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california political news & opinion
california legislation > AB 316

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Date of Hearing: April 5, 2011
Counsel: Gabriel Caswell

Tom Ammiano, Chair

AB 316 (Carter) - As Amended: March 30, 2011

: Adds copper theft to the list of offenses for which
there is a lower monetary requirement to charge an offender with
grand theft. Specifically, this bill states that when copper
materials are taken, including, but not limited to, copper wire,
copper cable, copper tubing, and copper piping of a value
exceeding $250, the offender may be charged with grand theft.


1)Defines "grand theft" as any theft where the money, labor, or
real or personal property taken or when the property is taken
from the person of another is of a value exceeding $950.
İPenal Code Sections 487(a) and 487(c).]

2)Provides that grand theft is committed when the money, labor,
or real or personal property taken is of a value in excess of
$950, except as specified. İPenal Code Section 487(a).]

3)Provides that notwithstanding the value of the property taken,
grand theft is committed in any of the following cases İPenal
Code Section 487(b)]:

a) When domestic fowls, avocados, or other farm crops are
taken of a value exceeding $250;

b) When fish or other aquacultural products are taken from
a commercial or research operation that is producing that
product of a value exceeding $250;

c) Where money, labor or property is taken by a servant or
employee from his or her principal and aggregates $950 or
more in any consecutive 12-month period;

d) When the property is taken from the person of another;

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e) When the property taken is, among other things, an
automobile, horse or firearm. Provides that if the grand
theft involves the theft of a firearm, it is punishable by
imprisonment in state prison for 16 months, 2 or 3 years.
(Penal Code Section 489.)

4)Provides that in all other cases, grand theft is punishable by
imprisonment in county jail for not more than one year or in
the state prison. (Penal Code Section 489.)

5)Provides that theft in other cases is petty theft. (Penal
Code Section 488.)

6)States that petty theft is punishable by a fine not exceeding
$1,000; by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six
months; or both. (Penal Code Section 490.)

7)Provides that any person who enters specified buildings,
including a vehicle, railroad car, locked or sealed cargo
container, whether or not mounted on a vehicle, with intent to
commit grand or petty theft or any felony is guilty of a
burglary. (Penal Code Section 459.)



1)Author's Statement : According to the author, "With the
prevalence of metal thefts from large construction sites,
public utility yards, farms, ranches, and schools, AB 316
would classify stolen copper materials exceeding $250 dollars
as grand theft and help decrease the rise of metal theft.

"Metal theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the state
and country. The recent rise in scrap metal values has made
the theft and sale of these materials increasingly profitable.

2)Metal Theft in California : Metal theft has been well
documented throughout California. In 2007, the New York Times

" 'This is the No. 1 crime affecting farmers and ranchers right
now,' said Bill Yoshimoto, an assistant district attorney in

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the agriculturally rich Tulare County in the Central Valley.

" 'Virtually every farmer in the Central Valley has been hit,'
Mr. Yoshimoto said. 'But some have been hit far beyond the
value of the metal. For the farmer to replace the pump is
anywhere between $3,000 to $10,000, and then there is
downtime, and loss to crops.'

"Some sheriff's departments in agricultural counties have rural
crime units that investigate metal crimes almost exclusively
these days, setting up sting operations in recycling shops and
tagging copper bait with electronic tracking devices.

"Metal theft from California farmers rose 400 percent in 2006
over the previous year, according to the Agricultural Crime
Technology Information and Operations Network, a regional law
enforcement group headed by Mr. Yoshimoto. The numbers this
year are equally high. Through the end of June, there were
nearly 1000 incidents of scrap metal theft on farms, causing
more than $2 billion in losses, the group's figures show.
İUnusual Culprits Cripple Farms in California, New York Times
(July 1, 2007).]

3)Metal Theft as an Increasing Problem Nationwide : Metal theft
has been increasing nationwide. According to a March 27, 2008
U.S. News and World Report article, some areas have seen an
increase in metal theft of 400% since 2003 statistics.
Drastic increases in market costs of metals (such as copper,
aluminum, and bronze) are the main reason for the increase in
theft. For instance, in 2003, the cost of copper on the open
market was $0.75 per unit; in 2008, the cost of copper rose to
$3.60 per unit.

One reason cited for the increase in metal theft is the lack of
a requirement in most states to require scrap metal dealers to
document where they receive their metal. Even where those
laws exist, police have not enforced them. One method states
are using is requiring scrap metal dealers to take the name
and thumb print of sellers in order that stolen goods can be
more easily traced, thereby reducing the number costly police
investigations. California requires scrap dealers maintain a
written record and driver's license number of persons selling
metal to dealers.

Metal theft has not been confined to farms and rural areas. The

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Monterey County Herald reports:

"Demand for copper, brass, platinum, stainless steel and other
valuable metals has turned the underside of cars, abandoned
buildings, farms, freeways and industrial yards into gold
mines for thieves. 'It's an easy way to make a quick buck,'
said sheriff's detective Matt Davis. 'Everybody is stealing.'

" 'On Monday, deputies found three men stripping almost 900 feet
of copper cable, which appeared to have been stolen from an
industrial yard. They could have sold the copper for about
$6500, Davis said.

" 'It's happening all over the state,' he said. Robert Gomez,
manager of a Salinas auto shop, said recently he welded a
catalytic converter back onto a truck after thieves tried to
remove it. Other shops report making similar repairs for
customers. Gomez said catalytic converters are hot items for
thieves because they have valuable metals and are easy to get

" 'They can just slide right under (a car) and get to it,' he
said. 'The value is the stuff inside.'

"A stolen converter can be sold for about $100 for the metal it
contains. But the owner of the vehicle may have to spend up
to $500 to replace it, Gomez said.

"In Southern California, thieves have made off with guardrails
and road signs on freeways, according to the state Department
of Transportation.

"In Contra Costa County, suspected metal thieves are believed to
have caused a toxic spill after they took brass fittings from
tanks at a chemical plant in Richmond.

"Last week at a ballpark in Ventura, thieves stripped wires from
an electrical vault, damaging lights used for Little League

"Jeff Smith, a spokesman for Pacific Gas & Electric Co., said
theft of electrical wire is costly and thieves risk
electrocution, even when the power has been shut off.

"During the first six months of 2007, PG&E lost more than

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$800,000 worth of copper cable to thievery at service yards,
power plants and utility connections in Northern California,
Smith said.

" 'Like anything else, when the market value goes up, it becomes
a target,' Smith said. 'It's become increasingly more serious
every year.' " İMetal Marauders on Loose, Monterey County
Herald (May 10, 2008).]

4)Argument in Support : According to the California Farm Bureau
, "İo]ver the years, California farmers and ranchers
have experienced thefts ranging from copper wire and stainless
steel dairy tanks, to steel irrigation popes and brass
sprinkler heads. The damage during the theft and the
resulting repair costs can reach tens of thousands of dollars
in some instances. The theft of a construction or
agricultural vehicle can result in crop damage or delay in a
construction project due to the theft of an essential vehicle.
Metal theft has also impacted urban communities, resulting in
the loss of highway guardrails, copper from street lights, air
conditioning systems and even public statues. This is a
problem that needs the statewide solution that AB 316

5)Prior Legislation :

a) AB 2372 (Ammiano), Chapter 693, Statutes of 2010,
increased the threshold amount that constitutes grand theft
from $400 to $950.

b) AB 2705 (Goldberg), of the 2003-04 Legislative Session,
would have increased the threshold for grand theft from
$400 to $1,000 and the threshold amount for specified
thefts from $100 to $250. AB 2705 was vetoed.

c) AB 2668 (DeVore), of the 2007-08 Legislative Session,
would have included theft or vandalism of fire equipment
within the definition of grand theft. AB 2668 failed
passage in this Committee.

d) AB 2827 (Runner), Chapter 105, Statutes of 2008, added
defrauding a public housing authority to the definition of
grand theft.

e) SB 447 (Maldonado), Chapter 732, Statutes of 2009,

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assists local law enforcement officials in quickly
investigating stolen metal and apprehending thieves by
requiring scrap metal dealers and recyclers to report what
materials are being scraped at their facilities and by whom
on a daily basis. These rules already apply to pawn shop

f) SB 691 (Calderon), Chapter 720, Statutes of 2009,
requires junk dealers and recyclers to take thumbprints of
individuals selling copper, copper alloys, aluminum and
stainless steel. Sellers must also show a government
identification (ID) and proof of their current address.
Recyclers who violate the law face suspension or revocation
of their business license and increased fines and jail

g) AB 844 (Berryhill), Chapter 731, Statutes of 2009,
requires recyclers to hold payment for three days, check a
photo ID and take a thumbprint of anyone selling scrap
metals. AB 844 also requires any person convicted of metal
theft to pay restitution for the materials stolen and for
any collateral damage caused during the theft.

h) AB 1778 (Ma), Chapter 733, Statutes of 2009, requires
recyclers to obtain identifying information of individuals
who bring in more than $50 worth of CRV recyclables and
newspapers. AB 1778 also requires that payments of $50 or
more be made by check.

i) AB 1859 (Adams), Chapter 659, Statutes of 2009, creates
a fine of not more than $3,000 for any person who knowingly
receives any part of a fire hydrant, including bronze or
brass fittings and parts.

j) AB 2724 (Benoit), of the 2007-08 Legislative Session,
required any person convicted of grand theft involving the
theft of wire, cable, copper, lead, solder, mercury, iron
or brass of a kind ordinarily used by, or that ordinarily
belongs to a railroad or other transportation, telephone,
telegraph, gas, water, or electric light company or county,
city, city and county, or other political subdivision of
this state engaged in furnishing public utility service, or
farm, ranch or industrial facility or other commercial or
residential building, to pay a fine of $100 for a first
offense and $200 for any subsequent offense. AB 2724 failed

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passage in the Senate Committee on Public Safety.



American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
California District Attorneys Association
California Chamber of Commerce
California Farm Bureau Federation
California Peace Officers Association
League of California Cities
San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department


American Civil Liberties Union
Friends Committee on Legislation of California

Analysis Prepared by
: Gabriel Caswell / PUB. S. / (916)