Santa Barbara’s new shopping cart ordinance imposes liability on business owners

The proliferation of abandoned shopping carts has reached sufficient critical mass that the Santa Barbara City Council has seen fit to pass an ordinance declaring them a public nuisance and a potential danger to health and safety. On Tuesday, the council put the finishing touches on a measure that places the onus on the business owners who own them to contain stray carts.

Under the new ordinance, business owners will be required to secure their shopping carts and effectively tag devices with the business name and a phone number where the owner can be reached.

Additionally, businesses will be required to submit shopping cart abandonment prevention plans. These plans should describe the employee training programs that the owner intends to initiate to prevent forklifts from being removed from the premises.

Although the language of the ordinance does not mention the homeless, the proliferation of shopping carts on streets, sidewalks and other public spaces clearly coincides with an increase in the number of homeless in those same spaces. The new ordinance will not allow city authorities to seize shopping carts from homeless people, but it will allow them to seize carts left unattended in places that “could hamper emergency services” or where there is no has no owner identification on “unattended” carts.

In 2020, city employees collected 538 shopping carts. The previous year the number was 20. The previous year it was 32.

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Peggy P. Gilmore