By Miriam Raftery
August 15, 2017 (Mount Helix) – A resident on Mount Helix says he caught a woman driving a Lexus luxury car red-handed, stealing avocados off trees at his home before dawn last week.
The resident, Alan van Antwerp, in an interview with ECM news partner 10 News, said a motion sensor alerted him. He posted a photo of the startled woman and her license plate number on the Next Door Mount Helix forum, eliciting over 100 comments, many from residents reporting similar thefts of avocados and other fruits by thieves who left trees stripped bare.
Van Antwerp told 10 News that he filed a report with the Sheriff but asked that the accused thief not be prosecuted, instead asking that she be given a stern warning.
That news disappointed some neighbors on Next Door, who voiced concerns that the woman could victimize others in the future. One suggested the woman be asked to pay restitution for the value of the avocados reportedly taken.
It is unclear whether the startled woman merely intended to make a gargantuan batch of guacamole, or may have intended to resell the purloined avocados, known as California’s green gold, since they may retail for a dollar or more apiece. The Mt. Helix area is one of the ideal climate micro-zones in the state for growing the knobby green fruits, which soften and turn nearly black on the outside when ripe.
Avocado consumption has been rising at 15 percenta year in the U.S., the Guardian reports. Increasing demand has led to soaring prices south of the border as well as in the U.S., so many Mexicans can no longer afford what was once a staple in the diet. Could those facts be fueling a black market trade in avocados?
Perhaps, but would-be thieves should be aware that large-scale avocado heists are not viewed as petty thefts in California, where growers' rights are protected by a special state law.
The California Penal Code chapter 5 makes it a felony to steal avocados (or other crops) with a wholesale value of over $250:
For the purposes of establishing that the value of domestic fowls, avocados, olives, citrus or deciduous fruits, other fruits, vegetables, nuts, artichokes, or other farm crops under this paragraph exceeds two hundred fifty dollars ($250), that value may be shown by the presentation of credible evidence which establishes that on the day of the theft domestic fowls, avocados, olives, citrus or deciduous fruits, other fruits, vegetables, nuts, artichokes, or other farm crops of the same variety and weight exceeded two hundred fifty dollars ($250) in wholesale value.
That revelation led one Next Door poster to dub the reported heist “Grand Theft Avo.”