Rules Committee to Discuss Metal, Copper Wire Theft Legislaton

When the economy tanked, metal theft increased along with the price of non-ferrous alloys. Thieves haven’t slowed down since, snatching up copper wire, aluminum, fire hydrant parts, manhole covers, streetlights and other metal parts to trade in for cash at recycling centers.

The city wants to support a state bill that would force those junk dealers and recycling centers to mail out checks to the seller instead, effectively stanching the quick-fix appeal of metal thievery. AB 841, introduced by Sen. Norma Torres (D-Pomona), is designed to discourage metal thieves without hindering legitimate sellers and scrap metal recyclers.

San Jose’s Rules and Open Government Committee will consider endorsing the legislation when it meets Wednesday.

In San Jose, the Department of Transportation has spent more than $500,000 since January 2011 to repair 390 streetlights stripped of wiring. Right now, 220 more lights need fixing, a project that will cost $260,000. On top of that, 55 sites at city facilities, parks and trails have fallen prey to copper wire theft—$183,000 of that’s already been fixed, but more than $400,000 more is needed to repair the rest.

Nationally, theft of copper and other metals has increased by 81 percent in the past decade, driven by the rising prices of stolen recyclables, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). Copper prices have surged from $1.50 a pound in 2003 to a high of $4.59 a pound in April 2008, says Torres’ office.

California ranks third in the nation for generating the most metal theft, per the NICB. Unfortunately, the damages cost much more than the stolen parts. A $100 copper wire theft can cost a utility company upward of $5,000 to fix, according to the Department of Energy. And it’s sometimes fatal. The DOE says 13 deaths were reported from utilities thefts in 2008.

Copper thieves are sometimes the culprits behind traffic jams, since tearing out the valuable wiring can screw up traffic signals and metering lights.

More from the San Jose Rules and Open Government Committee agenda for September 25, 2013:

• A bunch of elderly tenants are at odds with their landlords for trying to jack up the rent at some San Jose mobile home parks.

Last year, a low- to middle-income mobile home park owner petitioned to raise rents higher than the annual permitted increase. Residents raised cash to hire an attorney and two expert witnesses—but it was pricey. When the landlord tried to do the same this year, those residents didn’t have enough money to hire legal help. They instead gave proxies to non-attorneys, which city code allows.

The landlord’s attorney objected to the non-attorney representation, but was overruled. Still, the whole affair shook up the park residents, who wanted to make sure the city preserves the provision that allows for non-attorney representation.

Martha O’Connell, chair of the Senior Citizens Commission, wrote a letter to the Rules Committee asking it to retain that language in the interest of fairness.

“Without this section of the mobile home ordinance, residents who cannot afford an attorney, and who do not feel they can represent themselves, would be denied any sort of opportunity to present their case,” O’Connell writes.

• Fireworks are becoming a bigger threat to public safety, according to councilmembers Don Rocha and Johnny Khamis. The pair wants the city to review the way it handles fireworks complaints. Selling and detonating fireworks in San Jose is illegal; the memo notes that it’s just a matter of whether the city’s doing an effective enough job of enforcing that rule.

• Cleaning up sidewalks and pruning whatever plants grow out of them is the responsibility of the adjacent property owners. But there is a hardship exemption that allows people who fall under certain income requirements to opt out of that rule, leaving cleanup to city crews. Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio suggests the city also grant an exemption for folks saddled with ongoing or unanticipated medical expenses.

• An annual report’s due for the city’s deferred compensation retirement plan, which counted $718 million in assets by the close of this past fiscal year.

• David Wall didn’t pen his usual diatribes against the city, instead copying San Jose leaders in on a letter he sent to the mayor of Palm Desert thanking her for helping him figure out how to dispose 900 of his late mother’s insulin syringes. He exhorts “Madam Mayor” (Jan Harnik) to also come up with a program to help the elderly throw away unneeded medication.

“Old people seem to have a penchant for dying without giving much notice and the proper and prompt disposal of their medications would be of great service to the surviving family members,” he writes.
WHAT: Rules and Open Government Committee meets
WHEN: 2pm Wednesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. Now thats funny , this council decimates Public safety , but then wants them to enforce Illegal fireworks ban and suppression . get real , public safety is insanely understaffed.EVERYDAY Public safety is working overtime just to meet minimum staffing levels

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