ENCINITAS — The Encinitas City Council advanced a proposal aimed at reducing the number of abandoned shopping carts across the city by shifting more responsibility and costs onto local retailers.
“It’s an eyesore and it creates blight in our communities,” Mayor Tony Kranz said. “We need to address this issue to keep Encinitas clean and safe.”
Shopping carts, often discarded in public areas, can obstruct pathways, impede traffic flow and create safety hazards, particularly for emergency services and first responders, according to city staff.
Beyond their immediate inconvenience and unsightly blemish on the small coastal community, abandoned shopping carts also pose environmental risks when discarded in local waterways or drainage systems, contributing to environmental degradation and potentially leading to flooding and ecological harm, the staff report said.
The current ordinance fines retailers $100 per cart if they are found abandoned at another location. However, some council members feel this is not doing enough to solve the problem.
“Fining the stores isn’t working,” Councilmember Joy Lyndes said. “We see the same carts wandering for months. There needs to be more accountability.”
Lyndes then proposed increasing fines for repeat offenders and requiring stores to pay the city to retrieve abandoned carts. Several residents spoke in favor of stronger measures.
“I find carts in my neighborhood all the time,” said Encinitas resident Michael George. “The stores aren’t facing any real consequences. Something needs to change.”
Resident Lawrence Fulton said he lives in downtown Encinitas, “where shopping carts are everywhere full of trash and homeless people’s belongings.”
However, some grocery store representatives expressed concerns about increased costs for retailers, who already work to contain and retrieve carts stolen from their premises.
Cardiff Seaside Market owner John Najjar said the idea of placing the burden of cart retrieval and enforcement on store owners is “absurd.”
“Shopping carts are very expensive for a store owner,” Najjar wrote in a public statement against the ordinance. “It’s the same as theft if they take the cart off-site. To hold the store responsible for the theft of their cart is ridiculous. That’s the same as if someone takes something from any property and holds the victim responsible. If we are notified at any time of an abandoned cart, we always retrieve it. What do we do when a homeless person is using the cart? Do we empty their belongings and retrieve our cart?”
Bob Buchanan, store manager of Sprouts Farmers Market on Encinitas Boulevard, asked why the city wasn’t already enforcing the existing law that prohibits the removal of shopping carts from retailers.
“Why are we not making every effort to enforce an already existing law, directing enforcement at those causing the nuisance, rather than placing undue burden and expense on businesses,” Buchanan said. “Knowing that the city does not mandate enforcement of existing laws concerning this, how can businesses be assured that enforcement of a new ordinance will not fall solely on businesses rather than on those causing the nuisance?”
Chris Frederick of North Coast Market argued fines against store owners should only be increased as a last resort.
The draft ordinance outlines two main enforceable components. Firstly, the ordinance makes it illegal to remove marked shopping carts from premises without consent, except for specific purposes like repairs or maintenance. Secondly, the ordinance prohibits shopping cart owners from abandoning or leaving their carts unattended.
The ordinance would require store owners to affix permanent labels to their carts displaying essential information, such as the store’s name and other contact details outlined in the California Business and Professions Code.
The city would also mandate displaying signs warning against the removal of shopping carts in strategic locations at business locations.
The ordinance outlines containment requirements for shopping cart owners and measures to help prevent the unauthorized removal of carts, including requiring security deposits, installing anti-theft wheel locks and other disabling devices on individual carts, employing additional security services, constructing physical barriers, or a combination of these measures.
To ensure compliance, the proposal requires shopping cart identification, warning signs against removal, physical containment measures (like disabling devices, security deposits, or retrieval services), after-hours cart security, and the submission of a shopping cart containment plan by business owners.
Enforcement of the ordinance will involve the city’s Code Enforcement, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and oversight by the Public Works Department to address reports of abandoned carts.
Upon approval, the city plans to continue engaging business owners by communicating the new requirements and deploying an online system for the submission of required cart containment plans.
The council took no action but directed staff to research other city ordinances and gather public input on potential changes. The council will discuss revisions to the proposed shopping cart ordinance early next year, with possible adoption as early as January 2024. Once approved, the ordinance would become effective 30 days later.