Last year, more than 60 fire hydrants, some which are super hydrants each costing more than $1,000, as well as manhole covers and backflow devices, have been stolen throughout the Eastern Municipal Water District and Western Municipal Water District.
“Metal theft is still a problem throughout California as the price of metal continues to climb,” Senator Emmerson said. “Not only does it cause damage to both public and private property, it can also seriously threaten public health and safety.”
To address the metal theft epidemic, SB 1387 would prohibit a junk dealer or recycler from possessing manhole covers, backflow devices, and fire hydrants without a written certification from the agency or utility that owned the material. This would relieve junk dealers or recyclers from the responsibility of determining whether or not any of these three items were stolen since they will no longer be eligible for recycling without appropriate certification. Any junk dealer or recycler that is found unlawfully possessing any of these items without written certification would be subject to a criminal fine of up to $3,000.
In addition, current law does little to help agencies and private utilities recoup the costs associated with metal theft. To help recover costs, SB 1045 would hold a junk dealer or recycler that violates the written certification provision civilly liable for the damages incurred by the agency or utility due to metal theft, including repair and replacement costs.
“While most junk dealers and recyclers operate an honest business, these measures would hold the bad actors that violate the law accountable,” Senator Emmerson said.
Both bill proposals focus on manhole covers, backflow devices, and fire hydrants as the theft of these items can pose a public health and safety risk. For instance, due to the theft of a manhole cover, a student from Hemet was injured last year falling into a manhole in the sidewalk and ended up 15 feet down a storm drain.
In Menifee, multiple fire hydrants were stolen from an elementary school and its surrounding neighborhood, leaving the school defenseless to fire. The water district was able to replace the stolen fire hydrants, but if the district was unable to do so in a timely manner, it would have resulted in a costly school closure. In addition, the theft of backflow devices can leave the water supply vulnerable to cross-contamination. SB 1387 and SB 1045 are both sponsored by Eastern Municipal Water District.
“Metal theft creates serious public health and safety hazards and costs the public millions of dollars annually,” Joe Kuebler, Eastern Municipal Water District’s Board President, said. “We appreciate Senator Emmerson's leadership by authoring these measures.”
Both SB 1387 and SB 1045 now head to the State Assembly which is expected to pass the measures, and then eventually go on to Governor's desk.