At least 14 of the 23 brass plaques that acknowledge the donors who helped bring about the Cesar Chavez Memorial in the City of San Fernando have gone missing in recent months, a new low for thieves trying to make an easy buck.
The vandalism was evident during a visit to the site by the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol, where it was clear that the plaques had been torn from the wall, turning that part of the revered monument into an eyesore.
The plaques have been a part of a small rotunda at the far edge of the memorial, located at the corner of Wolfskill and Truman streets. They were designed to recognize donors who contributed more than $1,000 to help pay for the construction and development of the site.
The monument officially opened in 2004 to honor the farm worker and civil rights leader.
Brian Saeki, San Fernando City Manager, told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol that, “these brass plaques and all the plumbing stuff is very valuable to thieves. It’s a problem that we’re dealing with, and we’re working to make sure this doesn’t continue to happen.”
The memorial is not the only place where metal thieves have hit in the City of San Fernando. A plaque located next to the flag pole at the Rudy Ortega Park at the corner of Hubbard and Fourth Streets was also stolen in similar fashion.
Saeki acknowledged that, unfortunately, security at both sites is minimal.
“We depend a lot on self-policing. It’s very tough for us to deal with this unless we put in cameras” at the sites, he said.
Saeki added city officials are considering “removing the ones left until we figure out what we can do to prevent this from happening in the future.”
However, Saeki said, the city was only responsible for replacing the missing plaque from the Rudy Ortega Park, not the ones at the Cesar Chavez Memorial. Those, he noted, are the responsibility of the Friends of the Cesar Chavez Memorial, the group that spearheaded the effort to construct the memorial, and the Cesar Chavez Commemorative Committee, the group that organizes the annual Cesar Chavez March.
Alex Reza, a member of both groups, said they estimate each brass plaque cost between $350 and $400, and that they are working with the City of San Fernando on ways to replace them.
One idea, Reza said, is to sell bricks already part of the memorial as a fundraiser to replace the plaques. But the City Parks and Recreation Commission has not approved that plan.
Ruben Rodriguez, executive director of nonprofit agency Pueblo y Salud and part of the Cesar Chavez Commemorative Committee, said the City of San Fernando — on whose property the memorial is located — should replace the plaques.
“We’re the most interested party, but I don’t know that they don’t understand the fact that they have this jewel. It’s the biggest memorial that honors Cesar Chavez in the country,” Rodriguez said.
“They should be the responsible party for maintaining it at all times. It belongs to the city, it’s on city property. Clearly, it’s the city’s responsibility.”
Rodriguez added that his organization started noticing the plaque thefts back in February, and made San Fernando City officials aware of it then.
“Some of it may have just been vandalism. But it’s perhaps somebody with a substance abuse problem taking it down for scraps and getting $10 to $15 for scrap metal. I guess it’s a sign of the times, people needing a few dollars,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez added that the City maintained the memorial for the first five years “when it was immaculate,” but a lack of funds has led to the site falling into disrepair.
But “there’s plenty of people willing to volunteer to maintain it. We’re moving on, bringing it back up to what it was,” he said.
At this point, an attempt is being made to compile the information regarding the missing plaques to see who was honored.
When the plaques are replaced, Rodriguez said, they will probably be made of marble or granite or some other permanent material, but not as attractive to thieves and vandals.
Metal theft has seen a dramatic increase in the last few years, as the prices for copper, brass and other metals has gone up.
According to the latest statistics from the National Insurance Crime Bureau, which tracks incidents of metal theft, there were 25,083 claims filed from 2009 to 2012, compared with 13,861 from 2006 to 2008. The majority of the claims (96 percent) were for copper theft.
The five leading states for the thefts include Ohio, Texas, Georgia, California and Illinois.