In an effort to clean up southeast Bakersfield, Ward 1 Councilman Willie Rivera said Wednesday he's planning a shopping cart summit Nov. 25, to hear from representatives of four city departments how best to keep carts in store parking lots.
Illegal dumping has been a problem in Ward 1 for more than a generation, said Rivera, who considers the abandoning of stolen shopping carts especially vexing.
In 11 days, the councilman wants to discuss ideas with representatives of the city's Code Enforcement and Solid Waste departments, as well as staffers from the City Manager's and City Attorney's offices.
Then, slightly later this year, Rivera said he wants to meet publicly with representatives of local stores to learn why they think their carts are getting stolen, and how the problem might be solved.
Rivera, who said he doesn't want to penalize businesses, hopes answers can be identified by early next year.
"Dollar General, Home Depot, Superior (Grocers), Bed Bath & Beyond. It's like a grocery cart desert. For some reason, this lot attracts 20 to 30 carts a week," Rivera said, reading store names off stolen carts in a vacant lot at the northeast corner of South Union Avenue and Daniels Lane. "Part of what we're going to talk about, and what needs to get ironed out, is what do we do in situations like that. We can't be going around 24-7 trying to enforce it."
The city's 1974 shopping cart ordinance requires stores and all their shopping carts to have notices posted, warning that their removal is a violation of municipal code.
Stealing a shopping cart is a misdemeanor in Bakersfield, punishable by a fine of up to $500 or up to six months in jail -- or both.
But code enforcement and police officials say citing all violators is impractical because it takes them away from more serious crimes, they get stuck with the cart, and due to overcrowded jails, thieves likely will just be released.
"The problem we have is then, what do we do with the cart? If you took that part of the equation out, those tickets would be issued a lot more," said Bakersfield police Sgt. Joseph Grubbs, offering a possible solution. "There is a device that some of the carts have, and it's like a block thing on one of the back wheels. They have come up with that."
Brian Casey, manager of the Dollar General Market at 401 Union Ave., said that without that device, nearly all of his store's 80 shopping carts were stolen within four months of its April opening.
Replacing them with carts that had locking wheels, activated electronically when customers reached a certain perimeter outside, has been a help, he said.
"Since we had the Gatekeeper program installed, things have been much better," Casey said, referencing Irvine-based Gatekeeper Systems, which makes a self-braking wheel and its activation system.
No one wants to penalize store owners, City Attorney Ginny Gennaro said, noting that while it's too soon to say how the problem could be solved, the answer could be as simple as making sure businesses employ cart retrieval services.
"I think that Councilman Rivera has identified a problem in his ward, and he's just trying to reach out to see if there are some creative ways to solve that, that aren't too onerous on business owners in his ward," Gennaro said. "It could just be a matter of educating the business owners in his district."