City Howl Help Desk: When your neighbor is the federal government

THE PROBLEM: Seth Trance has issues with the business next door.

Employees and delivery trucks park on the sidewalk, making it hard for pedestrians to get by. A commercial waste receptacle used by the business sits on the street unsealed, against city regulations, and Trance said the surrounding sidewalk is often dirty. Poor lighting around the building attracts violent crime and drug dealers at night, he said.

One of the irritants: Parking on the sidewalk.

Normally, if the city agreed with Trance, who heads the Francisville Neighborhood Development Corp.'s zoning committee, there are measures it could take to help him. The Parking Authority and the Streets Department could issue tickets or try to pressure the business it to be a better neighbor.

But not in this case.

See, the business next door to Trance is a post office. And because the U.S. Postal Service is a federal entity, the city's hands are pretty much tied.

YOU'VE GOT MAIL. Trance began his battle with the post office at 19th and Poplar when he moved into the house next door about four years ago. He said a tree on the post-office property knocked down a wall in his back yard.

Trance said he reached a settlement with the USPS for the damage (the Postal Service would only confirm that it took down a tree), but he had other issues. He wants the post office to do a better job of cleaning up around the trash container - he said it often smells like urine and attracts short-dumping. The city requires that such trash containers be sealed and the area around them kept clean.

Trance is also upset that some of the office's windows are broken and that red paint is peeling off the exterior.

Then there's the building's lack of lighting - especially in the rear, which Penny Giles, executive director of the neighborhood group, said is "a magnet for people who want to do things illegal."

The vehicles parked on the sidewalk are the icing on the cake.

THE POSTAL SERVICE RESPONDS. Postal Service spokeswoman Cathy Yarosky admitted that workers park on the sidewalk illegally.

She said that the office doesn't have enough space at its loading dock to handle the five trucks assigned to the facility and that workers have to "double up" trucks in order to fit them all.

And an overnight supervisor sometimes parks his car on the sidewalk when he arrives at 2 a.m. for "safety reasons." He moves his vehicle at 8 a.m., she said.

Bad lighting isn't causing the danger, though, according to Yarosky, who said Trance should ask the city to install more streetlights if he thinks lighting is a problem.

Yarosky pushed back on Trance and Giles' other assertions, saying that the post office is well-maintained - the broken windows are slated for replacement - and that the waste receptacle is cared for. She said it happens to not be properly sealed at the moment because its chain was recently stolen. Yarosky said the building manager will buy a new chain shortly.

"We have listened to Mr. Trance and done what we can to accommodate his requests, within reason," she wrote in an email.

DON'T MESS WITH THE FEDS. Unfortunately for Trance, the city is limited in what it can do to help him.

The Parking Authority said its hands are pretty much tied because a federal court has ruled that municipalities aren't allowed to ticket postal trucks.

Spokeswoman Linda Miller said that Trance might have some luck getting the supervisor's car ticketed and that he should call the police if he sees a car parked in front of the building. (The Parking Authority isn't out in force that early.)

As for the alleged trash-receptacle and cleaning violations, mayoral spokeswoman Katie Martin said, "We have limited legal authority to compel the federal government to maintain their properties."

The office of U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, who represents Francisville, said it is not involved in the situation.


Some better news


A few months ago, we brought you the story of Leslie Blackwood, a Grays Ferry resident who was trying to get city help in cleaning up trash that had been accumulating in her alleyway.

It turns out that the city isn't responsible for alleyway maintenance - the residents are - and we weren't able to find anyone who would help Blackwood move the cinderblocks and tree limbs that had been left in hers.

Enter the managing director's office. After our story, Blackwood got a call, and city crews came out over the course of two days and cleaned away all of the debris.

"They did a good job cleaning the alley. You can walk through it," Blackwood said.

Have you dealt with city services lately? How'd it go? Let us know at, email or call 215-854-5855.