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Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Street sign theft runs rampant in Chico 

Eric Penrod, senior maintenance worker for the City of Chico, with two fresh street signs ready to replace a stolen set. Photo taken Sept. 14 by Molly Myers.

Chestnut, Hazel, Ivy, Cherry and Orange. These are the names of the street signs stolen the most in Chico. 

Eric Penrod, senior maintenance worker for the City of Chico, estimates that the city spends $15,000 each year replacing signs just in the south campus neighborhoods. Each street sign costs around $75 to make. 

Students stealing a street sign. Anonymous submission uploaded Oct. 3.

The city has a set of two street signs at almost every intersection. The street signs are attached perpendicularly with metal hardware. 

Penrod said most of the time people are just after one of the signs. However, because the signs are attached they are stolen in pairs that total $150. 

One student, who requested to remain anonymous, said the typical street sign heist involves three people:

  1. The Look Out: Someone to keep watch for passing cars and people
  2. The Base: Someone to act as a human ladder hoisting the third person up on their shoulders
  3. The Remover: Someone to sit on the shoulders of the base, and crank the sign back and forth until it eventually breaks off

When executed with precision the heist can take mere minutes, even seconds. 

Fifth through Seventh Street are the most targeted signs, but people stealing the signs are after the street signs named after trees that spell out Chico. The city loses almost no signs outside of the college area. 

The street signs that spell out Chico arranged for this photo. Photo taken Sept. 19 by Molly Myers.

Students are open and proud when talking about street sign theft to their peers, though none The Orion reached out to were willing to go on the record. 

Multiple students said Ivy Street is the most coveted street sign. It is the hardest to steal because it is the most well-lit street and often the busiest. 

“I just think it’s drunk college kids. I was that age. I don’t remember doing that, but it happens. You would be surprised how many I see in windows.” – Eric Penrod

“I just think it’s drunk college kids. I was that age. I don’t remember doing that, but it happens,” Penrod said. “You would be surprised how many I see in windows.”

Despite stolen signs often appearing in windows, Penrod said the only time he hears about people getting in trouble is when they are caught in the act of stealing one. He said there are no cameras in the city dedicated to catching people stealing signs.

“To me it’s not the end of the world, but yeah it does cost the city a lot of money,” he said. “It’s not only the aluminum plating and the sticker machine and all that which costs a ton of money and getting the decal. There are two guys. There’s a guy making these, a guy like me putting them up, that’s all money. That all has to be tallied in,” Penrod said. 

His main job is painting the traffic lines on the street, but because the city is so short-staffed he helps out with the signs. He spends around five hours a week replacing street signs.


“There’s way more important stuff I could be doing,” he said.


Penrod, who is 55-years-old and grew up in Chico, said it’s been going on as long as he can remember. 

The street signs are mostly made at the Chico Municipal Services Center by one man, Kyle Phillips. 

Phillips professional title with the city is “right of way technician” but in his words, “Technically, I’m the sign guy.” 

Because the street signs Chestnut, Hazel, Ivy, Cherry and Orange are stolen so often, Phillips orders some of them pre-made to help keep up with the immense workload of replacing them. Most however, are made by him.

Either Philips or Penrod will go out on a Monday driving through south campus to see what needs to be replaced. Then throughout the week the signs are all replaced by Friday. The cycle repeats each week with varying yet steady numbers of stolen signs.

“I have some days I come in here on a Monday and I’ll have like 20 signs to replace,” Phillips said. 

Theft slows down in the summer but never ceases. 

The signs are all designed through a computer program. Phillips puts in code to print the text of the sign needed onto a clear green sticker. He then cuts the sticker to the right size and sets it up to put on a blank reflective metal sign. Next, he lines the decal on the metal frame and, with a hand-squeeze roll applicator, presses the sticker onto the sign creating the final product. Click here for a video demonstration.

When stop signs go missing they are replaced immediately.  “Frat boys like them,” Philips said. 

There have been discussions within the Public Works Department about selling street signs at the Chico State student store. Operations and maintenance field supervisor, Troy Tatom, said they looked into making plastic ones and it would cost $15 to $20 to make them.

“No one’s going to pay that much when you can go out and steal it,” Tatom said. 

Molly Myers can be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]

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About the Contributor
Molly Myers
Molly Myers, Managing Editor/Features Editor
Molly Myers is a transfer student from Palmdale, California. She is a journalism major also minoring in religious studies. Molly is Managing Editor at The Orion and previously worked as Editor-in-Chief. Her work is also published in Watershed Review. Getting to meet new people and hear their stories is her favorite part of being a journalist. Outside of The Orion she instructs yoga at the WREC and volunteers with the Torres Community Shelter.

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