FW City Council reviews new rules for shopping carts

The Federal Way City Council held its first reading on the city’s proposed shopping cart ordinance Nov. 1.

The ordinance, if passed at the next council meeting, would tighten city law around the usage of shopping carts like those you see at Target or Safeway. It would authorize the city to confiscate the carts from people using them on a city right-of-way like sidewalks, although those users would be able to take their possessions out first or collect them from the city later if they can’t remove them from the carts.

The council had first considered the measure during their Oct. 18 meeting and asked to make two modifications.

The first change clarified that retailers can avoid paying the fee for their impounded shopping carts only if the carts have proper signage and if the companies have adopted security measures to keep their carts secure. The previous version only required proper signage. The second change spells out another way retailers can keep those carts secure, which is keeping their shopping carts within a building or enclosure while the store is closed.

Under the ordinance currently being considered, possession of a shopping cart in any city right-of-way, such as a sidewalk or road, would become a Class 3 Infraction, whether the cart has proper signage or not. It would also make the carts in those situations subject to seizure and impounding. An infraction is a civil enforcement measure, not a criminal violation, so it carries no jail time or risk of arrest. The cart infraction would be punishable by a $50 ticket.

Since the law would authorize city police to take shopping carts from people using them outside of store parking lots, the ordinance would also require the city to develop a system to process and store personal items from those seized shopping carts.

If people with carts on a public right-of-way aren’t able to take all their belongings when city staff confiscate the carts, staff would catalogue and store those items for 90 days before disposal, according to city staff at the council meeting. The people using the carts would then receive a receipt detailing all their items and would be instructed on how to collect them.

One part of the law wouldn’t change: Theft of a shopping cart, a more serious crime than possession, would remain a misdemeanor under city code, punishable by up to $1,000 in fines and up to 90 days in jail. That rule still only applies to shopping carts that have the proper ID signs.

City staff have proposed setting aside $250,000 in next year’s budget to fund the program, which will require additional staffing, equipment and operational costs.

The council voted unanimously to pass the measure on to its second reading at the next meeting, but not before sharing a variety of opinions on the ordinance.

“I don’t have the magic solution for the shopping cart (problem),” Councilmember Hoang V. Tran said. “My concern about this ordinance — it seems to me we are targeting one group of people, the most vulnerable people in the community. They’re not here to voice their opinion. It’s an easy target for us, to make this law. Those people will be penalized. The second concern I have is we have very finite police and staff resources. Don’t we have other pressing needs in the community, that we can better utilize our police force to address … than have the officer show up and give somebody a ticket?”

“What we can do is start, in a small way, and make the (improper usage of the) carts illegal … it’s at least a way to possibly enforce some things the state has taken away from us,” Councilmember Jack Dovey said. “I think it’s important that we in Federal Way say, in our city, we’re going to try to do things differently than the rest of King County, where we try to control how the things are happening on the street instead of letting people on the street control what we do.”

“I think this ordinance is a small step toward making our city a more livable city,” Councilmember Jack Walsh said. “It’s just like with the graffiti situation. If you take a look at Federal Way, we have the best graffiti policy of any city in South King County, probably in King County or Pierce County also. … In Federal Way, there’s a lot less graffiti be cause we clean it up immediately. … With the shopping carts, if we are enforcing this … (if) the population who is normally pushing the shopping carts down the road know that they’re not going to be able to … keep that shopping cart long term, they’re going to be taking it less. That’ll be a service to the stores (and) the community. … (And) it will give (people using the carts outside of grocery stores) an additional contact with law enforcement that can hopefully direct them to the services that can help them make a change in their life style.”

“I do have the same concerns, because those belongings, some could be stolen but some are their belongings … but on the flip side, I do understand there are going to be provisions made,” Councilmember Lydia Assefa-Dawson said. “I believe if our police officers do offer resources, maybe to go wherever the need is, if it’s mental health, dependency, alcohol, then maybe they can go to these treatment and actually have somewhere to store their belongings. (It) might actually be an incentive for someone to be willing to go into a service. I don’t know, but I think it’s a good place to start. My concerns are still there, but I think trying it is probably something valid that we need to do.”

Deputy Mayor Susan Honda pointed out that the ordinance would also apply to people briefly taking the shopping carts off-site to bring groceries to their home. She also asked about the process of confiscating the carts; city officials responded that they would offer bins or bags for the shopping cart users to carry their items, and give them time to collect their things before taking the carts away.

“I’m concerned that it’s taking an officer off the street for at least a couple of hours … and I just want to make sure the city isn’t going to get a legal case against us,” Honda said. “I don’t want anyone hurt.”

City officials said that while the enforcement would be carried about by code compliance staff, they would always have police standing by for those interactions.

Honda said she was still concerned for city staff safety and asked that the code compliance workers have cameras similar to body-worn cameras used by police.


The council also took their first reading on the city’s final 2023-2024 biennial budget and property taxes. They’ll have an opportunity to actually pass the budget at their next meeting Nov. 15.

Council members Jack Walsh and Erica Norton joined the meeting remotely.

Also on Tuesday, the council proclaimed Nov. 2022 as Native American Heritage Month in Federal Way, honoring the histories of local tribes and the Coast Salish people, including the Muckleshoot, the Duwamish and the Puyallup.