The city of Wenatchee has a new ordinance to reduce the number of abandoned shopping carts on the streets.

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City staff estimates they retrieve five to six abandoned shopping carts each week and estimate they track down 300 per year.

Retail stores will now be charged $100 for shopping carts they don't recover from the city's impound.

City Councilman Keith Huffaker accepted the new ordinance with reservations.

"I'm still struggling with it," said Huffaker. "I know that we need to do something. Maybe this is a first step. I don't think it's the final solution that we should do, because it does not do anything to discourage the people that are causing the problem in the first place."

Other council members acknowledged the ordinance wasn't ideal, but they all voted to implement it Thursday.

The city has had an ordinance in place since 2009 that makes it a misdemeanor to remove a shopping cart from the grounds of a retail store or have a shopping cart that's been removed from a store's grounds. However, that ordinance has not been enforced because the stores have not voluntarily placed signage on the carts.

(The signage required must include language notifying the public of procedures for authorized removal, notifies the public that unauthorized removal is unlawful, and lists the phone number or address for returning carts.)

The new ordinance requires the retail stores to place the signage on all of the carts, which will allow police to take shopping carts away from people in possession of them on the streets.

The city is using a law in Auburn, Washington as a model for the new ordinance.

City councilors debated extensively with city staff over its wording. The ordinance originally had a $30 impound fee and a $70 charge if the stores didn't recover the carts and the city had to destroy them.

The ordinance passed by the council does away with the impound fee and imposes a $100 disposal fee on the retailers if they fail to retrieve their carts. City Councilor Chelsea Ewer was partially responsible for suggesting the change.

The new ordinance as adopted includes the following:

  • Requires a business to place in the shopping cart specific identification information.
  • Allows the City to impound the cart.
  • Allows the City to destroy the cart and charge for the destruction.
  • Provides a specific redemption procedure for businesses to follow.
  • Declares the abandonment of a cart as a public nuisance.
  • Provides penalties and an enforcement mechanism.

The ordinance will not be immediately enforced. City staff said there would be a grace period to inform and educate the retail stores about the ordinance.

City Councilors noted some stores are already doing a good job of protecting their shopping carts.

Councilors spoke of the Plaza Super Jet, saying anyone going to the parking lot with a cart would have a store employee accompanying them.

The shopping carts at Fred Meyer have magnetic clamps that lock up the wheels when they're pushed off the grounds.

People found in possession of shopping carts off the grounds of the retail store cannot be charged with stealing the cart unless they're observed in the act.

Councilor Huffaker said police will at least have the means to take shopping carts away from people on the streets.

"If it gives us some teeth that if we see somebody walking down the street with a shopping cart, they could be stopped and it could be removed from them, then I think that's a good first step," Huffaker said.

The overall handling of homeless people by cities will become more clear this month.

The U.S. Supreme Court will issue a decision in the case of Grants Pass v. Johnson.

The court heard arguments on whether a city can fine or jail homeless people for sleeping outside.

Grants Pass, Oregon passed a law that allowed it to fine homeless nearly $300 for illegally camping on public property, with jail and additional fines facing repeat offenders.

A federal court in 2022 found that the law violated 8th Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment if there aren’t enough shelter beds.

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Gallery Credit: Dan Patrick

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