From the outside, the post office on Chula Vista’s Third Avenue looks exactly as it has for decades, with its rows of sand-colored columns and opaque windows.
It’s easy to notice, even from the lobby, that the 56,500 square foot facility has undergone a major renovation.
Step inside its processing shop and you’ll get a glimpse of the future of the U.S. Postal Service.
“It’s not your grandparents’ post office anymore,” said Mayra Elena, customer relations coordinator at the South County location. “La Poste is evolving.”
Behind her were a handful of co-workers chatting as they placed packages on a conveyor belt and others sipping coffee while waiting for mail carriers to arrive just before their 8 a.m. shift on a recent Thursday.
The typical early morning job of manually scanning and sorting thousands of mail items by zip code in time to load them for delivery is now set at a more favorable pace.
“It used to be a lot more stressful, especially during the holiday season,” said Jacqueline Arias, a distribution clerk. “But for now, it’s only 8 a.m. and we’re almost finished, whereas before we sometimes finished until 9 a.m.”
All thanks to technology.
In the center of the floor is a large conveyor belt which has already increased processing by 15 percent since it went live in September. The Chula Vista Sortation and Delivery Center, as it is now known, processes an average of 3,100 packages per hour, or up to 18,000 per day for three zip codes that cover most of Chula Vista and Imperial Beach: 91910, 91911, 91932.
Employees were accustomed to a less ergonomic routine, they said: unloading cages full of packages, bending over to pick them up and carrying them to the correct delivery area.
Now, employees load mail items onto the long conveyor belt, which scans each item and identifies which bin to drop it to. From there, the bins are transported for delivery. It also gives workers more time to check their large digital screens for errors, such as poor quality labels on packages.
“That doesn’t take away from the human component,” Elena said. “You still need a clerk to sort things if (the conveyor belt) can’t scan it, if a piece of mail falls out, to make sure it gets rerouted if necessary. But now everything is done much faster and more efficiently.”
The processing area was also reorganized to have designated and labeled stations for mail carriers to prepare their routes, supervisors to better communicate agendas, and to accommodate Imperial Beach mail carriers. Each postman also uses improved scanners that look like smartphones and are less bulky to carry. They also have improved GPS systems and are timing friendly.
In addition to the infrastructure upgrade, the facility appears more modern and lively. There’s brighter lighting, fresh paint, new flooring in the restrooms, improved workstations for floor supervisors and even an upgraded dining room with more seating and refrigerators.
As the USPS replaces its carrier vehicles with electric vehicles, the Chula Vista facility is expected to eventually accommodate electric vehicle charging stations.
All of these changes are part of USPS Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s massive 10-year effort to modernize its nationwide delivery network. The Chula Vista sortation and delivery center is one of the first in the country and the first in San Diego County to come online.
The $40 billion plan, now in its third year, aims to better position the agency to compete in the package business with rivals like UPS and Amazon, which opened last year a 550,000 square foot sorting facility in Otay Mesa capable of processing packages. 18,000 packages per hour with the help of robots. The USPS plan also aims to avoid $160 billion in losses over the next decade as fewer people send first-class mail.
Dubbed “Delivering for America,” the strategy involves raising prices, reducing post office hours, adding more than 60,000 electric vehicles to the agency’s fleet and opening or converting post offices. station in new sorting and delivery centers. The Postal Service opened sorting and delivery centers in Athens, Georgia, Texas, New York, Florida and Massachusetts. More than 100 new sites across the country are also being considered. Chula Vista was selected, in part, for its size to accommodate new infrastructure and its location to add 13 routes from Imperial Beach.
“This is the future of the Postal Service,” said Postmaster Henry Roberson, who has worked for the USPS for more than 20 years. He previously worked in post offices in San Diego and Imperial Beach. Now at the Third Avenue location, he oversees about 170 employees and 101 routes that cover most of Chula Vista and, recently added, Imperial Beach.
Even with technological improvements and reorganization of facilities, post office operations can be stressful. But even before it came online, the Chula Vista Post Office heard Imperial Beach residents’ concerns about the future of Imperial Beach’s only post office, an 18,000-square-foot facility that the USPS leases on Donax Avenue and Emory Street.
Duke Gonzalez, a Postal Service spokesman, reiterated last month that the Imperial Beach location would not close and that customers would not experience changes to retail and post office box operations. Customers will still be able to collect undelivered packages.
Critics of the 10-year plan said the conversions would lead to inefficient routes and delays in mail delivery. The Imperial Beach Post Office is approximately 5.5 miles southwest of Chula Vista.
Roberson said the key to policing is welcoming and adapting to change, as well as respecting others.
“Because at the end of the day, we’re all here to provide a service and we want to make sure we’re doing it right for the benefit of the South Bay community,” he said.
This story originally appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune.
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