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Loose carts + blight = crime so stop it!
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An apartment dweller pushes a Save Mart grocery cart down Mitchell Road and towards Della Drive. Carts are routinely left there to create blight says the editor. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

On Friday I pulled into the drive-thru lane at the Burger King on Mitchell Road.

Rounding the curve in the back, I noticed about five to six shopping carts from different stores stashed along Della Drive.

As I was being handed my Whopper at the window, I saw part of the problem in a woman pushing a loaded cart southbound on Mitchell Road. She pushed her way through the Burger King parking lot headed toward the apartments along Della Drive and Colleen Way.

Residents like the woman I saw are the problem of the blight caused by shopping carts scattered throughout the city.

When I made my way back to get a second look at the abandoned carts, I saw a gentleman picking them up and loading them onto a pickup. No doubt he was paid by one of the stores to round them up. But no telling how long the carts were on the street before they were rounded up.

I wrote on this topic a year ago. In it I interjected my comments about how irresponsible it is that people would wheel a cart blocks away from the store and fail to return it, allowing it to be left in the streets or on sidewalks. In that same column I suggested that "the citizen can get involved in fashioned ways of community. Those who personally know cart ‘thieves' should admonish them for doing so." In the case of the woman I saw pushing the cart, she looked as though she might not speak English well.

Perhaps it's time that the city educates residents about shopping cart laws. If it hasn't already been tried, maybe a message in both English and Spanish about the illegality of wheeling a cart into a residential area could be slipped into the city's utility billing.

State law says it's illegal to wheel a cart away from a shopping center or a store. Carts are made available to assist the shopper to transport purchases from the store to a vehicle in the parking lot, not wheel it to an apartment or home a quarter or half mile away! I suppose the problem wouldn't be so bad if the cart was promptly returned but it never is. Besides, the state Business and Professions Code makes it illegal for anyone to wheel shopping carts from their 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. In short, you are stealing a cart when you take it away from the owner.

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.

Jeff, you might say, you're being insensitive to the poor who don't have cars to get their groceries home. I suppose that's where public transportation or a friend comes into play.

Some people have no sense of community responsibility. The selfish and inconsiderate actions of some - whether it be to throw down trash or leave up a garage sale sign (which is illegal too) - causes blight that the entire neighborhood must suffer. Make no mistake, the presence of abandoned shopping carts scattered throughout Ceres 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 or yard sale signs that are left in place until the wind blows them down. A community reaps what it sows. If you choose to fail to clean house then don't be surprised if the corporate decision makers explore Ceres for new business only to hightail it out after seeing unbecoming sights. If it looks like nobody cares and that sloven practices are tolerated crime is next.

Look at the bigger picture. In a June 2012 column, Police Chief Art deWerk noted the role that abandoned carts play in blight. DeWerk wrote: "Shopping centers tend to draw more customers and have fewer problems with crimes, loitering, tagging and beggars when the business grounds are kept clean. Shoppers feel safer and more secure when they do business at locations that are free of these problems. Abandoned shopping carts are also a continuing problem. It is a crime to take a shopping cart away from a business establishment without permission and businesses are responsible for collecting carts that have been abandoned."

It's going to take a while for people to get the message but it's a message that must keep getting repeated until all have heard.

Meanwhile, if you see a cart abandoned - or large items dumped for that matter -- call the city of Ceres Code Enforcement Unit at 538-5799 to report it.

How do you feel? Let Jeff know at