Shopping cart protests cost FW taxpayers thousands of dollars

Residents pressure city to clean up homeless encampments.

About 41 shopping carts, filled with garbage and items from a nearby homeless encampment, lined S. 320th Street on Sunday.

Dozens of carts were placed on the public sidewalk in a show of trash cleaning and shopping cart return efforts by Federal Way residents.

Resident David Zumwalt recently created the public Facebook page and action group “Clean Up Federal Way” to bring awareness about the scope of the homelessness issue in Federal Way “in hopes that it will put a little more pressure on the city to have the responsible parties clean up,” he said.

Several individuals posted about their shopping cart actions in previous days, but those posts have since been deleted or hidden from view on social media.

The person responsible for the shopping cart displays has requested anonymity for fear of backlash from city officials and police. The person said the displays were a way to “spark a fire behind getting it cleaned up,” but “had no idea it would cost that amount of money to the city.” In moving the garbage and carts to the sidewalk, the person said any personal items of the encampment’s current or previous residents were not taken.

As of June 16, city officials were aware of three separate cart protests that will end up costing taxpayers upwards of $20,000 to remove, according to the city.

Residents responsible for this act and several other similar protest displays throughout the city could face trespassing charges, illegal dumping citations and costly fines, said Steve McNey, communications and government affairs coordinator for the City of Federal Way Mayor’s Office.

The consequences could be implemented if a resident is caught in the act of dumping carts, garbage and others’ belongings in the public right of way, McNey said. If necessary, the city may bill the responsible individuals for the cost of the dumping clean-up.

“These people are taking the law into their own hands and dumping things in the right of way, trying to make a political point,” McNey said.

Consequences for trespassing and illegal dumping range from a warning to a $5,000 fine and jail time, according to City Attorney Ryan Call.

While trespassing is a common crime, people are generally warned, then ordered to leave the area. An individual who refuses to leave private property, or is repeatedly found entering private property, may face a misdemeanor charge or be arrested, said Call, citing state law.

A misdemeanor is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. A gross misdemeanor is punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine.

For littering or dumping, Washington law states it is “a misdemeanor for a person to litter in an amount greater than one cubic foot but less than one cubic yard,” and it is a gross misdemeanor for a person to litter in one cubic yard or more.

“If an officer catches someone littering, they will be cited and maybe arrested where circumstances warrant it,” Call said.

Some residents are fed up at the city’s seemingly lack of action and a county needle exchange program, which seems to add to the hazardous materials found in encampments, city trails and protected wetlands.

Cleaning encampments should be left to the professionals at the city level if they are on public, city-owned land, McNey said. Encampments on private property are the responsibility of the land owners, and any residents who go into those encampments are considered to be trespassing, McNey said.

“There is a problem in the nation, in the region, in this area, in South King County and specifically in Federal Way,” said Mayor Jim Ferrell at the Tuesday night council meeting. “There is an issue in regard to homelessness and where do they go and what do we do.”

The city had previously trespassed people from the property at the northeast corner of S. 320th Street and 1st Avenue at the request of the land owner’s representative, the mayor said, and “they were literally in the process of getting bids to have this property cleaned, at their expense, in agreement and compliance with our code enforcement team.”

Taxpayer-funded cleanup

Cleanup of the weekend’s cart dump will cost taxpayers over $8,000, city officials said. A previous cart dumping cost the city about $7,000 to remove, and a third cart dumping on June 16 will cost more than $5,000.

The city has a contract with Waste Management to dispose of trash made in an office, city facility or in the course of business, said Public Works Director EJ Walsh.

“But materials like this, that’s outside of the contract,” Walsh said. With carts and garbage left of the sidewalks, the city is responsible for footing the bill.

The $8,000 estimate also does not include cost of staff labor, dump trucks or diesel fuel used to transport the items.

In total, the Sunday display equated to four full-sized dump truck loads and one full load of the city’s litter truck, Walsh said. None of the shopping carts were salvageable and were disposed of along with their contents of blankets, jackets, garbage and other items.

Though invoices from the trash disposals are not immediately available, Walsh said, the estimated costs are conservative numbers.

Labor costs and previous cleanups of similar stunts are not included in that amount, he added.

“These are human lives, just as important as people who own million-dollar homes in Federal Way,” McNey said of the unsheltered individuals living in encampments. “What little property someone had was taken.”

Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror
A driver passes shopping carts filled with garbage and personal belongings on S. 320th Street on June 16.

Olivia Sullivan/the Mirror A driver passes shopping carts filled with garbage and personal belongings on S. 320th Street on June 16.