East Palo Alto needs its own Zip Code!

ZIP (Zone Improvement Plan) Codes as a system designed to improve the sorting and delivery of mail was instituted in the United States in 1963. The zones when established, apparently were not intended to be aligned with municipal boundaries. In people’s minds however, regardless of the intent of the creators, ZIP Codes have become indistinguishable from cities and communities. This has been equally true for businesses.

The first digit, 0-9 designates the general area of the country with numbers increasing as you move west. For example 0 covers Maine while 9 refers to California. The next two digits refers to one of the 455 Sectional Center Facilities (SCFs) in the country. A SCF is a postal facility that serves as the distribution and processing center for post offices in a designated geographic area, which is defined by the first three digits of the ZIP Code of those offices. This facility may serve more than one 3-digit ZIP Code range. There are 23 such facilities in California. The one located in San Francisco serves all three digit codes in the following ranges 940-41 and 943-944

3-digit codes refer to the first 3 digits of the 5-digit ZIP Code. For instance, the ZIP Code 94303 has a 3-digit of 943. Any ZIP Code starting with 943 would be grouped into this 3-digit area. There are 929 3-digit ZIP Codes in the country.

94303, a Zip Code that East Palo Alto shares with a large segment of Palo Alto is usually identified with both East Palo Alto and Palo Alto, two very distinctly different communities. On line transactions that ask for zip codes invariably populate the “city” box with Palo Alto rather than East Palo Alto. There is probably no evidence that East Palo Alto is shortchanged or credited unfairly in its utility tax collections, however erring on the side of caution, a separate zip code would clarify the location of City of East Palo Alto businesses in no uncertain terms.

I am sure there are East Palo Alto businesses and residents who relish the confusion and would most rather be identified as being located in neighboring Palo Alto or in Silicon Valley. I do however believe that times have changed and the reputation that the city may have had at one time that might have fueled this desire is certainly no longer evident. Both the Ravenswood Regional Retail Center and the University Circle Development have been completed; several housing developments have also been completed, houses that have attracted new residents from across the peninsula.

An online search for ZIP Codes by County has the City of East Palo Alto in Santa Clara County! Little wonder that people are confused as to which county the City of East Palo Alto is in. A separate ZIP Code would alleviate this confusion.

It is clear that East Palo Alto has its own singularly different identity and that as such that uniqueness in character and location should be recognized by assigning a separate ZIP Code. It is also clear in my mind that when the Codes were set up back in 1963, East Palo Alto should have had a different ZIP Code assigned to if only to acknowledge that it did belong to San Mateo County and not the County of Santa Clara. Perhaps the assignors were unaware that although the community was called East Palo Alto, it was never a part of Palo Alto. It certainly was not ‘east” of Palo Alto, at best it was and still is north-east of Palo Alto.

San Mateo, with 32 cities including unincorporated communities, has a total of 53 zip codes. Moss Beach with a land area of 1.79 square miles and a population of 1,953 (2000 Census) has one zip code. San Mateo with a land area of 14.7 and a population of 92,482 has 10 codes-the largest number in the county.

There are 57 codes in the 001-100 series in San Mateo that are unassigned to communities within the County. Of those 57, 15 have been assigned to communities in Santa Clara County. The question is why can East Palo Alto not be assigned one of these numbers?

There are several examples of communities successfully petitioning and acquiring new ZIP Codes. For example, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, was originally issued the 19117 ZIP Code, although it lies in Montgomery County. Residents petitioned the USPS for a 190-prefix ZIP code, which is common to the inner-ring Pennsylvania suburbs of that city, and, after several attempts that were initially disapproved by the USPS, Elkins Park was finally reassigned to the 19027 ZIP code.

In the District of Columbia, under pressure from then-mayor of Washington, D.C., Marion Barry, the USPS realigned the postal boundaries between the District of Columbia and Maryland to match the actual boundary lines.

A congressional hearing in 1990 of a House postal subcommittee, acknowledging the misalignment of ZIP Code and municipal boundaries considered three bills that would have allowed local governments, rather than the Postal Service, to determine local addresses or ZIP Code boundaries. Unfortunately protests by the USPS led to the bills dying at the sub-committee level.

USPS was however persuaded to develop a process for the regular review of ZIP Code boundaries. In fact, under Section 439 of the Postal Operations Manual, postmasters are responsible for reviewing ZIP code assignments in their areas and proposing changes if operational and financial conditions justify them.

When was the last ZIP Code assignment review done? What were the recommendations?

The City has basically several options in terms of getting its own ZIP code: The Postmaster’s office in its regular review of ZIP code assignments may conclude that for operational, financial or other reasons, the City of East Palo Alto may qualify to have its own ZIP code; the community may start a petition to have the United States Postal Service give serious consideration to assigning a separate code to East Palo Alto; the City Council can itself petition to have an East Palo Alto Zip Code; or finally, both the community and the City Council can concurrently petition for a new zip code.

According to the USPS, an average of 25,170 5-digit ZIP Code changes are made on a monthly basis. East Palo Alto can certainly be one of those changes!

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