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The 'Hood Tax,' An Example

April 2, 2015

Folks who do not live in the ‘Hood or are unfamiliar with its peculiarities are sometimes puzzled when the subject comes up of a special “‘Hood Tax” applied exclusively to residents of those neighborhoods. It’s an understandable confusion, since this is a tax that is generally invisible to outsiders, but a daily fact of life to those who live within the ‘Hood’s boundaries. It’s not a line item on our tax bill, though it is often in the form of some sort of monetary penalty or other. Most often it is a inconvenience applied to folks enacted for the privilege of living within the confines of areas we once called “the ghetto.”

Let me give just one example, of many.

Beginning a week or so ago, folks attempting to access the Marcus Foster Post Office Branch at 92nd and International in Oakland during the early afternoon were met with a locked door. A hand-written sign posted on the window read that the post office was closed “for lunch,” with no other explanation. (I’m sorry if it’s difficult to read the sign in the accompanying photograph. It was equally difficult trying to read the sign in person through the bars on the post office branch’s front door.)

Personally I had never seen a post office closed for lunch before, and so I found it puzzling until I realized—thinking back over my experiences at the branch counter over the past week—that apparently, the Marcus Foster Branch has been reduced, at least temporarily, to a single counter clerk. Normally the branch uses no less than two clerks and often in the past, there have been three at the facility, one of them doing whatever postal clerks do in the back while the other two serviced the counters. Those numbers were certainly needed. I can attest to the fact that at certain times of the day the Marcus Foster Branch can be extremely busy, with a line of ten or more people waiting at the counter.

The numbers of Marcus Foster customers has not lessened in recent months, not from my observation. On Tuesday when I found the branch closed for lunch, at least that many people drove up and attempted to access Marcus Foster in the few moments I was there.

It gets worse, though. As recently as last year, he Marcus Foster Branch used to provide two outside post office boxes in which to deposit your mail, one on the sidewalk on International and a second, drive-up box in the adjacent parking lot. For some reason, both of those have now been removed, the last one as recently as last month, and therefore the only way to deposit mail at the branch is to do so in the box inside the station itself.

And so, for at least an hour and a half each day, residents of the neighborhood surrounding the Marcus Foster postal branch do not have access to various post office services, including purchase of stamps or money orders, cannot pick up their mail from a rented box inside the station, and cannot deposit mail outside the station grounds. There are post offices within fifteen minutes  or so driving distance from the Marcus Foster Station, of course—the San Leandro Station and the Airport Station—but that eliminates the idea of a neighborhood post office, which was one of the original innovations of the U.S. Postal Service. And, of course, many residents attempting to use the Marcus Foster services are not going there by car, so they were completely out of luck if they arrived at the post office’s lunch time.

All of this was done without prior notice to the Marcus Foster Branch customers, so we have no idea if this is a permanent situation of a single branch counter clerk or only temporary and—if temporary—how long it’s expected to last.

We’re aware, of course, that our conservative Republican friends in Congress are busily trying to starve out the U.S. Post Office—in part to by breaking government programs to “prove” that government programs don’t work, in part to destroy one of the most popular and necessary government programs so that public support for government programs will wither and it will be easier to destroy those programs entirely, and in part so that needed services left over after the decimation of the post office can be taken over by the private corporations who finance are conservative Republican Congressional friends. So it’s those conservative Republican friends in Congress—and the American voters who enable them and the private companies that finance them—who share the ultimate blame for the national demise of a public postal service that was once the envy of much of the world.

However, while the Republicans in Congress forces a budget for the post office that requires painful cuts in service, it is the management of the post office itself that determines where and how those cuts are made.

One wonders what the regional management of USPS uses as justification for allowing such a radical reduction of service at a station like Marcus Foster, even if it’s on a temporary basis since having a post office whose hours one cannot rely upon can be worse than having no station at all.

That leaves one to wonder further if this isn’t a test run towards a closing of the Marcus Foster Branch altogether, on the theory that it will get less attention and, therefore, political kickback than, say, selling off the main post office branch in Berkeley. We’ve seen this movie before in our neighborhood, with private businesses such as banks and major supermarkets abandoning the area to consolidate their businesses in adjacent areas, such as San Leandro. That doesn’t stop ‘Hood residents from using these services. It only means that we are forced to leave our neighborhood to do so.

Thus, again, the ‘Hood Tax is explained.

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