After battling graffiti and illegal residences, the city has chosen a new target in its continuing war on blight: the abandoned shopping cart.
"It's a blighting influence to see an overturned shopping cart on the corner. It's like a dumped-over trash can," said City Atty. Bruce Boogaard. He added that in South Gate, "you will see an abandoned shopping cart on every other street."
The war on blight that now is being extended to shopping carts is serious business, and this year it will cost South Gate taxpayers $265,000. Seven days a week, municipal officials drive around the city in six white Ford Escorts, purchased last year, checking out complaints about graffiti and zoning violations.
In March, the city approved an ordinance requiring inspection of all residences that are for sale, so that city officials can check for illegal additions and conversions of garages into substandard apartments.
Store's Name on Cart
To clear the streets of abandoned shopping carts, Boogaard has proposed an ordinance to require store owners to place on each cart a sign identifying the owner and warning that removing a cart from the store's parking lot is a violation of state law.
The ordinance, scheduled for a public hearing and a City Council vote June 10, also empowers city employees to pick up shopping carts. Under the proposal, if a labeled cart is not picked up by the store or a cart collection service within 48 hours, it will be impounded and the store will be charged $15 to get it back.
The proposed ordinance goes a step beyond a 1981 state law that makes it a misdemeanor to remove a shopping cart bearing proper identification from a store lot. Under the state law, stores are not required to place the warning signs on their carts; the cart identification is voluntary. Violations are punishable by a maximum fine of $500 or up to six months in jail.
Fine for Noncompliance
The city ordinance would make identification of shopping carts mandatory, set a fine of $50 for any store that does not comply and allow impoundment of the carts.
Boogaard said the city, to date, has not arrested anyone for taking a shopping cart because the offense is hard to detect. He added that city officials would seek voluntary compliance with the ordinance from local merchants if it is passed by the council.
Copies of the proposed ordinance, which would apply to all grocery stores, laundries and markets, were mailed to 69 city merchants last week, officials said. In a letter to the merchants, Mayor William DeWitt said abandoned shopping carts are an "unsightly problem" that has "plagued" the city for many years.
Managers and owners of many stores were reluctant to comment on the ordinance, saying they were unfamiliar with it. Managers at two of the city's largest grocery stores, however, expressed misgivings about the proposal.
'It's Not Store's Fault'
Larry Stanfield, manager at Ralphs Grocery Co. on Tweedy Boulevard, said if city officials "want to start impounding (shopping carts) then they better have police officers enforcing the (state) law because it's not our fault" that carts are taken from stores.
At Ralphs, abandoned shopping carts are a major problem, Stanfield said. The manager said he takes a different route to work every morning so he can spot the store's carts. The store also hires a cart collection service to pick up the 300 or more carts that are removed every week from Ralphs, the manager said. That service cost the store $700 last month, he said.
Carts are often taken by elderly customers who do not drive, the manager said. He added that because more than half of his customers are Latinos, any warning signs on shopping carts should be in both English and Spanish.
Should Penalize Customer
The proposed ordinance does not call for a second language, Boogaard said. He said council members had not requested it.
At Lucky Discount Supermarket on Firestone Boulevard, manager Lee Finnegan said the proposed ordinance is not a good idea.
"It amounts to penalizing the store," he said. "The better idea is to penalize the person who walks off with the cart."
At Lucky, Finnegan said store employees have talked several customers out of taking shopping carts.
"It's a matter of educating the public," Finnegan said. "Most of them are just used to taking" shopping carts home. He said that when customers learn that the carts cost about $100 each, they usually leave them in the lot.
He added that the store is now lending customers less expensive, two-wheeled pushcarts to keep from losing more shopping carts.