Bear statue, message board vandalized in Los Osos

The iconic bear statue is on South Bay Boulevard near Turri Road in Los Osos.
The iconic bear statue is on South Bay Boulevard near Turri Road in Los Osos. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

A statue of a bear on South Bay Boulevard in Los Osos lost its glow after a solar panel used to light up the landmark was stolen in January.

And now an electronic messaging board, operated by the Rotary Club of Los Osos, has been vandalized as well. The latest incident happened about a week ago.

Gary Dove, the Rotary Club’s president-elect, has reported the incidents to the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office. He says he’s not aware of any motive for the crimes.

“The messaging board incident may have just been a prank, or somebody had it in for us,” Dove said. “But I have no idea why.”

Located on South Bay Boulevard near Turri Road, the bear statue was fitted with new LED spotlights, a computer control system and a 4.5-by-2 foot solar panel in June 2012 as part of the Rotary Club’s 25th anniversary celebration. In addition to stealing the solar panel, which Dove said was worth $100 to $200, vandals cut wires that connected the statue’s lighting.

“All that’s there now is the stand, so whoever took it likely wanted to use the panel,” Dove said.

Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Dave Kenitz said the damage occurred sometime between Jan. 6 and Jan. 8. No suspects have been identified, he said.

“The case is inactive unless something new turns up,” he said.

Dove, an electrician, spent Monday afternoon voluntarily replacing wiring that was cut and pulled from its connection to the electronic sign at the intersection of Los Osos Valley Road and South Bay Boulevard.

The message board, first illuminated in 2006, greets drivers as they enter town with announcements about library activities, high school games, concerts and other community events.

“I run new messages every week,” Dove said. “I program it every Sunday.”

The electronic sign is located on the property of the Bay Osos Brokers office, but it’s controlled by the Rotary Club.

Dove estimates the cost to replace the conduit at about $15, but the volunteer labor was intensive and he expected it to take hours.

No information was available about the latest with the investigation on the message board incident, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Another statue of a bear on Los Osos Valley Road — which, according to local lore, acts as a symbolic guard to the town — hasn’t been harmed.

The bear statues were created by local artist Paula Zima in honor of the community’s habitat for bears.

The name “Los Osos,” which means “the bears” in Spanish, was given to the area after Spanish explorers discovered an abundance of grizzlies in the valley.

“California grizzlies ruled the area until 1772, when Lieutenant Pedro Fages led an expedition to kill the bears for food,” Matt Carlton and Lucy Clark wrote in a Los Osos-related photo project published on Cal Poly’s website. “Their efforts saved two nearby missions from starvation but decimated the grizzly population.”