal policy.
But in a small town like Shandon, where previous postmasters could vouch for most residents when mail was incorrectly addressed, mail got to customers without issue, several residents told New Times. When Kennerly began enforcing the postal policies, they said, the result was often returned packages.
“We’re talking about vehicle registrations, medications, mortgage documents, tax documents, and she sends them back,” Barrett said. “It’s been a nightmare for a lot of people.”
After a few early attempts to fix the problem, Barrett began walking door to door, collecting 112 signatures from similarly frustrated residents, he said. He sent his petition to Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara), the United States postmaster general, FedEx, and UPS.
For Barrett, the problem took shape when he was unable to have art supplies delivered. He said he also used to receive his medications through the mail, but after having his mail sent back without his knowledge, he now picks up those meds in Paso Robles.
Ellis told New Times she’s regularly approached by other residents who beg her to fix their issues, but as of yet she said no real resolution had been reached.
For others, the problem has been much worse. Moe, for example, said her 6-year-old daughter was scheduled for surgery in a Los Angeles hospital. Her daughter, who suffers from congenital heart defect, was healthy at the time, but the paperwork never arrived. Moe later learned that the hospital had used the correct P.O. box, but listed her daughter’s name. The slight mistake resulted in the local post office sending that paperwork back to the hospital, Moe said.
“At the end of the day, pertaining to my daughter, that can be life threatening,” she said.
She was eventually able to reschedule, but said her daughter fell ill and had to wait an additional four months before she could actually have the surgery. More recently, Moe said the paperwork for a mortgage on her new home was also returned as undeliverable.
With many other situations similar to what Moe described, and some residents looking for new ways to receive mail that don’t involve their local post office (Moe said she has important paperwork now shipped to her husband’s workplace in Paso Robles) Capps’ office became involved to try and quell the situation. However, several residents said the problem hasn’t been resolved.
Kennerly declined to comment and referred New Times to U.S. Postal Service spokesman James Wigdel. According to Wigdel, there was no change in policy, as some residents have speculated, but rather the Shandon Post Office began to follow the appropriate policy.
“This is not a postal policy change,” Wigdel said. “This is a postal policy that’s being enforced.”
To address the situation, Wigdel said the office would allow residents to list the Shandon Post Office as a physical address in situations where they cannot list a P.O. box (some online retailers don’t accept P.O. boxes, for example).
These types of issues happen from time to time in small towns, he added. The office is continuing to address issues as they arise. And while he acknowledged there are still problems, Wigdel said he believed things would smooth over soon.
“The important thing is that people are getting their mail,” Wigdel said.
Chris Meagher, a spokesman for Capps’ office, said there were no other known problems with other post offices in the district.
“Our office has been in close contact with officials from the United States Postal Service to try to resolve this issue to ensure the residents of Shandon are properly receiving their mail,” he said via email. “The congresswoman is continuing to work with the Postal Service to resolve the problem as quickly as possible.”
Yet some residents are simply boycotting the office, or foregoing their P.O. boxes and installing street-side boxes. Even so, a few residents said they were told that they couldn’t install boxes.
Mike Kennedy, who owns Western Crane and Diesel, said he filed paperwork to install a street-side box after running into problems when packages addressed to his business—rather than a P.O. box—were sent back.
“I won’t mail from there, I won’t do anything down there, I’ve totally boycotted her,” he said, adding that others in the town have been unable to install street boxes.
Residents who spoke with New Times said they recognized the need to have letters and packages sent with the appropriate shipping information, but many seemed to just want more leeway.
“The way I look at it, I mean yeah, we all have to be under scrutiny to make sure we fill things out right,” Moe said. “But there are those certain circumstances where you have no control over it. … It’s not worth risking the life of somebody because I don’t have the paperwork.”
Senior Staff Writer Colin Rigley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.