Lenny Swanson heard a knock at his front door on June 11 at 7:00 p.m. He looked out his window to see a 20-something, Hispanic male, heavy build. "He said, 'we're gathering signatures to bring back woodshop to the local high school."
"He didn't have a clipboard. It was just a stack of stapled papers folded over and over, it didn't look presentable."
After declining to sign, Swanson followed him outside. He saw a second 20-something Hispanic male at his neighbor's. He described him as very slender with a dark Philly cap. "I walked out to get a better look and saw a third male in front of my neighbor's house, 30-something in a dark hat and sunglasses, medium build."
"The second one in the sunglasses made a call after seeing me. No more than twenty to thirty seconds later, a dark colored Scion XB [partial license: 7 T O] rolled up in the middle of the street and two of the guys jumped into the car and took off south. I've never seen anyone get into a car that fast before." Swanson said the driver, a heavy-set Caucasian woman with brown hair, "kept looking around."
"I have no idea what happened to the slender one [Philly Cap]; he disappeared."
Swanson immediately reported the incident. "The officer said it sounds like they were casing."
A neighbor of Swanson's told him one of the "signature gatherers" got irate with her boyfriend for not signing. "She was told it was a petition to raise money for the convention center. She said it seemed to have nothing to do with what he was saying."
Swanson said it struck him as unusual to have that many people soliciting just one block. "There's twelve houses on our block."
Helen Wood of Clairemont said, "This sounds more like an identity theft ring than casing homes. These days, giving out your phone number is akin to giving them your social security number."
Olivia Warren of Bay Park said she saw the same petitioners on Wednesday. "I didn’t think anything of it at the time, I wish I had. I have worked at our local high school for 40 years. That is not how we reinstate classes."
Jerry of Bay Park didn't think much of it when he was getting the woodshop petition pitch. "I was sympathetic because I've heard that there's a shortage of workers with blue-collar skills." Jerry was ready to sign the petition when he read the summary and saw it had nothing to do with woodshop. "When I complained, he pointed to the last line of the summary which stated that 40 percent of all funds raised by the measure would go to schools. 'Schools,' he repeated several times." Jerry declined to sign.
There is one state initiative that mentions "40 percent" and "schools" (The California Schools and Local Communities Funding Act), but it had enough signatures in February to make the November ballot. This initiative aims to close the corporate property tax loophole in Proposition 13. The latter approved by voters in 1978 was meant to limit property taxes in California.
I could find no online presence for a woodshop petition. I contacted nearby high schools to see if they had heard of this petition and to see if they still had woodshop or not. No one at any school I spoke with had heard of this petition.
I visited the Clairemont High library and discovered woodshop wasn't a popular subject in Clairemont yearbooks over the decades. The librarian directed me to Gary Jimenez in the school's engineering academy. He said woodshop ended four years ago to make room for robotics.
On June 14 about 6:00 p.m., Amy Wise of Clairemont heard her husband talking to someone. "I went to see what it was about and there was someone asking my husband to sign a petition to bring back auto shop to the high school. I told him that Madison High down the road has auto shop and most other high schools do too."
She described him as in his early 20s, very slender, with brown wavy hair. "If it hadn't been for Lenny's [Nextdoor] post, I wouldn't have thought anything of it."
"I told him this wasn't legal and he said 'Well, this is the way it has to be done.' He offered to have his boss talk to us. I noticed another man at the end of the walkway looking around our garage, the same heavier set guy Lenny described."
Wise told her husband not to sign it. "The kid said 'Well, I think you should.' I told him that the police had been alerted. He said, 'There's an alert out on us? That's okay you don't need to sign this.'"