A rash of copper thefts has cost the city of Santee thousands of dollars, prompting the city to take extreme measures.
For example, the Maintenance Department has caged its copper and even put up a security camera.
However, it’s the mayor’s response to the problem that is getting much of the attention.
Santee Mayor Randy Voepel blames homeless people living in the San Diego Riverbed for the majority of the city’s nuisance thefts. And he makes no apologies.
“I am insensitive, of course. I am probably mischaracterizing some of them. Too bad,” Voepel said. “These people are stealing. I’ll call them whatever I want.”
The mayor points to copper stolen from a water pump at Town Center Park. The $30 worth of copper stolen will cost the city $2,000 to repair, he said.
“It’s not just replacing the parts you're missing. You have to replace the parts you break to fix it. Then you have the labor at time and a half,” Voepel said.
The city is camouflaging copper with paint, enclosing it in heavy gauge steal cages, adding pad locks to electric boxes and video surveillance.
“I could lose two street lights this week or a transformer,” Voepel said.
The mayor says 45 people live in riverbed encampments. He sometimes joins sheriff's deputies who periodically sweep the area to ticket and arrest trespassers.
“For years, these were just idiots in the river bottom. We got a different kind of idiot there causing damage, and I don't like it,” the mayor said.
San Diego County Sheriff's detectives are investigating four Santee copper thefts since mid-December.
In an email, a spokesperson told NBC7 they are looking at several suspects, but made no arrests.
The Sheriff's Department has no comment regarding the mayor's claim that the homeless are responsible.