PLEASANT HILL -- The familiar boxy building does not look much different, but a lease sign on the Pleasant Hill post office building caused some customers to fear its closure. That is not going to happen.

Like post offices across the nation, the Pleasant Hill branch is minimizing expenses by retaining half as much office space and ignoring sidewalk landscaping.

"Most people take it personally when they see something happening to their post office," Augustine Ruiz, U.S. Postal Service spokesperson notes. "They see us as a national icon."

A potential rent increase and the precarious USPS financial situation are behind the change locally.

The 30-year, $1,200 per month Pleasant Hill post office lease at 1945 Contra Costa Blvd. expired and building owner Richard Kultti asked the Postal Service for a rent increase.

"My father constructed the building specifically for the post office in the 1960s and the rent has not changed," Kultti said. "It's on part of what was originally 10 parcels that he bought in 1937."

While closing offices and cutting costs, news of a rent increase was just one more challenge for the USPS.

The USPS reported a $740 million net loss for the third quarter of its 2013 fiscal year, ending June 30. That report brought the Service's year-to date net loss to $3.9 billion.

Ruiz explained that the Postal Accountability Act passed by Congress in 2006 requires the postal service to prefund its retirement health benefit plans for the next 75 years (including anticipated, but not-yet-hired personnel), and compress the payment period to 10 years.

"In our case, it really is the difference between being able to remain solvent or not. We have not paid the last two payments," Ruiz said. "We already prefund our retirement. They required us to set aside $5.5 billion a year on top of that."

In Pleasant Hill, the postal service conceded 3,200 square feet, landlord maintenance of the interior and agreed to shared use of the rear loading dock area in order to keep its rent at a manageable level.

Concord and Pleasant Hill Postmaster Anthony Daniels said, "We were not using all of the space anyway."

When the Pleasant Hill office does need warehousing space to store products such as holiday cards for sale, they use the Concord main office.

Meanwhile, Park One leasing broker Terry Karp is marketing the remainder space. "We have several businesses interested in the newly created space; a paint company, a mattress company and others.

Pleasant Hill customers are just glad that their post office is not moving or closing. Frequent customer Opie Arnold said, "I work at Staples and come here a lot. It is just great (to have it here). I don't know where else I would go."

Pleasant Hill resident Dianne Glenn notices the lack of space and said, "The last time I was here, the lines went out the door and people got impatient."

But she is relieved to have the Pleasant Hill post office open.

Things are not so rosy for other postal facilities.

In July 2011, some 3,700 postal properties were marked for potential sale. By December 2012, that number was down to 999, including more than 50 historic offices that were sold or on the market for sale.

CB Richard Ellis Group (now CRBE) was given the exclusive contract to dispose of properties. Richard Blum, Sen. Dianne Feinstein's husband, is chairman of the board and Blum's Blum Capital is one of CRBE's biggest stockholders.

The Berkeley main post office was listed as relocation, but Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates says it really amounts to a sale of the historic 1930s building. The City Council is threatening to change zoning to limit uses there, and at surrounding historical sites.

Ruiz said, "That building is 57,000 square feet. We (USPS) are moving the letter carriers to another building that we own and we only need 4,000 square feet there. We hope to sell the building and lease back a portion of it."

Contact Dana guzzetti10@gmail.com.

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