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.
“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.”
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.