Encinitas to follow Carlsbad’s lead on catalytic converter theft

The downtown Encinitas sign.
(Charlie Neuman / San Diego Union-Tribune/Zuma Pre)

Carlsbad’s newly passed ordinance targeting catalytic converter thieves looks so well written that Encinitas will use it as a model.

In a 4-0 vote with Councilwoman Joy Lyndes absent, the City Council directed city employees Wednesday, Feb. 23, to review Carlsbad’s ordinance, tweak it as necessary to fit Encinitas’ needs and bring it back for council approval as soon as possible.

Councilmember Joe Mosca, who introduced the item, said Carlsbad’s ordinance is designed to eliminate a bit of a criminal loophole. It’s typically hard to charge someone with grand theft of catalytic converters because these vehicle air pollution control devices lack serial numbers or other identifying markers linking them to the vehicles that they’ve been stolen from. Without that information, it’s hard to prove where the catalytic converter came from or even whether a crime has occurred.

Carlsbad’s ordinance, which was approved by its council early this month and is the first of its kind in San Diego County, goes after the theft problem in a new fashion. It makes it illegal to possess a detached catalytic converter without proper documentation, Carlsbad’s city website notes. People who are found with them must have:

  • The license plate number and vehicle identification number of the vehicle that the converter was taken from;
  • The name, address and telephone number of the owner of the vehicle;
  • And the name, address and telephone number of the current owner of the converter.

People who violate the ordinance face a fine of up to $1,000 and/or six months’ imprisonment in county jail.

Mosca said Wednesday, Feb. 23, that catalytic converter theft is well worth the city’s attention.

“When they’re stolen off the car, it’s about a $2,000 loss to the victim and we’ve seen an increase in these crimes,” he said.

Councilmember Tony Kranz said he was quite happy to support the proposed ordinance.

“I own two Prius (vehicles), which makes me quite a target for catalytic converter theft and I’ve been quite concerned about it,” he said.

In a report produced for the Wednesday, Feb. 23, meeting, Mosca wrote that catalytic converters are tempting theft targets because they contain costly precious metals, including platinum, palladium and rhodium.

“As the price of these metals has increased, so has the incentive for thieves to steal catalytic converters and sell them to others, who extract the metals,” Mosca wrote, mentioning that rhodium alone is currently worth upwards of $11,000 an ounce.

Recent figures for San Diego County demonstrate how much of a problem the theft has become, he added. In 2020, there were 393 thief reports filed. Last year, from Jan. 1 to Dec. 9, the number increased by 423 percent to 2,056 theft reports filed.