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Theft of Picnic Table Umbrella Frustrates Small Business in Lompoc

Stolen item from Dogfathers food stand marks latest in series of incidents involving some homeless residents

The theft of a table umbrella from the Dogfathers food stand in front of the Lompoc Home Depot is the latest in a series of incidents that has frustrated the operators of the small business. The umbrella was eventually returned, and no charges have been filed. Click to view larger
The theft of a table umbrella from the Dogfathers food stand in front of the Lompoc Home Depot is the latest in a series of incidents that has frustrated the operators of the small business. The umbrella was eventually returned, and no charges have been filed. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A series of incidents culminating with a table umbrella brazenly snatched mid-day from Dogfathers eatery in Lompoc has frustrated the operators of the small business. 

In the past couple of years, the owners of the food stand in front of Home Depot on the southeast corner of Lompoc have dealt with a number of incidents, including a stolen iPad, broken locks on sheds, theft of food, brooms and flower pots, harassment of employees and customers, threats, vandalism and more. 

“I can’t even tell you how many things have gone missing over the few years, from small things to big things to not really stealing, just vandalizing,” said Ashley Maher, who works at the stand and is the daughter of the owner, Elaine Maher.

Last week, with the Home Depot parking lot busy in the middle of lunchtime, a homeless man grabbed the umbrella from a Dogfathers picnic table and headed to the nearby riverbed.

“That’s the first time something that bad has happened in the middle of the day, but at nighttime that’s when it gets really bad,” Maher said. 

On Friday, Lompoc Police Chief Pat Walsh and Mayor Bob Lingl returned the umbrella to Dogfathers after it was delivered to the police station by a member of the homeless community at the urging of police.

“We have a pretty good relationship with the homeless,” Walsh said.

Detectives conducting a follow-up investigation on another matter entered the riverbed and talked to homeless residents, telling them to return the umbrella and pointing out it’s not the kind of attention they want for their community, Walsh said. 

“They police themselves and they nominated somebody to walk into the police station and give it to them this morning,” Walsh said.

With conflicting statements from witnesses, Walsh said the umbrella theft case won’t lead to criminal charges. At best, the incident involved a low-level misdemeanor.

Theft of the umbrella pushed Dogfathers operators past the breaking point after the series of incidents.

“It’s just an every day thing,” Maher said. 

A social media post aimed at getting the advertising umbrella back ended up sparking a battle between those angry about the homeless population and those who work with churches and other groups to provide shelter, showers and other services to those in need.

Maher eventually deleted the post, as comments exploded out of control from people calling to form a posse or others saying the business risked retaliation for contacting police.

The Dogfathers operators recognized the incidents don’t reflect all homeless people in Lompoc, but a small segment of the population, Maher said.

To increase security, the Mahers plan to install security cameras to monitor the area. 

After experiencing retaliation for reporting the incident to police, they also installed reinforced locks on a shed to prevent additional break-ins.

“It’s petty stuff, it’s small stuff, but for someone who owns a local business, it comes out of their pocket,” Maher said.

Walsh said homelessness and the issues involved are a broader community problem.

“My take on the homeless problem it is it’s not a police matter. It’s not a crime to be homeless, but we will address bad behavior and so that’s what we try to do,” Walsh said. 

“It’s a fine balance. You’ve got to make sure you’re not violating people’s civil rights because people don’t want to see the homeless, but you also don’t want the homeless to create crime,” he added.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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