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City government

City aims to address abandoned shopping carts

Newly passed ordinance offers options to retailers

Posted

Over the years, plenty of jokes have been made about the proliferation of abandoned shopping carts turning up near some of Lakewood’s busiest corridors, like Colfax and West 13th Avenue.

But to city leaders, business owners, and homeless people, these carts are no laughing matter. So, on April 23, the city council voted to do something about the 20 or so carts that are collected every month.

“For business owners, these stolen carts are a lost asset,” said Jay Hutchison, director of Public Works for the city. “We sat down with retailers that have had this problem to work with them on coming up with a good solution.”

But it’s not just about returning stolen property for councilmembers like Ward 1’s Ramey Johnson. The issue has been one of her passion projects for about four years, ever since she started notice the carts turning up at bus stops, sidewalks, light rail stations, and even people’s yards.

“It’s an example of broken glass syndrome, and it just looks like blight,” she said referring to the theory that one broken window invites more vandalism and crime. “Growing up, you never saw these carts just lying around.”

In a unanimous vote, council approved an ordinance to help get these carts off the street and back to their owners.

The ordinance has several features to it — the first is to have businesses that own carts register their carts, so they can be alerted and returned. The city will work to establish an online portal and phone number residents can use to report carts they see out and about.

For the actual retrieval of the carts, the ordinance provides three options — the first, which Hutchison calls the “default,” calls for the city to hire a contractor to bring any reported carts to the city, which will temporarily store them until the owner is notified and picks them up. At this point, the cart owner would have to pay the costs for retrieval and storage.

The second option: When a contractor picks up a cart, they take it to the business instead, and the business pays the contractor. The final option is business owners work together to do their own cart retrieval program, which would include hiring their own contractor. The city manager would have to approve the program to ensure it meets the city’s requirements.

“We did a lot of research on what other cities around the country are doing to craft something that would work for everybody,” Hutchison said. “So far, a lot of cities around Colorado haven’t tackled this, though Lone Tree did pass something earlier this year.”

Lone Tree’s measure gives shopping cart owners 48 hours to remove an abandoned cart or pay a fee that could reach $1,000-a-day.

It was important for the city to work with the businesses that own these carts, and enlisted the assistance of Chris Howes, the president of the Colorado Retail Council, Hutichson explained.

“People might think this is a simple problem and want us to take sole responsibility, but it gets more complicated than that,” Howes said. “Once the cart is removed from our property and becomes stolen, it can get complicated, especially if the cart is taken by a homeless individual.”

In 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a ruling that said the City of Los Angeles could not collect property belonging to homeless people. Often, this property is kept in shopping carts. As the homeless population is increasing, in large part due to high rents, it’s important to be aware of their rights, Howes said.

“These carts cost about $150 to $250 a piece, so we definitely want them back, but we have to be careful of the rights at play,” he added. “We’re happy to do what we can to make Lakewood a more beautiful place and clean things up.”

Johnson said she was thrilled with the end result of all the work, not only because it addresses the problem, but because it doesn’t punish anyone involved.

“I think this is model legislation,” she said. “I believe other cities can use this as an example if they want to address the problem.”

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