New scrap metal law in San Joaquin County?

Junkyards would have to be specially licensed and provide details about metal they buy under a proposed ordinance that goes to San Joaquin County Supervisors today.

The proposal by the county's agricultural commissioner follows hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses by farmers, construction companies, utilities and others who have been victimized by thieves who steal metal wire and fixtures and then sell them to scrap metal yards.

"Really, the problem with metal theft is in addition to the theft, the repairs," County Agricultural Commissioner Scott Hudson said. "If, for example, someone goes out and takes the copper out of an irrigation pump, that's a costly repair to make, and that can cost much more than the metal."

The ordinance would make it tougher for thieves to sell the metal by instituting what Sheriff Steve Moore describes as the same kinds of regulations in place for pawn shops: require the buyer to record a description of the item being sold, require a picture ID and then pay by sending a check to the seller's address listed on the ID.

"We're not talking about kids doing their cans or canners who go and collect cans on the roadway. We're talking about people bringing in commercial-grade metal," Moore said. "It gives time to react and notice if, for example, someone just turned in this wire and we just had something matching the same description reported stolen from a golf course."

Farmers' pumps lure thieves

The county's Agricultural Commission began working on the issue in earnest this spring as temperatures warmed, bringing with them worry for farmers who rely on pumps with coveted metals to draw up well water and irrigate their crops.

"If their pumps aren't working, they can't irrigate crops, and if it's hot, they could lose whatever they are growing," Hudson said. "During a particularly hot period, if the farmer can't irrigate their crops, they can suffer substantial crop losses."

He said the ordinance is modeled after one passed by Stanislaus County in April.

Like that ordinance, it would apply only in rural areas. All of San Joaquin County's scrap metal dealers are located within cities, so the ordinance wouldn't have an immediate impact on existing businesses. But Hudson said in a letter to the Board of Supervisors that it would be in place should a new business open and could create a model for the county's cities to follow.

That strategy appears to be taking root in Stanislaus County. Patterson's City Council gave initial approval to a similar ordinance last week and has a final vote scheduled for later this month. Turlock's City Council takes up the issue tonight. Modesto's Safety and Communities Committee gave the green light last week for their plan to head to the City Council.

The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors meets at 9 a.m. today at 222 E. Weber Ave. in Stockton.

Bee staff writer Inga Miller can be reached at imiller@modbee.com or 599-8760.