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Stop signs replace some Oakland traffic lights to deter copper theft

Copper thefts keep Oakland from replacing stoplights at intersection
Copper, power thefts keep Oakland from replacing stoplights at intersection 03:33

Oakland has removed the traffic lights from one intersection and replaced them with 4-way stop signs due to people stealing copper and then tampering with an electrical box.

It's a sight that has made drivers do a double take: a stop sign hanging overhead where a traffic light would normally be, located above the intersection of E. 12th Street and 16th Avenue in Oakland. 

Neighbors said city workers removed the all the traffic lights in the last week and replaced them with four-way stop signs. The installation came after months of people stealing copper wires and tampering with the city electrical boxes that supply power to the traffic lights.

"It's just telling us that the city is giving up on us," said Tam Le, owner of Le's Auto Body & Engine Repair, located at the corner of the intersection. 

Neighbors said the lights that were there before hadn't worked in months, either blinking red or being completely out. 

"This is a brand new solution to a problem that's taken many forms here," said neighbor Mason Young.

Young said the stop signs are better than non-working traffic lights, which he blamed for a crash that sent a truck into the fence of Le's repair shop last year.

"The city did try to fix the traffic light at least a few times. But once they fixed it, normally within a week or so, it will go out again," said Le. 

Le has been operating his shop at the corner for over 25 years. He and neighbors blamed the problem on repeated copper thefts. They also claimed that nearby homeless people are stealing power from city electrical boxes located on the sidewalks.

A city spokesman said they tried to put heavy cement blocks on top of the boxes, but people just dragged them out of the way.

"If you really want to fix the stop sign, I think you really have to clean up this homeless encampment," said Le.

The encampment stretches about three blocks on E. 12th street, between 17th and 14th Avenues. The city has made attempts to clear it previously, but it continues to grow larger.

"Many businesses already closed down on E. 12th St. And I don't know how long we're going to be here. Because once they move to our side of the sidewalk, we will be gone," said Le. 

They city said the stop signs are temporary, but they currently have no timeline on when they can put the traffic lights back up. 

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