City officials hope to pass an ordinance to recover and manage abandoned shopping carts
It’s estimated that the city of Santa Barbara’s Streets Division collects between 700 and 800 abandoned shopping carts throughout the city every year.
In 2020, the city’s sole contractor retrieved 538 abandoned shopping carts from the streets of Santa Barbara, and that’s only including the city’s contractor, excluding other businesses that retrieve them.
The Creeks Division also has to gather carts from Santa Barbara’s creek beds. In 2017, the city seized 64 carts from city beaches and creeks; in 2018, 32 carts; and 2019, 20 carts.
Now, the city is ready to clean up the carts and figure out a system to return them to their owners.
To do that, city staff is proposing an ordinance to provide a mechanism to place primary responsibility for managing cart service with the owner of the cart and to set requirements for the prompt retrieval of carts that have been taken off business premises.
“It reflects state regulations and it is strictly focused on empty abandoned carts, and working with businesses to make sure they have a plan in place to limit carts from being taken from their property,” René Eyerly, the city’s environmental services manager, told the News-Press.
State law already makes it unlawful to remove a shopping cart from business premises or to possess it after it has been removed. This ordinance won’t add any additional penalties for individuals unlawfully removing carts, but instead, it will focus on cart recovery and management.
If shopping carts appear to be in use by individuals experiencing homelessness, they will be left alone. Ms. Eyerly said that collecting the carts being used to store personal belongings will need to be a separate conversation from this one.
“We are having conversations as part of our strategic plan about how to provide temporary storage, so I would say that in the next year or so, we’ll be having more conversations about how we might approach that topic separately,” she said.
If approved, this ordinance would require shopping cart owners to secure their carts during hours when their business is closed and conspicuously mark and identify each cart with the name, address and telephone number of the owner, along with a notification that removing the cart is a violation of state and local law. The businesses would be responsible for any costs for a cart containment system or to add identification to their carts.
The ordinance was originally scheduled to be brought to the Santa Barbara City Council for approval last Tuesday, but the item was postponed for a later date.
“It’s definitely both a safety measure to make sure that these carts aren’t in the public right of way and somehow impeding car traffic or foot traffic, and also just the general contribution to blight,” Ms. Eyerly said.
Carts in Santa Barbara are typically found in highly concentrated areas such as several blocks on either side of State Street and the lower Eastside and Westside. They are also often found near on and off ramps to the highway.
Ms. Eyerly added that shopping carts average around $200 to $300 apiece.
“In addition to the blight and safety concern I mentioned, the expense for the city to retrieve these and then manage them for the property owners … it’s definitely a financial loss to them to have them wander away and then replace them over time. Ideally, this would be helping them to have some cost savings,” she said.
The push for an ordinance like this began in 2020, and Ms. Eyerly said the city conducted several rounds of outreach to businesses associated with shopping carts. Staff also sent emails to the business owners informing them of the ordinance.
The environmental services manager said that only a few businesses were concerned with it, but only with ways they would be able to comply with the ordinance.
“Generally, the businesses have seemed to understand the need for it,” she said. “The easiest and simplest way for a business to comply is to demonstrate to us that they have a plan in place training staff on retrieving carts, making sure they have signage in place, educating their customers not to take the carts off their property and keeping some kind of simple identification on each of the carts.”
Stores in other regions utilize cart containment systems, which create invisible “fences” on the perimeter of the business’s property. A shopping cart’s wheels then lock if they are pushed past the perimeter. However, these systems are not required.
Ms. Eyerly concluded saying that especially with chain grocery stores, there should be enough inventory that this really won’t have an impact on the stores, and the city is working on finding solutions for those experiencing homelessness regarding temporary storage.
“This is one small tool to help the city address a myriad of blight issues,” she said. “It is not new — it’s actually a local reinforcement of what is current state law.
“We think that it helps us communicate to the community in areas of importance that we’re making sure we’re addressing, and it’s not meant to be punitive to any of the businesses. We expect to work with all of them to make sure they have their plans in place over the next few months, and it should be fairly business as usual for them.”