ASF Logo

Arroyo Seco Foundation

News of the Arroyo


Audubon Center break-in ruffles some feathers, but community spirit soars





<b>December 7, 2017</b> - An early morning break-in at the Audubon Center in Debs Park resulted in the theft of $6,000 worth of equipment including computers, binoculars and other items. How sad that such a worthy group should be a victim.


Steve Scauzillo


Pasadena Star-News


The door of the Audubon Center at Debs Park in Northeast Los Angeles after a burglar broke in and stole $6,000 of equipment from the nonprofit. (Photo Courtesy of the Audubon Center at Debs Park)

There were two environmental crimes reported last week.

You may have heard about Oliver Schmidt, a senior manager for Volkswagen sentenced to seven years in prison Wednesday for concealing the software used to jimmy the pollution control systems on 600,000 diesel cars to secretly bypass EPA emission standards.

The one you may not have heard about? The cat burglar who stole $6,000 worth of binoculars, computers and other equipment from the Audubon Center at Debs Park. The center, located off Avenue 52 on the east side of the Arroyo Seco Parkway (110 Freeway) in Montecito Heights, holds Saturday bird walks and propagates seeds for native plantings and habitat restoration.

Hardly the best target for a burglar. I mean, a bird sanctuary? Why would someone steal from a nonprofit bird sanctuary?

Marcos A. Trinidad, the center’s director, is not sure. The man was wearing a mask. It was dark. The security camera footage is blurry. And he is still at large.

Whatever the motive, he wishes he would have just asked for help. “I am thinking of putting up a sign that says: ‘Before you break the window, give me a call. I’ll send you a payment or a gift card.’ ”

at 4 a.m Saturday, Dec. 2, there was little discussion.

The robber smashed the glass door with a screwdriver, knocked over the security camera and destroyed the alarm box. He ended up stealing a backpack filled with 12 binoculars that were used by the public for bird watching, as well as a birding scope, two computers, two $1,500 binoculars and several birding guides.

“He didn’t just steal from us, he stole from the community,” said Lauren Hill, volunteer coordinator, who pointed to the spot on her desk where her laptop once was and to the frayed cable where the desktop computer had sat, the one that provided her with bird information from the National Park Service database.

Trinidad has heard of thefts at other nonprofits within the chaparral-sloped hillsides along the Arroyo Seco in Northeast Los Angeles. One nonprofit was missing soap and paper towels after someone broke into their supply closet. At Audubon Center last year, someone broke into the kitchen and ate some ice cream and walked away with several granola bars.

“People are desperate,”Trinidad said. “What are some of the issues that put people in a position where they feel desperate enough to come to a nonprofit center and steal what we have?”

He’s working with other nonprofits in L.A. to address the needs of a transient population that set up camps in the woods or under the freeway bridges. Yes, I was impressed with his compassionate attitude. But he’s no fool. This guy didn’t just steal granola bars. His take amounted to $6,000 worth of equipment.

“I don’t think he will go out and go look at birds. Chances are he is looking to make a quick buck,” he said.

Birders are good for seeing luminescent colors on a bird’s plumage. Trinidad looks at the broken glass and sees more than the crime.

While I was there talking to him, he received an email from someone who will donate a computer. Already, several supporters have dropped off binoculars. So yeah, the bird watching will go on.

“It is a bummer that something like this would happen. The silver lining is the response of the community. They really came together and supported us,” he said. Some also dropped off bird guides and one person bought them a new table tripod.

To donate to Audubon Center at Debs Park, go to: donate/donate-audubon-center- debs-park. To check out their Amazon Wishlist, go to: Bird walks take place from 8 to 9:30 a.m. the second, third and fourth Saturdays.

Trinidad left this comment on the organization’s Facebook page: “Don’t worry, we will work together as a community to do what we do best, connect each other to our magnificent outdoors!”

Steve Scauzillo covers transportation and the environment for the Southern California News Group. He’s a recipient of the Aldo Leopold Award for Distinguished Editorial Writing from The Wilderness Society. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @stevscaz or email him at

Entrance to the Audubon Center at Debs Park, on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. (Photo by Steve Scauzillo)




Arroyo Seco Foundation, PO Box 91622, Pasadena, CA 91109-1622 (323) 405-7326