Supervisors took no action on a discussion Tuesday regarding a possible ordinance designed to curb theft and disposal of shopping carts.
Chair Chris Howard opened by saying the issue of stolen, abandoned and destroyed shopping carts is not exclusive to any supervisor’s district. He said technology exists to curb the problem of people taking carts away from stores. According to Howard, the behaviors of some who take the carts is not becoming in a town dependent on tourism.
“We do need to address it, to a certain extent,” he said. “My hope is that with this discussion, there’s also potentially some direction that we could give to staff.”
Supervisor Roger Gitlin said he has spoken to retailers in the area about the total cost of carts taken this year.
He said an official at the Dollar Tree store reported losing 50 carts this year, at a cost of $175 each. Gitlin said Dollar Tree cannot increase its prices to offset the loss of $8,750 in carts, as everything’s a dollar in the store.
Officials at Walmart reported losing 74 carts this year, despite regularly sending employees off the property to retrieve them, according to Gitlin. At a cost of $375 each, the total loss comes to $27,750, he said, noting many are damaged and require new parts in order to be used again. Some are damaged beyond repair, including those used as a barbecue grate over an open fire.
Citing statements from the police chief and an official at Grocery Outlet, Gitlin said, “I think we can all realize this is a problem that’s not getting smaller, irrespective of the fact that it’s an eyesore in our community when people are using these carts as their personal vehicles.”
Gitlin said allowing the behavior ultimately hurts retailers and local costs increase to offset the loss.
“Are you willing to tolerate that — you, the public,?” Gitlin asked. “If you’re not willing to tolerate it, then this board certainly has some say in how we enforce our laws by recommending to our sheriff, when he sees someone using these carts off grounds, that those people are stopped, as a theft.”
Gitlin said he has spoken to Sheriff Erik Apperson about the crime, which is of low priority.
“If I share these numbers with him, maybe it’s not such a low priority,” he said. “Maybe it’s a priority that needs to be addressed.”
Gitlin suggested creating an ordinance allowing authorities to apprehend or send a message to violators that taking the carts is not allowed.
Supervisor Lori Cowan spoke of a mechanism on carts that stops the wheels if taken off site and asked why stores aren’t installing them.
Gitlin said the device can be disabled with a screwdriver. Howard questioned how sabotage-proof the devices are and why retailers would not install them to prevent losses.
“All these measures or interventions are costly,” Gitlin responded, noting stores have also reported thefts of electric wheelchairs.
“The policy of these big stores is that they don’t want to make waves and make an issue,” Gitlin said. “They shared these numbers with me, which shows me that the problem is getting worse because we, here in this community, tepidly condone it.”
Gitlin said should stores opt to use electronic devices to prevent theft of carts, customers will inherit their cost.
Supervisor Bob Berkowitz asked what the board can do to support local merchants, noting theft of the carts constitutes a misdemeanor crime. Howard said if the board enacts an ordinance, it will essentially be telling business owners how to run their stores.
“My hope, by having this conversation, is to stimulate some additional conversation amongst those retailers who are having this escalating issue of cost associated with shopping carts going,” Howard said, noting an ordinance could help with deal with blight issues around discarded carts.
Regarding the level of priority given to the issue by law enforcement officials, Gitlin said, “Their hands are tied with more pressing issues.”
Gitlin suggested the board look at funding and discuss with the sheriff, the possibility of having an officer dedicated to looking for carts and informing offenders that it’s illegal and won’t be tolerated.
When asked, County CAO Jay Sarina said the issue has been around for years and persists because there are no consequences for taking carts. He said city officials would also need to be brought into discussions as most stores are inside city limits.
“I think you could bring the discussion to a point of either we have mechanisms to enforce it or we don’t,” Sarina said. “If the mechanism is through law enforcement, and law enforcement is saying they are not going to prioritize it, that’s a problem and you can establish that, and see if there’s a step from there you can go.”
Resident Linda Sutter noted Dollar Tree stores attach poles to carts that prevent them from being taken outside. Other stores require a 25 cent deposit for carts, she said.
Resident Randy Zopf said all or most carts contain a written warning that taking them violates county or other ordinances. He said while the text gives specific notice to anyone who would take them, most homeless persons know they will not be stopped or arrested for taking them. Zopf said that once certain people have the carts, it enables further petty crimes since offenders then have a place to stash stolen items.
“My feeling is that I do not want to displace a homeless person, none of us do,” Zopf said. “This is their home on wheels, their little RV, but at the same time, I don’t think we can keep turning a blind eye to it.”
Zopf said he’s hopeful the discussion can bridge a gap between law enforcement and local businesses, so officers can warn and inform offenders before returning the carts.
Resident Aaron Skroback offered a few ideas, starting with allowing stores to enact their own security measures and retrieval options. He suggested the board then return to the issue in the coming months, to see what has and has not worked for businesses.
After noting the different electronic devices available, Skroback spoke of an ordinance in Alameda County, which makes removal of a cart a misdemeanor. He said other counties have taken a harder approach with posted signs and fines for removing carts.
“People in Redding can report shopping carts online when they see them,” he said. “A city employee will get an email about the cart’s location and go pick it up. If the cart is unidentifiable, then it will be impounded. If it is labeled for a specific store, the carts will be returned for a price. The City gets paid $17 for every delivery it makes back to a store. [It] may not sound like much, but 53 carts were collected there in one day alone. That’s enough money to offset the cost of the employee hired to collect the carts.”
Howard said he appreciated Skroback’s comments and wants to include the city in future conversations.
Gitlin said other agencies, including Caltrans, have been dealing with the issue as recovered carts accumulate in state maintenance yards. He said without consequence for taking carts, it will continue.
Howard asked staff to set up discussions with Crescent City Council and staff members, while Berkowitz suggested store managers be included in the conversations.