For Jim Hopfinger, learning that the street one of his tenants was living on was forced to accept a group mailbox was a bit of déjà vu.
It’s a battle Hopfinger fought with the post office in 1989 and in 2006, when the U.S. Postal Service attempted to force him and his neighbors to accept curbside mailboxes or lose their mail service.
This time, he’s fighting the installation of a “cluster box” that he said inconveniences residents and is illegal since they were already getting mail at their homes.
“It’s the same situation, and the law hasn’t changed,” Hopfinger said. “Every time we get a new postmaster, he breaks the statute.”
A Postal Service spokesman said this time the issue is a matter of safety, citing a dozen complaints about dogs in the area threatening mail carriers.
“We have to do what we can to protect our carriers,” said Ernie Swanson, a Postal Service spokesman with the regional office in Seattle.
Hopfinger, who owns a house on South 21st Avenue that he rents out, had his first fight over mail delivery in 1989, when he moved into a home and found that the Postal Service installed a mailbox at the curb and would no longer deliver mail to the box by the house’s front door.
He was told that since he was moving into the home, the mailbox had to be moved. And when he objected, he was told his mail could not be delivered.
The change was ordered to make deliveries more cost-efficient by eliminating a carrier’s need to get in and out of the truck, postal officials said in a May 1989 Yakima Herald-Republic article.
Hopfinger initially accepted the curbside box but insisted on using his own and having it placed in a spot that was more convenient for him.
But he then learned that the Postal Service could not change how mail is delivered to an address just because a new owner moves into the house. Postal workers can ask for or recommend they change, but if the resident insists on keeping the old method, it will remain in place, according to Postal Service regulations.
He had the box removed but fought the same battle again in 2006, and won, with help from then-4th District U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings.
The current round of problems began in December when mail service was initially stopped, but it was restored after a homeowner in the area worked with U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse’s office. Then on June 11, 16 homes in the 600 block of South 21st Street were informed they would have to go to a cluster box at the end of the street for their mail.
For Brandon Glossen, who rents a home from Hopfinger, it is an inconvenience for him to have to walk on a prosthetic leg 150 feet from his house to the mailbox.
“It’s hard for me to walk down there with my two kids,” Glossen said. “We’ve driven our car down there to get the mail, but there’s no place to turn around, so we have to go around the block.”
Swanson, the Postal Service spokesman, said the new mailbox was installed because of problems with dogs menacing carriers in the neighborhood. He said the Yakima postmaster had a dozen reports from several carriers that dogs were threatening mail carriers.
“It’s fine if the dog is just in the yard barking,” Swanson said. “Apparently, these dogs wander up and down the street.”
In Glossen’s case, Swanson said he could talk to the postmaster to have service restored to his home.
Glossen and Hopfinger disputed the reason for the change in service.
“I’m home on medical leave from work. I don’t hear any barking,” Glossen said. “I don’t see any dogs wandering around the property.”
And, Glossen questioned why the Postal Service would be willing to deliver mail just to his house if the neighborhood was so dangerous.
Hopfinger said the only dog issue he was aware of was one person on the block who had a dog behind a fence in the yard that barked at mail carriers.
“I think it is an excuse to cut service,” Hopfinger said.
U.S. Postal Service regulations give customers the option to challenge what they deem as “improper mode of delivery,” and Hopfinger said he and others have contacted Newhouse’s office for help. Representatives there couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.