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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on April 19th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 7 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 18, Issue 7

Santa Maria Planning Commission considers ordinance to curb the number of abandoned shopping carts

By BRENNA SWANSTON

When Mike Guerra became an officer with the Santa Maria Police Department, he didn’t think the gig would entail dealing with the trash, debris, bottles of urine, and buckets of feces often found in abandoned shopping carts—but as it turns out, that’s part of the job.

Homeless people snag the carts from parking lots and use them to transport their items, Guerra said, often deserting them when a wheel gives out or after a heavy rain. Law enforcement then becomes the carts’ cleanup committee, which Guerra said is a misuse of resources.


ABANDONED
A proposed city ordinance would face shopping cart owners with potential fines for multiple violations of abandoned carts.
PHOTO COURTESY OF MICHELLE TASSEF

“Now, you end up having shopping carts full of that wet debris that stays there,” he said at the Santa Maria Planning Commission’s April 6 study session. “Nobody wants to touch it. We get phone calls. At the end of the day, I live in the city. I want the city to look beautiful, and we need to get rid of those.”

Guerra added that if the carts were in front of his house, he’d want them gone, as well.

“But not everybody wants to touch them,” he said. “There is MRSA, Hepatitis—these people are using alcohol, they’re using methamphetamine, they’re using heroin, and there’s just a lot of bad things that can happen.”

Guerra said the police department has contacted local businesses that own shopping carts in the past, requesting that they more effectively contain the carts, but “most of them don’t give a hoot.” For that reason, the department asked the city to draft an ordinance holding local business owners responsible for their shopping carts.

At the April 6 Planning Commission study session, Assistant City Attorney Philip Sinco presented a draft ordinance requiring all owners of shopping carts to contain them on business property.

“The impact of carts removed from business premises on law enforcement resources is significant,” Sinco told the Sun, “in addition to the aesthetic considerations of the carts left abandoned all throughout the city.”

The proposed ordinance would designate a team of city personnel to gather data on shopping carts abandoned around Santa Maria, and if the number of carts belonging to any one business owner crosses a certain threshold, that business owner would face consequences, Sinco said. The threshold number is not yet determined, though Sinco said he is leaning toward three.

He added that on first violation, the cart owner (e.g., Target) would have to put together a cart containment plan to submit for approval from the city’s Community Development Department. If the same owner continues to receive violations, they may face fines of up to $1,000 per violation, or administrative penalties of varying degrees.

“It would be our hope that by enacting this ordinance, cart owners would take responsibility and make sure their carts are remaining on their premises,” Sinco said.

But it might not work out that way, according to Spencer’s Supervising Manager Jeff Zarling. He said that even though his store’s employees do cart runs every hour and lock up the carts at night, they still end up losing several each week.

“It’s just totally unenforceable,” Zarling said of the proposed ordinance. “You’re basically punishing the retailer for something the customer base is entirely responsible for. No business is going to want to damn their customer base.”

He said stores would have to hire more personnel to monitor the shopping carts or security staff to “chase people down or yell at customers,” which would hurt businesses from a customer service perspective.

“You’re not necessarily going to ask every customer in line what their living situation is, or whether they’re hard up, or, ‘Hey, by the way, don’t steal a cart,’” Zarling said. “That’s not going to take you very far.

“It sounds like it’s going to be a cluster-you-know-what to me,” he added. “It doesn’t sound like a very good idea to me, but they’ll probably do it anyway.”

Lompoc passed a similar ordinance in September 2016, but Sinco said Lompoc’s regulations assumed all cart owners were already in violation of the cart containment regulations because it required them to come up with an Abandoned Shopping Cart Prevention Plan, regardless of whether they’d received any citations.

Santa Maria’s proposed ordinance would give cart owners the benefit of the doubt, not requiring them to draft a cart containment plan unless they commit a violation.

“We decided that our approach is we’re going to assume everybody’s in compliance unless we find otherwise,” Sinco said. “Our hope again is that there’s voluntary cooperation, because right now some of the cart owners just don’t care. They don’t care that city law enforcement is being impacted by these carts’ being removed from the premises.”

Planning Commissioner Kelly White O’Neill said at the April 6 session that she appreciates how the ordinance approaches the burden of responsibility.

“This is obviously an issue about homelessness, poverty, mental illness, and drug addiction, none of which is going away by taking away shopping carts,” White O’Neill said at the meeting. “But I’m glad to see that we’re not criminalizing the homeless through this. We’re putting the onus and responsibility on the cart owner.”

That way, the responsibility is going to those who actually have the resources to solve the shopping cart problem, she said.

Still, Sinco said, the city will hear from cart owners before moving forward with the ordinance.

“We’re not going to drop it on them without listening to their concerns,” he told the Sun. “That’s not how we roll here in Santa Maria.”

The ordinance is tentatively scheduled to go to the Planning Commission again on May 17. The city would reach out to business owners before then to hold a private meeting where city employees and cart owners could have a “frank exchange” about the potential regulations.

“We’re in the process of identifying people to contact,” Sinco said of the private meeting. “We’re going to be setting up a presentation before the Planning Commission meeting to offer to discuss the ordinance, hear their concerns, and take that into consideration before the final ordinance is submitted.”

Guerra said at the study session that this kind of ordinance would be necessary to prevent Santa Maria from looking like Los Angeles, which he called “the Mecca of shopping carts for the homeless.”

“We don’t want to end up like that,” he said. “It looks horrendous.”

Staff Writer Brenna Swanston can be reached at bswanston@santamariasun.com.




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