Abandoned but not forgotten: Spokane Valley could tackle the shopping cart problem
Once you start looking, they’re not hard to find.
On Monday afternoon, a few sat on a vacant lot outside Walmart. A trio, full of trash, were lined up next to trash cans on Custer Road. And the west side of the Spokane Valley, along Sprague Avenue, was littered with shopping carts.
Advance Auto Parts Managing Director Jhonny Montufar estimated he had seen up to 100 abandoned shopping carts in the area at a time. They are usually eliminated after a few days.
“It really doesn’t affect us much,” Montufar said, “other than it’s an eyesore.”
The issue of Spokane Valley’s abandoned shopping carts is nothing new – Councilor Arne Woodard said the carts had bothered him for at least six years. But the city is evaluating options to resolve the issue.
“They’re full of garbage, so it’s a health issue,” Woodard said. “It’s not a good aesthetic.”
Spokane Valley staff members have proposed the cart rules to city council after receiving numerous complaints about the cart from some businesses.
Cities have the power to get rid of public nuisances, said Spokane Valley Deputy City Attorney Erik Lamb, adding that these shopping carts, which often contain needles, clutter parking lots and even block traffic, are clearly a nuisance.
Spokane Valley officials are considering adopting stricter rules for shopping carts. The proposal would allow the city to impose fines on retailers whose carts are stolen and abandoned in the city.
It may seem odd to punish a business for being robbed, rather than the thief, but many cities across the country have done just that to tackle abandoned carts.
For example, Yakima ($ 115 fine) and Federal Way ($ 25 fine) are already penalizing retailers for abandoned shopping carts. Cities often give stores 14 days to collect their carts before disposing of them – disposal often comes with an additional fine. A new shopping cart can cost anywhere from $ 150 to $ 600 at a store.
Lamb said the city would ideally punish shopping cart thieves, not stores. But, he said, it is not possible to prosecute the people who steal the carts.
“If you don’t go after the retailers, then all citizens end up paying for it,” Lamb said.
On a trip to find abandoned carts in the Spokane Valley earlier this week, a reporter located around 20 carts, almost all from Walmart.
Woodard added, however, that wherever there is a store with carts, it is not uncommon to find that store’s carts nearby.
Walmart’s director of corporate communications Beth Bruce said in an email the store would follow an abandoned shopping cart law if the city passed one.
“We do our best to ensure that the carts are collected promptly from our parking lots and in some cases we will attempt to retrieve the carts if they are near the property,” said Bruce.
Council members Pam Haley and Tim Hattenburg said at a meeting earlier this month that they would prefer the rules to include incentives to reduce fines for stores that have beefed up cart safety.
For example, some stores across the country attach lockable wheels to their carts. If someone tries to pick up the cart, the lock activates and prevents the wheel from turning. Lamb told Spokane Valley, only Rosauers uses the lock wheels.
“If someone steals in this case, they are really trying to steal,” he said, adding that if a store takes meaningful action to stop the theft “we don’t want to sue you.”
However, Spokane Valley might not be following in Yakima’s or Federal Way’s footsteps. City Councilor Rod Higgins has said he would like to prevent the city from becoming a shopping cart police as much as possible.
“How about a subscription service? Higgins asked. “They pay a fee, do we get the carts back?” “
Whatever model the city chooses, it will not be the municipal staff who will handle the carts. Lamb said the city does not have the manpower to do the job or the space to hold the carts. If the city coordinates the response, it will find contractors to do the work.
Woodard has said he would like to resolve the issue with as little government involvement as possible.
“I would always prefer to encourage and obtain voluntary cooperation,” he said. “I’m not very good on penalties. “