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New SLO ordinance looks to hold businesses accountable for stray shopping carts

Phil Leitch/Flickr

The City of San Luis Obispo unanimously passed an ordinance last week meant to reduce the number of abandoned shopping carts scattered throughout the city. It would enforce businesses to be held responsible for the management and distribution of their carts.

The ordinance states that abandoned and unattended shopping carts can interfere with the use of public areas, create a hazard to natural spaces, and contribute to litter and clutter.

At the council meeting on May 17, Vice Mayor Carlyn Christianson said, I’ve lived downtown since 2007, so I've been walking by a lot of sidewalks, a lot of creeks and it was very, very disheartening. I’m really happy with this ordinance. I think it focuses on the right things which are the cart owners. And I can tell you, I still report carts all the time, they’re everywhere.”

The ordinance requires a cart retrieval plan for businesses with 25 shopping carts or more. Businesses must now brand their carts with their business name, enforce signage warning that the removal of carts could result in a fine and ensure cart security during off-hours. Employees must receive cart security training and businesses have to retrieve abandoned shopping carts within three business days of them going missing or risk being fined $50.

The city said shortly after the introduction of this ordinance in 2021, a nonprofit law firm called the California Rural Legal Assistance warned of litigation against the city if they adopted this ordinance. The organization provides free civil legal services to low-income residents of California, and has joined other nonprofits in suing the city for allegedly criminalizing homelessness through various decisions and regulations.

At the council meeting, San Luis Obispo Facilities Maintenance Manager Greg Cruce said when an abandoned shopping cart is found, city staff determine if it has personal belongings before returning it to the business owner. “We always air on the side of caution, and we’ll store that for 90 days either through the Police Department, Parks and Recreation or the Public Works Department," Cruce said.

City staff said the initiative is already supported by local businesses including Target, Ralphs, Rite-Aid, and Vons. The first 12 businesses to submit a cart retrieval plan to the city will receive a $5,000 grant for participating.

Gabriela Fernandez is a general assignment reporter at KCBX News. She graduated from Sacramento State with a BA in Political Science. During her senior year, she interned at CapRadio in their podcast department, and later worked for them as an Associate Producer on the TahoeLand podcast.
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