| Police say they are seeking arrest warrants for two 18-year-old suspects in the case of the stolen anti-farm signs on Preston Drive -- a case which touched off acrimony last week between two neighborhood groups with opposing interests in the Grant Road farm property.
A Mountain View High School parent told the Voice earlier this week that at least a dozen of the stolen anti-farm signs showed up on her front lawn last Monday in what was apparently a prom weekend prank. The original theft occurred last Sunday night, followed by a second theft three days later.
At that time, "It was clear to me that some kids were having high spirits and doing something goofy," said the mother, who lives near Springer School and wished to remain anonymous.
As of yesterday, Mountain View police have confirmed her theory, with two local high school seniors facing possible felony theft charges for allegedly stealing the signs as a prank.
"They may not have thought about what they were doing," said police spokesperson Liz Wylie about the culprits, "but they created a huge problem for the city and should be held accountable. They created a lot of malcontent, a lot of agony."
Thomas Holmes, who leads the anti-farm group Defending Our Neighborhood, said it was "great news" that police had found the suspects, and added that he hoped the issue would soon "blow over." Last week he informed the Voice that about 40 signs -- which read "No Farm" over the group's name -- were taken from front yards along Preston Drive. When replacements were put up the thieves came back a few days later for them, too, he said.
Police said the suspects admitted to stealing the signs the evening of Sunday, May 27, but did not admit to stealing signs on subsequent nights. Police say a few more signs were stolen Tuesday in a possible "copycat" crime.
The signs were part of a campaign by the anti-farm group to halt a proposed plan by another neighborhood organization, the Mountain View Farmlands Group, which is seeking to have about a third of the Grant Road farm property preserved as a demonstration farm.
Members of the Farmlands Group denied having anything to do with the thefts, and Holmes urged members of his group to not accuse the Farmlands Group of taking the signs. However, the parent who found the signs said she was compelled to talk after reading a quote in the Voice from Holmes calling the thefts "an unbelievable act of suppressing our voice, the most egregious I've seen."
Last week, Holmes said the sign thefts were "becoming a First Amendment issue," and that his neighborhood "feels very invaded and unsafe. I'm going to be asking for 24-hour police protection until we defeat these bastards."
Some other neighbors had also implied, in the Voice's op-ed pages and Web site, that the signs were taken for political reasons. But the parent who found the signs said she felt sure all along it was an innocent prank.
"The students didn't realize the signs were probably a part of political discourse," she said.
Along with the signs, she said, the apparent pranksters also neatly arranged some orange cones around one of their cars in the driveway. She said her son, a Mountain View High senior, told her that a fellow student who lives near Blach School also found signs on her front lawn.
"He came home and said, 'This other girl had signs in her yard, too, isn't that funny?'" she recalled.
At the time, members of Defending Our Neighborhood didn't think so.
"My neighbor across the street had wired his sign to a support to prevent someone from taking it," wrote farm neighbor Phil Henderson in an e-mail last week about the second round of sign thefts. "But whoever is stealing the signs apparently came with wire cutters and cut the wire and the sign frame.
"This has now gone beyond a 'prank' status," he added. "I have called the police to report the theft and they have an officer working on the case."
Because the two suspects are no longer juveniles, they face possible felony charges, Wylie said. If the two were still 17 they would face little more than a "slap on the wrist," she said.
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