With copper thefts a growing problem in the area, Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill advanced by State Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan (D-15th) that stiffens penalties for both buyer and sellers.
The bill, AB 1971, makes it clear that the theft of copper -- along with stainless steel and aluminum -- from public property is an act of vandalism in addition to a theft. It also increases the potential fine from $250 to $1,000 for those who knowingly buy copper without verifying that it has been legally obtained.
"Copper theft has been a rapidly increasing problem for our public agencies," Buchanan said. "By incentivizing purchasers to look more closely at the copper they are buying we hope this bill will be another deterrent against this type of theft. If no one wants to buy stolen copper, thieves will have no reason to steal it."
San Ramon and Danville have both been targets for copper thieves in recent years, with thousands of dollars in copper wiring and alloys stolen.
In June 2011, thieves broke into the Veterans Memorial Building construction site in Danville, stealing copper wire and construction tools. About a month later, approximately $2,000 worth of copper wire was stolen from the PG&E Testing Facility on Crow Canyon Road. Kevin Lundberg, 29, a Castro Valley resident, was arrested for grand theft and possession of stolen property in that theft.
A man and woman were arrested in 2010 after being found with stolen copper wire and burglary tools. That was around the time that copper wiring was stolen from Sycamore Valley Park, and a plaque listing names of those killed in World War II was taken from the All Wars Memorial at Oak Hill Park on Stone Valley Road.
Copper theft may not sound lucrative, but in 2010 police found one person who had cashed checks for copper sales adding up to $78,000.
BART has also been a target for copper thieves.
"Copper theft from public transit agencies is not only financially costly but critical public threat to public safety," Buchanan pointed out. "Damage to train tracks, traffic lights, and other transit infrastructure creates an unacceptable risk to the public that this bill will work to help stop."
Last month, a task force that included local law enforcement agencies, the district attorney's and sheriff's offices, PG&E, AT&T, Union Pacific Railroad and BART collaborated in the undercover operation that led to the serving of search warrants at seven junk dealers and recycling centers in Contra Costa County.
At each of the recycling centers, police seized documents and stolen materials such as copper wire and communications cables apparently purchased from thieves, according to the district attorney's office.
Buchanan's bill will take effect Jan. 1, 2013.