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L.A. shops for a solution to abandoned carts

A test program in some Valley areas aims for pickup within 48 hours of a resident's report. Finding ways to curb the dumping is also a goal.

January 12, 2007|Angie Green | Times Staff Writer

Frank Mitts, 40, wakes up to find at least three abandoned shopping carts in or near his carport each week. It's an ugly sight in this Van Nuys neighborhood of modest, single-family homes and neat lawns.

"People dump them on our property," said his wife, Marisela Mitts, 30. "It's a mess."

Abandoned shopping carts, sometimes filled with trash, are a growing problem in Los Angeles. Residents and community activists say they are irked by the eyesore and nuisance.

"It seems like a small [issue], but it affects the quality of life," said Wendy Saunders, executive director of the Mid Valley Family YMCA near Vanowen Street and Van Nuys Boulevard. "It kind of makes you feel like you are in a neighborhood that's not cared about."

For some, abandoned carts are a safety issue. Valley resident Alfonso Miranda, 38, said wind often blows the carts onto streets. His wife's car has been damaged by a cart.

"They hit our cars and nobody pays for it," said Miranda as he motioned to a gray, plastic cart lying on the grass near his home.

City Councilman Tony Cardenas launched a six-month program this week in his district that promises to pick up abandoned carts within 48 hours of a complaint. If it's successful, the program could be implemented citywide, he said.

Residents of District 6 -- which covers Van Nuys, Arleta, Panorama City, Sun Valley and parts of Pacoima and North Hollywood -- can call Cardenas' office with the location of an abandoned cart. The information is e-mailed to the Bureau of Sanitation, and a bureau staff member picks up the cart and contacts the store owner. Store owners have 10 days to pick up their retrieved carts from a Sun Valley sanitation center. Immediately after the program was launched Monday morning, six complaint calls came in and 12 carts were collected. Each day since, 60 to 70 carts have been collected, bureau supervisors Robert Potter and Daniel McKay said.

Robert Garcia, 21, the sanitation bureau employee responsible for picking up the carts, has five target areas in the Valley that he scopes out after he responds to calls. At 6 a.m., he sets out in a truck that can hold 40 carts, and his travels extend from Balboa Boulevard in Van Nuys to Glenoaks Boulevard in Sun Valley.

"Any store you got out there," Garcia said, "more than likely I've got a cart from them."

Jackie David, a Bureau of Sanitation spokesperson, said abandoned shopping carts are a citywide problem that has grown over the last 10 years. Until now no system has tracked the number of carts abandoned or retrieved.

The City Council approved the program in December, and the $55,000 funding is from the district's street furniture account.

"This pilot program is a great way to figure out the problem," David said. "It's the start of the solution."

With no past tracking system, city officials do not know exact locations of problem areas in Los Angeles. However, bus stops, recycling centers and areas with a high concentration of apartment buildings usually have more abandoned carts, David said.

Cardenas said carts are often left by residents who don't have cars but have bags of groceries or other merchandise they need to get home.

"People walk five, six blocks, put their groceries away, then just leave [the carts] out on the block," Cardenas said.

His district is a mixture of low- to middle-income residents and single-family homes with pockets of apartments, Cardenas said. The population is about 40% Latino, 40% white and 20% other ethnicities, he said.

A city ordinance states that shoppers can be fined up to $50 for stealing a cart, and another requires stores to pick up their carts, according to Cardenas' office. Both laws have done little to stop carts from being stolen and dumped.

Some stores have installed magnetic cart-containment systems, an electronic device that locks the carts' wheels if the cart is taken from the boundaries of a lot. Other stores have hired parking lot guards. An average metal cart costs $100 to $150, said Jennifer Forkish, a local government director for the California Grocers Assn.

Howard Quach, store manager at 99 Ranch Market on Sepulveda Boulevard, said his store contracts with a cart-retrieval service. An average of eight carts a day are picked up by the service. Quach said he pays $1.50 for each cart retrieved.

During the six-month program, Cardenas said he will be speaking with business managers about ways to accommodate residents without cars and ways to prevent carts from leaving lots. Cardenas said businesses could offer fold-up carts or cart rentals.

"The way of handling this in the past is over," Cardenas said. "Let's try to figure out a win-win for both of us."

He said business owners carry the primary responsibility for their property, and he would like more of them to install the electronic locking devices.

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