Shopping Cart Ordinance To Return To Council With Controversial Amendment Requiring City Hall To Notify Stores When Their Carts Are Off-Premises & Give Stores 24-Hours To Retrieve Carts Before Fine
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(Feb. 23, 2006) -- A 6-2 City Council majority indicated on Feb. 21 that it was willing to approve an amended shopping cart containment-regulation ordinance advanced by Councilmembers Bonnie Lowenthal and Patrick O'Donnell, but with an amendment so significant that Lowenthal & O'Donnell both felt compelled to vote against the amended measure.
The controversial amendment, offered by Councilmembers Tonia Reyes Uranga and Val Lerch, would effectively require city staff to locate, identify and notify a business when their carts are off premises...and permit the business 24-hours to retrieve the cart(s) before levying a $100 fine.
"I don't think [facing an immediate $100 fine] is fair," Councilman Lerch said in backing the amendment. "[For] the small stores, the mom and pop stores, a $100 fine is going to be a lot to them, and I think we need to give a notice and chance for these operators to have a chance to retrieve [their shopping carts within 24 hours].
Councilwoman Lowenthal replied, "We have worked not for months but for years -- for years -- with the Grocers Association [which does have] a retrieval service, and it doesn't work...The way this ordinance is fashioned gives everyone six months to gear up for a new system...and at that point stores would have to have some sort of containment system."
Councilwoman Reyes Uranga made a substitute motion (seconded by Lerch) to add an amendment effectively requiring City Hall to notify a business when one of its shopping carts is loose and allow 24-hours for the store to retrieve it before issuing a $100 fine. Reyes Uranga said the Lowenthal-O'Donnell proposed ordinance only addressed shopping carts in a punitive way. "Even with a car, I don't know how people [can handle groceries] without a cart, let alone if I was walking or taking a bus, so people will find a way [to take carts off premises] even with a containment system...The neighborhoods are being littered with these unsightly shopping carts and this does not allow for any retrieval," she said.
Councilman O'Donnell responded that requiring City Hall to notify stores each time a shopping cart is loose will require taxpayer-paid staff time and resources...and labelled the amendment taxpayer-unfriendly.
Councilwoman Laura Richardson proposed adding a mechanism to recoup City Hall's costs for the notification system, noting it would be consistent with a citywide policy of full cost recovery. "There's got to be some way that we can do this," Councilwoman Richardson said...and held a private sidebar with the City Attorney to confer on the matter.
In public testimony, 2d district neighborhood advocate Bry Myown pursued the point, raising the prospect that City Hall might not be able to recover its costs due to legislation by former state Senator Richard Polanco (a southbay Democrat) that preempted certain rights of cities in dealing with shopping carts.
Ms. Myown, who served as an aide to former 2d district Councilman Alan Lowenthal, testifiedMs. Myown: ...We cannot have a meaningful discussion without mention of the fact that Senator Richard Polanco carried legislation that preempted a great deal of city authority, and we cannot have a meaningful discursion about full cost recovery and passing those fines to the stores without the City Attorney briefing us all on what the severe constraints of state legislation are in that regard. [Then-Councilman] Alan Lowenthal, as you know, fought that state law when it happened and we needed this Council and the League of CA Cities to revise that law for the last eleven years...
...Unless whatever mechanism we enforce is onerous enough that stores take responsibility for keeping them off the streets, they will be on the streets no matter how frequently we pick them...There are other ways to get groceries home than at the neigborhoods' expense.
Multiple members of the public (including local activists Ben Rockwell, Gabrielle Weeks and Carol McCafferty) urged passage of the ordinance as proposed by Lowenthal-O'Donnell without the Reyes Uranga-Lerch amendment. Ms. Cafferty (1st district) said, "[Requiring City Hall to give a store] 24 hours is not acceptable. 24 minutes is too long in front of my house, I'm tired of it."
Ms. Greenfeld-Wisner (South Wrigley/6th district) testified, "You guys [Council] need to be a little more focused on neighborhoods and your constituents and a little less focused on the Grocers' Association. Because I'm sorry. I'm tired of this. You make us fight so hard to make our neighborhoods look good." Fixing her gaze on the Mayor, Ms. Greenfeld-Wisner said, "I didn't have that problem when I lived on the peninsula; no, of course you don't have that problem Mayor." Ms. Greenfeld-Wisner concluded, "[I]f you want to give the grocers a break, don't do it on my dime." [Later in the meeting, Councilwoman Richardson asked staff to look into a 6th district problem location alleged by Ms. Greenfeld-Wisner.]
Damon Rice, Director of Gov't Relations for Vons, a division of Safeway with five LB stores, spoke in favor of the amended ordinance:
Safeway [Vons] rep Rice: ...We have seven day a week cart retrieval service at all of our locations and that has proven to be by far the most effective way to get carts that have been removed from our lot back onto it. But as important is the 24-hour notification policy. We are confident the majority of our carts are brought back to our lots in a timely fashion. In the instance that one is overlooked, this will allow us the opportunity to collect that cart without fines. With those two amendments, we're in support of this ordinance. Without that, this ordinance becomes de facto electronic containment, and there's this perception hat electronic containment is the end-all be-all to this problem and it simply isn't...
...[Vons' downtown LB store] has containment...we lose approximately 8-9 carts per day...That [locking wheel] mechanism costs about $50,000 to put in. Even with that ineffective spend, we still need cart retrieval to service our downtown location...
Jennifer Forkish, Director of Local Gov't Relations for the CA Grocers Association testified:
Grocers Ass'n rep Forkish: ...[Regarding taxpayer costs to give stores notice]...[T]he loss in tax dollars would be greater should [the ordinance] be passed as it is drafted originally [Lowenthal-O'Donnell] than should it be passed with the amendments. And the reason behind that is because the tax dollars that come in from the grocery stores, and not just grocery stores but other retailers that have shopping carts, [it's a] very business-unfriendly environment. I've spoken to our members about it. We want to work with the City of Long Beach as I've said before. We're hopeful that you'll pass the amendments...
The grocery industry recognizes, we are not in denial, that there is a problem with stolen and lost carts in Long Beach. We are disagreeing up until this point about how we're going to solve this [supports ordinance as amended]...There are many ways to help solve this problem, and the grocers agree that containment could be an option for those that cannot maintain a responsive retrieval service.
Prior to the public testimony, Councilmembers Colonna and Vice Mayor Kell backed the amendment as a compromise. Colonna pointed out that [if the ordinance as amended doesn't work], on any Tuesday night the Council can amend it, noting that the city hasn't previously tried a mandated retrieval system. "If [the compromise doesn't work], we can move to more Draconian measures," Councilman Colonna said.
Assistant City Attorney Mike Mais indicated the ordinance amended as the Council desired would require textual revisions by the City Attorney's office...meaning the measure will return to the Council for two further recorded votes (likely in March).
The Feb. 23 Council vote was 6-2 (Lowenthal & O'Donnell dissenting, 2d district vacant).
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