Stray shopping carts push council to vote

NORTH HOLLYWOOD, Calif. These shopping carts cost about $100, but shopping-cart theft can cost retailers tens of thousands of dollars each year. That's why a grocer in North Hollywood has installed a system to prevent shopping-cart theft. But in the very near future, it may not be optional for retailers, and they could face some tough fines from the city if their carts are found littering streets.

At Hows Market in North Hollywood, the signs are clearly posted outside the store and on the shopping carts, informing customers the cart wheels will lock up automatically if taken beyond the yellow line.

"Then I have to go out, or one of my staff goes out, and unlocks the cart with this device, and we put it right back with the others," said Paul Hughes, manager of Hows Market.

Shopping cart theft is costly to both the grocers and the community, and it's an eyesore, since the carts are often abandoned and damaged.

That's why L.A. City Councilman Tony Cardenas is pushing a proposal that would require all markets in Los Angeles to keep closer tabs on their carts. The councilman's spokesperson calls the issue a matter of public safety.

"Especially when we see cars having to swerve to keep from hitting these carts that are sitting in the middle of our public streets, especially when we see our kids playing on these carts in the middle of a public street," said Stacy Bellew, spokesperson for Tony Cardenas.

Electronic braking devices like the ones installed at Hows don't come cheap, costing $50,000 here. But that's still a lot less than what it might cost some grocers in stolen carts.

A six-month pilot project to collect abandoned shopping carts in the northeast San Fernando Valley, District 6, netted more than 6,800 carts.

"We had one retailer who had lost 900 carts," said Bellew. "Now if we had not given those carts back to that grocer, then that would have been a loss of about $90,000 for that grocer."

City Council will vote on this proposed ordinance in the coming months, and fines for retailers that lose their carts are still to be determined. Hows installed its security system on its carts about six months ago, and in that time the store has had absolutely no theft at all. The system ensures that these carts go right back where they belong.


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