Medford considers fine for stray shopping carts

A new state law allows cities to fine stores that don't retrieve abandoned shopping carts — and Medford may consider it as a way of lightening the workload of police and providing a small revenue stream.

The law (SB 5347) enables cities to fine stores $50 if carts aren't picked up within three days of being reported.

The law was clearly written for the populous Willamette Valley, where a reported 3,600 shopping carts are removed daily from store lots.

But no one in the Rogue Valley had heard of the law and, as Medford police Lt. Tim Doney put it, "in the big picture, it's certainly going to fall toward the bottom of the priority list."

Wal-Mart hasn't gotten a lot of complaints about abandoned carts in Southern Oregon, said Jennifer Spall, public affairs manager for Oregon, but it does face a big problem in more populated areas, such as Seattle — where it uses devices that lock the wheels when a cart leaves the property or hires shopping cart pickup services that round up the expensive carts, which cost $125 to $300, depending on extras.

Shop 'N Kart in Ashland routinely picks up its own wayward carts on the same day they're spotted by workers or reported by passers-by, says general manager Eric Chaddick.

"This town is very community minded and, mostly, people push them back here if they find them. It's not a problem," said Chaddick.

Medford Police Patrol Cmdr. Bob Hansen said the perpetrators usually are homeless people pushing their belongings around.

Wayward carts appear most frequently in neighborhoods around local grocery and department stores, used to cart goods home and then abandoned in landscaping or on sidewalks.

Aubrey Lauritzen, assistant manager of the Ashland Safeway said it's most often seniors who need to get their groceries home — and they lack the energy, or memory, to bring the carts back.

If police see someone pushing a cart down the street, what do they do?

"We have confronted them. Most say they found the cart and will return it. They rarely say they took it," said Hansen. "When we find one in Bear Creek, we pull it out and return it or call stores to do it."

Far from feeling burdened by the new law, the Northwest Grocery Association requested the legislation, using a model from California. Salem, Beaverton and Gresham city councils are working on enacting local ordinances to support the new state law.

Medford Mayor Gary Wheeler said, "It seems like a solution in search of a problem." But he said he would bring it up to the council next week to see if there is a consensus about acting on it. Wheeler added that he wants to check to see if the problem is already covered under code enforcement, but the main concern is that it not add to police work.

Ashland Mayor John Morrison said the city would not take advantage of the law by passing any ordinance because "it sounds like it's inspired by larger urban areas and we don't have a problem here. I haven't heard a single complaint about carts, ever."

Ashland Councilman David Chapman said, "I can think of other things I would want to be working on" and, given the expense of carts, stores should be motivated to handle the problem themselves.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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