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Errant shopping carts try city's patience

Abandoned shopping carts in parks, streets and the Bear Creek Greenway have become an increasing annoyance for local supermarkets and, particularly, for Medford workers who spend up to 40 hours a week rounding them up.

To put the brakes on the problem, the City Council Thursday night agreed it will consider an ordinance that would create a more streamlined system that would make it easier to reunite shopping carts with store owners.

"The idea is that if there is a shopping cart outside of shopping area, you should be able to go to the cart and see the phone number listed on it," Councilor Kevin Stine said. A resident could then call a collection company that would then pick up the cart.

Currently most carts don't have a phone number that can be called by a local resident. If the ordinance is approved, the shopping cart should have a plaque with a phone number on it, and the number would be stenciled somewhere on the cart, Stine said.

Currently, Parks and Recreation staff collect 30-40 shopping carts a week and spend 30-40 hours dealing with them and trying to get them back to their owners. Sometimes the owner doesn't collect the carts and they have to be disposed of.

Stine said the city is looking at developing a better system to deal with the carts and the two collection companies that pick them up.

He said the cart ordinance isn't an attempt to ignore other socioeconomic issues such as homelessness that are endemic to the city, but it's just a way to come up with a practical solution that is costing the city a lot of man hours.

"Will there be less carts out there, I believe there will be," he said.

If the phone number is completely removed, the city would have a central number that would help coordinate with the two collecting companies in the valley.

The cart ordinance could place a $50 fine on business owners if they fail to pick up a cart, something business owners disputed. However, the business owners did like the idea of a central location to pick up carts.

A majority of the council supported the idea, but two councilors, Kay Brooks and Clay Bearnson, opposed it.

"It's woefully missing the point," Brooks said.

She agrees that shopping carts are a problem, but she thinks the city has much larger issues that should be addressed and doesn't agree with taking punitive actions against business owners.

A low-vacancy rate and a high homelessness rate are two issues the city should be looking at first, rather than focusing on shopping carts, Brooks said.

Instead, the city is more interested in creating greater curb appeal instead of attacking the underlying problems.

"It's a way of sweeping it under the rug," she said. "It makes it look like we don't have a problem that is a serious problem."

But Brooks does think it is labor intensive for police to have to hold carts for 30 days and catalog them as they are required to do when dealing with a call.

The city will be looking at creating a new law that will designate an abandoned shopping cart as a stolen shopping cart.

The city has contacted 51 markets and other businesses that use shopping carts, and most were open to the ordinance but objected to the fine while support a centralized location where they could be picked up.

Many businesses told city officials they would be willing to have a staff member present during Greenway sweeps, when police find significant numbers of carts in bushes and around homeless campgrounds. Medford Parks and Recreation crews also found large numbers of carts as they maintain the city's green spaces.

The city would like businesses to have markings that would make it easier to identify who owns the cart, though many already have that system.

Another topic that has been discussed is having a single phone number so the general public can report an abandoned cart.

Some other ideas include using volunteers to retrieve them or encouraging high school students to develop senior projects to rescue the wayward carts.

The ordinance will come up for an informal vote at a future council meeting.

— Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

An abandoned shopping cart lies along the Bear Creek Greenway under the Interstate 5 viaduct in downtown Medford Thursday afternoon. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]
A man pushes a Target shopping cart down McAndrews Road in Medford Thursday afternoon. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]