They can be seen everywhere – in front of houses, in church parking lots, even local waterways. They are carts removed from grocery and retail stores, some abandoned miles away from their rightful location. Other cities in the region, such as Auburn and Bellevue, have passed laws to address this problem. Tacoma may join them.
Tacoma City Council’s Public Safety, Human Services and Education Committee examined the problem during its June 23 meeting.
Councilmember Ryan Mello presented information provided by Central Neighborhood Council. It contained a letter requesting the city to address the problem. Justin D. Leighton, secretary of the organization, was on hand to offer his input.
Leighton purchased a house two years ago. An abandoned cart from Top Foods was on the lawn. His real estate agent told him it was his item now.
Leighton shared photographs he has taken around the city, showing carts abandoned in Thea Foss Waterway, parks and alleys. One was shown on the sidewalk outside the building that houses Tacoma/Pierce County Chamber of Commerce.
He said some are used by people who do not own cars and they leave the carts at bus stops.
Some travel quite a distance. He saw an Albertson’s cart at the intersection of South ‘M’ and South 25th streets, a location nowhere near an Albertson’s store.
Councilmember Marty Campbell said one from the Toys R Us store near Tacoma Mall was found during a neighborhood cleanup on the East Side.
Leighton feels abandon carts send the wrong message to tourists, as well as those considering buying a home or starting a business in Tacoma. “It does not envision safe, clean and attractive,” he said, referring to a city strategy to combat blight.
The current approach to the problem is to have citizens call a private company to pick up carts. Leighton said this service is not known by many residents. He feels a better solution is needed.
Mello proposes fining storeowners whose carts are abandoned, unless they choose to place devices that block wheels when someone attempts to remove them from the store’s parking lot. He said a fine would give store managers incentive to retrieve carts. He suggested exempting some small stores from the law, such as those with 10 or fewer carts.
Katie Hampton from the City Manager discussed research she did. These devices cost between $100 and $200 each. Carts range in price from $75 to $200.
Campbell said the new WinCo store has 1,000 carts, so installing the devices could cost that store up to $200,000.
Hampton confirmed that the problem is significant on Hilltop and the central section of the city. One store has 100 carts and reported that at times only 10 are at the store.
Two stores she contacted in the North End reported their carts rarely disappear, although occasionally one is found a block away.
Councilmember Victoria Woodards suggested having conversations with store managers to gather feedback on how the city should approach this problem.