Castella will not let its post office go without a fight was the message from citizens to United States Postal Service representatives last Wednesday night.

Castella will not let its post office go without a fight was the message from citizens to United States Postal Service representatives last Wednesday night.

The special community meeting in the Castle Rock Elementary School auditorium was called by Sacramento US Postal Service officials to announce a discontinuance feasibility study of the mailing facility.

Castella resident Sherri Withrow said she collected names from the 30 to 40 people there who would take a stand against such a proposition. “We are forming a group,” Withrow said Sunday. “We definitely will not take the closing of our post office sitting down.”

The USPS stated in a letter to the community that the Castella post office study was in response to declining workload and a steady drop in revenue “and/or volume.” It cited changes in customer needs, suggesting that online communications and the ability to pay bills over the internet may have reduced the need for a local, brick-and-mortar office.

The Castella facility serves about 300 customers in the 96017 Zip Code region, ranging from the Shasta/Siskiyou County line, down to Sims, according to Castella facility Officer in Charge Gary Kujda. He said there are 225 mostly letter-size boxes available and that fewer than half, 107, are currently rented.

Residents told USPS representatives James Anderson and Sandra Raymond that they were not familiar with conditions specific to the tiny town. It is unincorporated, not a city. The only semblance of a business center in Castella is the post office and Ammirati's, a gas station/mini-mart across the parking lot.

“We have an older community that depends on snail mail,” Ammirati's Assistant Manager Nick Demarco explained later. “They need to take smaller post offices on a case-to-case basis.”

Withrow cited difficulty with reception in the rugged region. In a draft letter provided to the press, she wrote, “Direct TV refused to install service at my home because they could not get a satellite signal. I do not get cell phone service at my house. It only works if I walk out to the railroad tracks. When there is heavy cloud cover, as it is most of the winter, reception is lost or very sporadic, so it is not a viable means to pay bills or communicate.”

The USPS visitors received a similar response when they suggested that the office in Lakehead, 22.5 miles south, could serve their postal needs, according to the USPS letter.

“I can see where they want to save money,” said Dave Arnold of Sweetbriar later. “But causing us to drive 45 miles round-trip to get our mail is not saving us anything. The only time I go to Lakehead is passing it on the way to Redding, and I don't do that often.”

Phyllis Allen of Sims said her husband receives his medication in the mail. She worried about access to a post office during winter. “Sims is four miles from the Castella post office,” she said. “If they closed the road, we would not be able to make it to Lakehead. But it's an easy jump to Castella.”

Elementary school and Pacific Crest Trail
Questions were raised about the accuracy of USPS claims of low workload. Castle Rock Elementary School principal Mark Telles reported that they receive 20 to 30 pieces of mail a day, every school day. “If we needed to send something registered mail, we would go two times that day,” he said. “Many items are time sensitive and need to be responded to right away. Some are mandated by the state.”

Telles said he wants the Castella post office to stay, cautioning, “If we had to make a 20-mile trip each way, every day, it would not be a good thing for the district.”

Many residents pointed to extensive use by hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail, which passes by Castella two miles north. Officer in Charge Kujda confirmed claims of hundreds of packages moving through the small office each hiking season. “They pick up their supplies here,” he said. “And then they ship some of that ahead.”

Said 11-year Ammirati's cashier Gina Bartoo, “The hikers spend hundreds of dollars here in the summer. Oh, they buy hundreds of candy bars – and everything really.”

60-day posting and invitation for comments
The community meeting was the first step toward determining whether or not the Castella post office will close. According to a handout distributed there, a 60-day public posting of the proposal has begun, along with an invitation for written customer comments. After that will come the final decision, which will be posted publicly for 30 days. Customers will have another 30 days to appeal the decision.

The Castella post office is one of nearly 3,700 small postal facilities under examination by the USPS, according to numerous sources online. Earlier this year, Postmaster General Patrick Donahue declared in a press release, “Our customers’ habits have made it clear they no longer require a physical post office to conduct most of their postal business.”

But to Verna White Franchi it is about more than just a place to conduct postal business. “My concern is for the survival of the community,” she said in front of the small post office Friday.
“The tourism, the convenience of having a local post office and grocery store – it's like a symbiotic relationship. With the loss of any part of that, we'll lose the school and then the community.”

Said Assistant Manager Demarco, “If you had multiple post offices in an area, you could get rid of one, and no problem. But for us, this is it.”