As Californians endure the highest gas prices in the nation — Alpine County residents pay an eye-popping $7.90 per gallon, almost half of which is taxes — a new threat is emerging: fuel thieves are drilling into gas tanks to steal precious fuel at a mass scale.
While thieves in earlier eras before the proliferation of gas cap locks would merely siphon fuel, today’s thieves take the more expeditious route of drilling through gas tanks and collecting what falls. With fuel tank repairs or replacements costing $300 or more, the damage caused by the drilling costs more than the value of the fuel extracted. Because crime disproportionately affects lower income Californians, who often neither can afford private security nor benefit from rapid police responses and are more affected by rising fuel costs due to their longer commutes, these fuel thefts are just one more factor putting pressure on California’s most vulnerable citizens.
So what can be done about it? Not much, it would seem. Under current law, very little; Prop 47 makes theft under $950 punishable only by a misdemeanor, which, combined with the reluctance of California district attorneys to charge individuals for “minor” offenses has unleashed a statewide crime wave that shows few signs of abating.
Though California voters approve a repeal of Prop 47 by a ratio of two-to-one, such a repeal is neither on the ballot nor has the requisite support among Democratic lawmakers and officials in Sacramento.