Salinas City Council considers crackdown on shopping cart thieves.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
As if Salinas’ most wanted list wasn’t already full with gun-toting gang members, now the City wants to crack down on another category of lawbreakers: shopping cart stealers.
Cart “borrowers” beware: the City Council on Tuesday, March 18 will consider passing an ordinance reinforcing the state law that could charge residents with a misdemeanor for removing, abandoning or possessing a cart outside of store premises. The ordinance would also require grocery stores to write prevention plans for cart theft and allow Salinas to progressively fine businesses if their carts continue to litter sidewalks and creeks.
The intent of the ordinance, city officials say, is not to cite mothers wheeling their bread and milk home or homeless people collecting soda cans. “The point is not to fine them,” says Deputy City Attorney Georgina Mendoza. “The point is to have less carts in our city.”
During two sweeps in December, city staff picked up 89 deserted carts.
But city leaders admit stamping out abandoned carts is not a high priority for city employees, who are busy enough curtailing shootings and breaking up overcrowded homes.
“Unless there is somebody to enforce the ordinance it’s pointless,” Councilman Steven Villegas says. “Are we going to tie up police officers and code enforcement with citations? They are just bombarded.”
Villegas, along with two other council members, voted against drafting an ordinance last November. At the time, city staff recommended not putting the regulation on the books because the budget is short on cash to collect shopping carts, and state law only allows the City to fine businesses $50 per day for violations. The council majority wanted the ordinance to force grocery stores, not city staff, to stop cart nabbers.
“I don’t get the sense that stores are really trying to help,” Councilwoman Jyl Lutes says. “I think that the stores need to take the responsibility.”
Mendoza says she has met with representative from Foods Co. and Food 4 Less, two East Salinas grocery chains, and they are supportive of the ordinance. But the edict won’t likely make shoppers happy.
The majority of discarded carts come from residents without cars who haul their groceries home. Councilman Sergio Sanchez has called for the ordinance to require stores to sell carts at a reasonable price for people who need them. Lutes likes the idea of requiring a coin deposit for carts.
But Lutes confesses city resources could be better spent elsewhere. “In the broad scheme of things, it’s not the biggest problem facing Salinas,” she says. “I wish it was.”