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A community fix to loose shopping carts
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Last week the Ceres City Council poised itself to begin regulating people pilfering through garbage cans set at the curb, as well as dumpster diving. The council believes a new law will give police teeth to cite people who engage in such activity.

I expressed my feelings two weeks ago about how the residents themselves can take care of the problem without governmental solution. After all, police have more to do than catch garbage pilferers. The citizens can be effective with a little self policing and peer pressure.

We have seen how unsuccessful city efforts to cure the shopping cart problem have been. The loose cart problem is still widespread and offenders seem to disregard the city's efforts to keep carts from making their way into neighborhoods.

After downsizing because of budget constraints, Ceres is now only half strength in code enforcement and there is too much work for one man to do.

It's obvious that the people need to become involved in the shopping cart solution as well. After all, this is community and residents have responsibilities.

To me, the presence of abandoned shopping carts scattered throughout Ceres - or any city where the problem exists - screams of a lack of class. Shopping carts in a place other than a store parking lot trashes the whole community and speaks to laziness of whoever is doing it. It's just as offensive as graffiti on the side of a building and just as annoying as trash. And when corporate decision makers visit Ceres and contemplate on locating here, do you think it makes them wonder when they see such unbecoming sights? Hardly. Instead it looks like nobody cares and the practice is tolerated.

It never fails. Drive around Ceres and count the number of abandoned shopping carts. Despite city regulations to firm up loose carts, there are still stolen carts throughout Ceres at any given time. And yes, I used the word "stolen." It's about time we thought about it in those terms.

The state Business and Professions Code makes it illegal for anyone to wheel a shopping carts from its designated shopping area. The concept here is that when you wheel groceries a block or more from the store, you're making the cart unavailable to other customers. Once the groceries are off loaded, the customer almost always fails to return the cart from where it came.

Keep in mind that wheeling a cart off of the shopping premises also makes it easier for someone to take it in at night and use it privately in one's backyard. At any rate, taking it from the premises is considered theft.

In some cases, kids who've not been taught any better wheel them down the street as some kind of recreational venture. The carts are often tossed into canals and tipped over in gutters for fun. They get pushed into cars and paint jobs are scratched.

Perhaps we should change our mindset. Why isn't the grocery cart deemed as important and valuable as a bicycle? After all, carts cost as much as bicycles. We commonly cite or arrest a bike thief but give the cart thief a pass?

Jeff - you may be asking - aren't you being a bit harsh? You point out the poor and downtrodden have no way of getting their staples home. Most poor people know how to use the bus system or call a friend for a ride. Walking them home without a cart is not impossible either; I have a car but sometimes for the exercise will walk to the store and come back with two bags of groceries. I wouldn't think to wheel a cart to my neighborhood. It's just not right but besides that they make a terrible clatter going down a street without a sidewalk.

In July 2008 the city enacted an ordinance which required stores more responsible for corralling their carts that become scattered outside of shopping districts. The city called for stores to develop a retrieval plan, but businesses with 25 carts or less never had to submit a plan to the city. The ordinance relied on code enforcement officers to stay on top of things, allowing the city to collect loose carts if not picked up by store premises within three days of the city notifying the business. If the city has to impound carts, they will be held for 30 days. If the store hasn't picked up carts by then, the carts may be sold.

With Ceres down to one enforcing code, good luck on that one.

Stores try to deal with the problem the best they can. After all, carts are a sizable investment which they want to protect. They can do a better job on that, maybe even hiring employees instead of private firms to scout for loose carts.

It seems to me if the city wants to go after anyone it should be the offender, not the store owner. After all, the city wants to go after the dumpster diver.

But the citizen can get involved in fashioned ways of community. Those who personally know cart "thieves" should admonish them for doing so. If they see kids playing with them, tell them to stop. If they see a loose cart and have a pickup, try doing the good deed of loading it up and returning it to the store. And lastly report abandoned carts to the city's code enforcement line at 538-5799 and hopefully they will have some time to act on it. After all, the law is on the books and should be enforced.

How do you feel? Let Jeff know at