Mira Costa High band hit hard by tuba thefts
The heist was conducted under cover of darkness with the single-minded focus of a cat burglar.
But the two hooded robbers who sneaked onto campus at Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach over the holiday break were seeking valuables that are decidedly more difficult to conceal than diamonds. These scofflaws were after tubas. And they got them.
Just after 12:30 a.m. on Jan. 3, they made off with four, rendering Mira Costa the latest victim in a rash of tuba thefts that has deprived high schools across the Los Angeles region.
At an estimated cost of $5,000 to $6,000 apiece, the missing tubas have put the band $25,000 in the hole, officials say, and that isn’t counting the damage to the band-hall door, apparently destroyed by a crowbar. In any case the estimated price tag amounts to about half the entire annual budget for the band booster club.
“It’s like, holy Toledo, how are we going to come up with that money?” said Gretchen Renshaw, president of the Mira Costa band boosters. “You know how threadbare school budgets are these days.”
The spate of tuba burglaries across the Southland has been widely attributed to the rising popularity of banda, a form of traditional Mexican folk music, according to a December piece in the Los Angeles Times. The tuba is a crucial component of the sound, and with banda tubists earning an hourly rate that far outstrips that of their bandmates, the instrument has become a hot item on the black market.
Before striking the Mira Costa band room, tuba bandits had raided high schools in Huntington Park, South Gate, Compton and Los Angeles.
Renshaw points out that the tubas at Mira Costa are actually sousaphones, which are the marching-band equivalent of tubas. And she should know: It so happens both of her sons play the sousaphone, one for Mira Costa High and one for the marching band at the University California, Berkeley.
“It’s sad and weird and ironic that the eventual players of these instruments probably learned to play at a school,” Renshaw said. “That just makes it creepier.”
While there is surely never a good time for a school theft, the timing could have been worse. Competitive marching band season coincides with football season and so has passed. However, the band does plan to lead the annual parade that kicks off the Manhattan Beach Little League season in early March.
Replacing the missing instruments by then is more difficult than it sounds. Aside from being expensive, tubas are typically made to order, so a new one could take up to six months to arrive, said Joel Carlson, the school’s band instructor.
“It’s sad,” he said. “I think the thieves probably look at the school as an institution or a big government entity. But really, they’re just stealing from the kids.”
In the spirit of camaraderie, the band department at Santa Monica High has offered to loan Mira Costa a pair of tubas in the event the stolen instruments have not been replaced.
There is a chance insurance will cover at least some of the cost, but Carlson said he isn’t sure about that.
As for the criminals, they were captured on surveillance video breaking into the band hall that night. Manhattan Beach police Officer Stephanie Martin said it appears the culprits are male, although their faces were concealed by hoods.
As of Monday afternoon, police still had no leads, she said, adding that she hopes informants will help police nab the burglars.
“There’s always somebody who knows something,” she said. “School districts are having a hard time of it. It doesn’t matter if it’s Manhattan Beach or Huntington Park or Centennial (high school in Compton), they are all hurting. To take $20,000 worth of equipment from any school – that’s pretty egregious.”