Copper thieves plundering Treasure Island

Plans to reopen a World War II-era restaurant and bar that treated winers and diners to splendid panoramic views from Treasure Island of The City and Bay were delayed after much of its copper electrical wiring was stolen.

Copper theft has become a national problem, fueled largely by a rise in price for the common construction metal, a result of China’s building boom. Last week, police in San Jose and Santa Clara announced that they had arrested 140 people on copper-theft charges following a yearlong sting operation.

Abandoned Navy buildings on Treasure Island have been hit hard by copper thieves over the last three to four years, according to Treasure Island Development Authority spokeswoman Marianne Thompson.

Seven empty buildings on the island could have been leased as warehouse space for upward of 25 cents per square foot, but instead they stand abandoned after their electrical wiring was stripped, according to Thompson. Additionally, the 13,000-square-foot former bar and restaurant once called the Fogwatch Building could bring in an estimated $40,000 a month in lease revenues, she said.

The money would have been used to pay for infrastructure, street pavings, lights and utilities on the island, which is home to 3,000 people, according to Thompson.

Rapscallions gutted the building of its electrical wiring six months ago, taking about $10,000 worth of wire but also severely damaging the building’s interior, she said. Light fixtures and other valuables were left behind, Thompson said.

San Francisco has legislation requiring metal recyclers to record the identification of copper sellers, but copper theft is still a problem in The City, said Police Department spokesman Sgt. Steve Mannina.

“A lot of these metals are going over to the East Bay, where recyclers will readily take them,” he said.

The Fogwatch was originally built for low-ranking Navy officers 64 years ago when Treasure Island was used as a Navy base, according to U.S. Base Closure and Realignment Commission environmental coordinator Jim Sullivan.

A catering company had proposed leasing the building for weddings and parties, according to company sales director Steve Sarna, but the cost of redeveloping the building has doubled as a result of the copper theft.

“Now we have to regroup and see where we can find funding,” Sarna said. “If it hadn’t been for the copper miners, that project would have taken off this year and it probablywould’ve been nearing completion at this point.”

Depending on the quality, copper thieves can get more than $2 a pound and up to $3 for “bare-stripped, bright, shiny wire,” said Ralph Jacobson, owner of A-1 Scrap Metal in San Francisco.

jupton@examiner.com

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