The Postal Service doesn't need to individually sort mail for 11,000 tenants living in San Francisco's residential hotels and can instead simply drop the mail at the front desk, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
The 22-page ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Seeborg is the latest turn in the two-year-old legal dispute between San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera and the post office.
In his ruling, Seeborg said forcing the Postal Service to change the way it delivers the mail to single room occupancy hotels could set a precedent for mail delivery to residential hotels across the country, which the Postal Service said would create 3.3 million more delivery points across the country, costing the struggling federal agency $300 million a year.
"The USPS need not cater to the needs of individualized communities or citizens, but must focus on creating an effective national postal system," Seeborg wrote.
The post office faces operating losses of $10 billion this year, according to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe.
In his ruling, Seeborg dismissed notions advanced by Herrera that units in SRO hotels are just like apartments, and that the post office should put letters in individual, locked mailboxes to protect residents' constitutional right to privacy.
The city argued that that SRO hotel managers regularly lose public-assistance checks and medical records, making it difficult for the city to run its welfare programs, and sometimes withhold mail as a way of intimidating residents.
But Seeborg said the Postal Service is not responsible for mail after it is properly delivered to an address, and has not violated residents' constitutional rights.
Randy Shaw, the executive director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which joined the city in its lawsuit, said he would appeal the decision. "We strongly disagree with the court's ruling treating low-income SRO residents as second-class citizens," he said.
Jack Song, a spokesman for Herrera, said the city attorney would decide "in the coming days" whether to appeal the case.
But Song said regardless of what happens in federal court, the city will continue to push for "full relief" for SRO residents, in the form of continued legal action before the Postal Regulatory Commission, a federal board that regulates the Postal Service.