CANYON -- Residents of this small unincorporated community tucked among the redwoods between Moraga and Oakland were told this week to expect further service cuts at their post office.
That isn't good news anywhere, but it's especially unwelcome in Canyon, population approximately 200, where the post office and the local grade school are the only public buildings. The post office is where people go for everything from community news to emergency preparedness training. And in an emergency, the post office can play a key role.
Fewer hours over fewer days, and perhaps without their resident second-generation postmistress, could deliver a stinging blow to Canyon.
"Our community is more of a relic of the Old West where things are much less standardized, and more individualized," Canyon resident Jonathan Goodwin said. "We don't have home mail delivery, so we all have to pick up our mail at the post office. That person, working there, becomes familiar with what's going on, and that person can help if an ambulance shows up and doesn't know where to go. This is not a small thing in a remote, out-of-the-way community."
"That person" running the office is lifelong Canyon resident Elena Tyrell. Goodwin, along with others in Canyon, have tried to save the post office from cutbacks that would mean fewer open hours and the loss of Tyrell as postmistress.
In 2012, the Canyon post office was added to a list of rural post offices whose hours the ailing U.S. Postal Service would cut as part of its "POSTplan" to keep rural offices open by adjusting retail hours to match customer use. The community's reaction was to band together for a letter-writing campaign to stave off change. They also lobbied the region's USPS public relations arm, the Bay-Valley Postal Customer Council, for a community meeting.
On Wednesday night, that long-awaited meeting took place. Canyon residents were told that, despite the community's efforts to keep the office running as is, it would soon be moving from a seven-hour workday five days a week (plus two hours each Saturday) to a six-hour day five days. Tyrell would be offered a position at a different post office.
The changes to the post office's hours could come as early as next month, USPS spokesman Augustine Ruiz said. Tyrell's position would be replaced by a part-time employee overseen by Moraga's postmistress.
Ruiz said the changes are necessary to close a $100,000 yearly deficit.
"By doing this we would be able to keep that post office open and continue to serve that community," he said. If revenue goes up in the future, as happened at a similarly sized post office outside of Sacramento, Canyon's hours and its postmaster position could be restored.
Goodwin worries that by replacing Tyrell with a less experienced employee who is unfamiliar with the community, they'll lose their reputation for excellent customer service.
"We have one of the best post offices around," Goodwin said. "If you live in Montclair you can drive down the hill, hunt for parking and stand in line for 2¿1/2-star service, or you can go the other way and come here where there's ample parking and five-star service."
Since the POSTplan was announced, the county has put up signs for the post office along the main arteries into the Canyon area, but according to the Postal Service, revenue has continued to follow the national trend downward.
As Wednesday night's meeting wrapped up, Tyrell was asked how she is handling the situation. Goodwin said she broke down in tears, saying she has been under extreme stress over the change and has had to miss a lot of work.
"She basically said, 'I need help.'" Goodwin said. "She was crying, saying she loved everyone in this community, and we said we love her, too."
Tyrell declined to comment, saying she wasn't feeling up to talking about it.
Jennifer Baires covers Orinda, Lafayette and Moraga. Contact her at 925-943-8378. Follower her at Twitter.com/jenniferbaires.