Secured Mailbox Options in University Hills Update
April 15, 2019

Dear University Hills Resident,

In response to our concerns over mail and identify theft, the U.S. Postal Service has officially given the University Hills community permission to install individual lockable mailboxes, provided they meet criteria outlined in the March 19, 2019 letter from Irvine Postmaster Cassandra Nuby. (LINK TO USPS LETTER) The USPS letter offers University Hills customers one of two options for secure mail delivery:
  • Option 1 – individual locking mailboxes approved by the Irvine Postmaster, or
  • Option 2 – centralized cluster locking boxes providing a secure outgoing mail slot and parcel lockers as well as individual locking boxes for each home. It is worthwhile to note that the USPS will only accept ONE of the options for ALL 821 homes affected by this decision. Newer phases of University Hills currently are served by cluster boxes and are unaffected. (LINK TO EXAMPLES OF BOXES)

Under Option 1, the purchase of individual locking mailboxes (including the cost of installation and removal of the old box) would be the responsibility of each homeowner following approval by the Irvine Postmaster and the Homeowner Representative Board (HRB); individual residents may elect to keep their existing non-lockable mailboxes. For Option 2, Postmaster Nuby offered to purchase the cluster boxes (though not the cost to install nor the cost to remove old boxes and posts) through a USPS program established to promote more efficient mail delivery. This offer is predicated on a location plan that she and her team create and approve; the University Hills community would have no opportunity to modify that plan. (LINK TO USPS CLUSTER BOX PLAN) Furthermore, Option 2 would require that ALL 821 households with individual mailboxes switch to cluster boxes.

Last week, the HRB and the ICHA Board discussed these options at length and agreed that the final decision should be made by University Hills residents. Accordingly, ICHA staff was directed by the ICHA Board to implement a two-step process to:
1. Identify the community’s general preference via a survey for:
  • Continuing the status quo, meaning that we take no community-wide action. However, residents will now have the option to buy and install lockable boxes on their own, subject to approval by the HRB, the Irvine Postmaster, and any neighbors who might be adversely affected by the change. OR,
  • A community-wide switch to cluster boxes.
2. Conduct a formal election should the preference in Step 1 show a strong desire for cluster boxes.

I am providing additional detail below on the two options, estimated costs, and the decision-making process. There are links to maps, flow charts, and other information so community members can educate themselves on the issues and make an informed selection. Following your review, please participate in the preference survey.

I and the rest of the ICHA team appreciate the opportunity to advocate on behalf of the University Hills community.

Sincerely,
Victor Van Zandt
CEO & President, Irvine Campus Housing Authority
Secured Mailbox Options in University Hills
 
Introduction

Since at least 2015, University Hills residents have expressed concerns about mail theft in the community.  The Homeowner Representative Board (HRB) and ICHA are aware that many residents continue to be deeply worried about not only the security of their inbound and outbound mail, but about the potential for identity theft. ICHA staff has been working to get clarity from the Irvine Post Office regarding whether lockable individual mailboxes would be allowed in University Hills. After phone calls, waiting in person at the Sand Canyon Post Office multiple times, and e-mails, Andrew Herndon and Victor Van Zandt from ICHA were finally able to meet with Irvine Postmaster Cassandra Nuby in March 2019. In this meeting, Herndon & Van Zandt advocated for University Hills residents and expressed to the Post Office community concerns regarding mail and identity theft. 

Lockable Options

In this meeting, the Irvine Postmaster agreed to issue a formal letter to all residents with individual mailboxes noting that lockable boxes are allowed as long as they have a 5 x 11 inch opening and that the boxes be approved by the Irvine Postmaster prior to installation.  (LINK TO USPS LETTER) The Irvine Postmaster also provided an alternative solution, offering to purchase cluster boxes though a USPS program designed to make mail delivery more efficient. This offer is predicated on these conditions:
  • The Postmaster and her team create and approve a plan for the cluster box locations and “service areas.” The University Hills community would NOT be able to modify the number of cluster boxes or their locations. What you see on the map is what the community would get
  • The community would cover the cost of installation and the cost to remove old boxes and posts.
  • ICHA would manage the entire project.

Andrew Herndon and Kim Encinas from ICHA subsequently walked University Hills with a Post Office representative and identified potential common area locations for potential cluster boxes. The Post Office then identified 13 locations for the cluster boxes. The draft map of these locations can be found HERE (LINK TO MAP) . The Post Office may make a few small modifications in coming weeks based on work flow criteria, but the basic locations and “service areas” will remain as shown.  

So, for those University Hills residents who currently have individual mail boxes, there are two possible options allowed by the Post Office to provide lockable mailboxes:
Option 1: Residents can purchase a lockable individual box if:
  • The opening for delivery is at least 5 x 11 inches;
  • The box is individually approved by the Irvine Postmaster prior to installation;
  • The box is approved by the HRB for aesthetic, location, neighbor coordination; and
  • Individual homeowners are responsible for installation costs and costs to remove the old mailbox.
Option 2: The Post Office will pay for cluster boxes for all 821 homes currently serviced via individual mailboxes if:
  • Residents pay for installation costs for the cluster boxes.
  • ICHA is offering to pay for removal and recycling of old boxes and repair any irrigation or landscaping damage from that removal if this option is chosen by the community.

ICHA staff reviewed these options with both the HRB and the ICHA Board last week. Both boards agreed that residents who currently have individual mailboxes should make the choice between 1) status quo (individual mailboxes remain, lockable individual boxes may be purchased and installed by each resident) and 2) a switch of all 821 individual mailboxes to cluster boxes in the 13 locations identified by the Post Office. (LINK TO EXAMPLES OF BOXES)

Cost Estimates

Lockable mailboxes found online by ICHA staff that meet the Postmaster’s criteria appear to cost between $100 and $500. Installation cost would be additional if the resident elected to hire someone to do the installation.  Any additional poles needed for the installation would cost more, as well. ICHA staff has seen costs between $80 and $150 per pole depending on material and finish.

ICHA is working to obtain cost estimates for the installation of cluster boxes —the homeowners portion of the proposed switch to cluster boxes. At this time, the estimates for installation labor, the concrete slab that the cluster boxes are mounted upon, soil removal, landscape and irrigation work as needed, additional lighting, and a small contingency appears to be less than $100 per homeowner with an individual mailbox. ICHA proposes that the cost of this work be added to the monthly assessment for 12 months starting the month after mail delivery is operational to the cluster boxes. Obviously, this installation cost would only be assessed to those homeowners who had an individual mailbox that was replaced with a cluster box. The actual total costs will be divided by the 821 homes and charged pro rata over the next 12 months as a supplemental assessment to the monthly assessment. This supplemental assessment mechanism is delineated in the Ground Sublease between ICHA and each homeowner.

Process

Those residents with individual mailboxes will be offered a 2-step process to voice their opinion:

1.  A survey to be launched today through Sunday, May 5 at 11:59 PM to determine the community’s general preference between Option 1 and Option 2. 
  • If a simple majority of those who choose to participate show a preference for the status quo, then no election will be held.
  • If a simple majority of those who choose to participate show a preference for cluster boxes, then a formal election will be held. 
2. A formal Election with one vote per home that has an individual mailbox will be held starting Thursday, May 23rd through Sunday, June 9 at 11:59 PM.
  • If a simple majority of all homeowners with an individual mailbox vote for status quo, then no cluster boxes will be pursued.
  • If a simple majority of all homeowners with an individual mailbox vote for cluster boxes, then ICHA will begin the process with the Post Office to obtain bids, execute contracts, and install the cluster boxes. 
             a.   It is ICHA’s intent as of this letter to begin this process in June 2019 and expedite the transition to cluster boxes.
             b.   Once the process is complete, individual mail boxes will no longer have mail delivered to them. They will be removed once the mail delivery is fully operational at the cluster boxes.
Why an election? ICHA staff discussed this process with corporate counsel, who advised that any switch to cluster boxes occur via an election and have a majority of homeowners with individual mailboxes vote “yes” to such a switch. The ICHA Board concurred with counsel’s advice to ensure that the will of the majority of residents with individual mailboxes was implemented.

Additional Items
              
If in either the survey or the formal election residents with individual mailboxes vote for the status quo, then HRB will come up with guidelines:
-- Aesthetics of the box (size, color, relationship to existing, etc.)
-- How to integrate new boxes into existing mailbox “trees.” 
  • Mailboxes would need to be installed on the same tree or immediately adjacent per the USPS.
  • For situations needing a separate pole, locations need to be determined. There may be conditions where the proposed box WILL NOT work. Remember, some of the current mailbox locations are in private yards. Neighbors MAY NOT add new boxes and poles in someone else’s yard without their permission in writing and approved by the HRB. 

In order to simplify the process for residents who wish to install an individual lockable mail box, ICHA and HRB will coordinate with the post office to attempt to identify and pre-approve a variety of boxes that:
  • Meet USPS criteria (5 x 11 inch opening, height of opening from street surface, etc.)
  • Meet yet-to-be determined HRB guidelines for aesthetics. (e.g.: white or grey is OK, purple with orange stripes is not OK.)
  • This would simplify the process for residents who wish to install an individual lockable mail box.

ICHA will publish results of both the survey and the election (should an election be selected) via e-mail the week the survey and the election conclude.
Irvine Campus Housing Authority
(949) 824-2424
ICHA reserves the right to send to an unsubscribed e-mail certain important communications such as construction notifications or emergencies. The unsubscribed status will be respected for all other ICHA or HRB communications.