10 months after the floods … Still no mail at Planada Post Office
By John M Derby & Reno Martinelli
Planada residents are very upset because it’s going on 10 months after the devastating floods last January, and the town’s Post Office is still far from being ready to open.
Finding who is to blame is not easy. When contacted by the Times, a spokesperson for the U.S. Postal Service in Sacramento said repairs to the building are still being made by the owner of the building, and no re-opening date has been sent. “We are also eager to return,” Meiko Patton said, “but the safety of our customers and employees are our No. 1 priority.”
Recently, two workers were seen at the site, but the progress appears to be very slow. The roof needs to be replaced, and the interior looks far from being finished.
Meanwhile, the frustration continues. While postal deliveries did resume to addresses in Planada about a month after the floods, locals say the mail for those with P.O. Boxes continues to be forwarded to the Bell Station Post Office in Merced. Some of these letters are payments made to the homebound seniors; however, caregivers are not being allowed to pick them up. Customers are reminded they need proper ID to make mail and package pickups.
“There has been a total lack of communication with the residents,” says Alicia Rodriguez, a community activist. “No one told us the property was not owned by the government at first. We were never told how long we would be without a Post Office, and we would have to continue to drive to Merced.”
Rodriguez continues, “We were excited when they said we would get $20 million in aid from the state, but the money sits in some kind of county account. Why isn’t some of it going to give us a temporary place to house the Post Office, while we wait and are forced to drive to Merced?”
The $20 million came to Merced County as part of an effort between local nonprofits, UC Merced researchers and state representatives that resulted in a state budget allocation. They found that few Planada residents could access initial FEMA disaster aid due to their citizenship status. Others had no unemployment benefits as credit card bills piled up.
This month, county government officials have been holding well-attended community workshops to discuss how the $20 million will be spent. Topics included home repairs, rental assistance, vehicle replacement and infrastructure. On Tuesday — right after the Times early holiday press deadline — the county’s Board of Supervisors were expected to review a draft spending plan. A final plan is expected to be approved on Dec. 5.
Supervisor Rodrigo Espinoza, who represents the Planada area, was not available for comment for this publication.
In all, Merced County has reportedly spent $5 million in flood response and recovery efforts in the region. The state has reportedly spent $13 million on debris removal.
Nevertheless, we feel Planada has suffered so much from that horrible flood. It was the Merced County Sheriff’s Department which immediately came to the aid of the town when no other agency was there to help.
Yes, new building is going on, but it still seems like Planada’s recovery has been put on the back burner.
Residents have to be commended for taking the matter of cleanup into their own hands.
The town is quite beautiful. On a recent visit, one could see homeowners out raking leaves. Parents were walking their little children to school.
In the past, Planada was a tough place to grow up. There were gangs and shootings. Those days seem to be in the rear view mirror, and today the town appears to be a quiet place. A safe place to raise a family.
Before the floods, the Post Office in Planada was known as a meeting place for community members. There was an active bulletin board just outside the doors, with notices of local events, like cleanups and health fairs. Now the empty Post Office remains an ongoing reminder of misfortune, frustration, and inactivity.
Maybe the County Supervisors could use their influence, cut some of the red tape, and let the local residents pitch in, and get the job done when government-as-usual just can’t.
John Derby is the publisher of the Times. Reno Martinelli is a former teacher in Planada.