Beach webcam stolen from inn on Moonstone Drive

Special to The CambrianAugust 21, 2013 

Who was the thief (or thieves) who spirited away the live beach camera that had recently been installed on the west-facing roof of the Sand Pebbles Inn on Moonstone Drive?

Inquiring minds want to know, including the Cambria Tourism Board — which contracted to lease the webcam for $150 a month — the motel owner, and Warren Neal, co-owner of Offshore Theater, which operates beach cams in Cayucos, Morro Bay, Shell Beach, Avila, Oceano, Pismo Beach and two in Santa Barbara County.

At some time either Sunday evening or Monday morning (Aug. 11-12), an interloper scaled the Sand Pebbles Inn rooftop, unbolted and ripped-off a very expensive and exclusive camera.

And since the camera is virtually useless unless linked to cyberspace, the burning, pertinent question is — why steal it?

The immediate commonsense answer to this mystery is that someone from the surfing community perhaps had something to do with this thievery. There is absolutely no proof of that, but Neal, motel owner Mitchell Masia, and Victoria Moreno (with the tourism board) connected the dots and they perceive a potential motive for local surfers.

The reasoning goes like this: Some surfers in this part of the county may fear that when a webcam in Cambria broadcasts live images of good waves — viewed online by surfers in South County (and elsewhere) — then more wave-riders might show up and muscle in on what now is a pretty wide open venue for locals.

Neal explained to a reporter that “I don’t want to (tick) surfers off, but I want them to know that if they have a problem with us [aiming the camera] at a certain angle, I can change that angle. They don’t have to steal the camera.”

The thief certainly knew what he or she was doing because a specialized tool was required to remove the camera.

Neal went on: “When I put a camera up at Pismo Beach, it doesn’t matter because it is so public, so busy anyway. But if I put a camera up in Cambria and show the surfing population where the good surf is, then all of a sudden instead of five people out surfing (off Moonstone Beach), there might be thirty people out there on a good surf day.”

Neal, a Cal Poly graduate, planned to provide the feed from the beach cam to “all the restaurants and hotels in Cambria, for free,” for tourists and locals, not necessarily for surfers. “It enhances the tourism, but the surfers probably got the wrong vibe from it,” he explained.

“We understand the surfing community might be upset, and we’re sorry because we were simply offering a funded feed by the Cambria Tourism Board to promote tourism,” he explained. “There are typically hundreds of tourists walking the boardwalk and beach on Moonstone Drive, and maybe ten surfers out there.”

Motel owner Masia said, “We were literally a week away from this going live for everyone’s consumption and use.” Masia was given a link to preview the scene the camera offered of Moonstone Beach: “It was wonderful. I had been apprehensive somewhat about doing it originally, but once I actually saw the feed I said, ‘This is pretty great.’

“You could see what the weather was like; you could see people walking on the beach. Guests are always asking about the weather — is the fog in, is the sun out — and by clicking on the link, they would be able to see for themselves,” Masia pointed out.

Victoria Moreno, marketing chair for the tourism board, said, “I have a couple friends who are pretty well connected to the local (surfing) community, and I’m hoping I can get them to dig in and see what they can find out.”

At the time of publication, Neal and his partner were not offering a reward for return of the camera, but they were hopeful it would be returned and/or the thief would be identified.

In addition, as of Tuesday, the co-owners had not notified the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office about the theft of the beach cam, according to sheriff’s spokesman Tony Cipolla.

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