Santee Mayor Randy Voepel fed up, blames copper thefts on homeless

Voepel says city has lost $10K to 'tweekers'

SANTEE, Calif. - The mayor of Santee says he's had enough and claims there's an "arms race" in the more than 40-acre Town Center Park. Santee has lost $10,000 to copper thieves since December and he blames the free cellphones given to the homeless.

"This is an arms race! I did two tours in Vietnam and I'm getting attacked here by the Vietcong, stealing my copper, and I don't like it," said Santee Mayor Randy Voepel.

He walked 10News out to see the damage. Since the park opened, it has been a target for copper thefts. Voepel said first, the thieves hit the copper wiring in the field lights. Now, the thieves are after the copper pipes.

"They sell [the copper] and that gives them their next meth hit. They steal $30 or $40 worth of copper and it costs us thousands of dollars to replace it. That's where we just get nailed," said Voepel.

Just before Christmas, thieves took the copper pipes on each side of a water backflow pump. It's only worth about $30, but it cost the city $2,000 to replace.

"To a tweeker or a doper or someone out of work, this is the motherload, this is what they're looking for ... but some of them are stealing from live circuits, so they're risking their lives for $30," said Voepel.

A community services manager showed 10News what the city has done to help combat the issue. At the site of one theft, a grate has been constructed, the copper has been painted blue and security cameras have been installed. The mayor said he only expects the problem to get worse.

Voepel believes the free government-aid cellphones given to the homeless allows them to organize their heists. In a controversial message this month, he wrote:

"I believe most of the thefts are done by the 'Meth heads' desperately trying to get the next fix. This is a perfect example of how such a little return for the thief can do so much damage to the City.

One of the problems we have is that most of the homeless have cell phones and they work in teams, with the 'cutters' being watched over by the lookouts. These people are very difficult for our Sheriffs to catch, because of the darn cell phones.

Oh, California and the Federal Government gives these cell phones to the homeless, supposedly so they can get jobs.

Well we will persevere, as we usually catch the Copper thieves sooner or later, they aren't THAT smart."

The cellphones the mayor refers to are given out as part of the federal "Lifeline" program instituted in the 1980s. Last year, California extended the program to include cellphone service.

Some of the mayor's remarks have sparked outrage with homeless advocacy groups; it's a fact the mayor is aware of.

"If you have poor dental work because of methamphetamine and you're stealing copper out of the park, you're a low life. I don't have much compassion there, alright?" said Voepel.

Homeless advocates worry the mayor is further stigmatizing the homeless. They argue the free cellphones are a vital resource used by the unemployed to find jobs.

"Well, the community elected the mayor and we respect the community's choices. But I can tell you that if someone is stealing copper, it's a criminal issue. Homelessness is not a crime," said Dolores Diaz of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless.

Voepel is not backing down.

"I understand why homeless groups would take a shot at me for taking a shot at them. Sorry, I'm not reacting very friendly, OK? And I'll take whatever hits you want to hit me with," said Voepel.

Print this article Back to Top