SAN CLEMENTE, Calif.—San Clemente officials are preparing to formally adopt a new ordinance on Feb. 1 concerning shopping cart theft and unattended personal property.
Previously, city officials said, locals had free reign to take a shopping cart from businesses and leave the basket on wheels anywhere in the city unless business owners pressed charges for the stolen property, which the county sheriff’s department would enforce under state law.
However, the City of San Clemente plans to push shopping cart theft laws to allow code enforcement officers to cite violators who have impacted business operating expenses and damages to surrounding areas.
“Now this will be on the books,” City Attorney Scott Smith said during a Jan. 18 council meeting. “If you have a shopping cart and you’re not bringing groceries to or from an enterprise consistent with the rules of that enterprise, you can be cited.”
After receiving numerous complaints from retailers about missing carts—which cost about $250 apiece—from their stores and respective parking lots, city officials jumped on the bandwagon with neighboring cities like Dana Point, Santa Ana, and Stanton, which have also passed laws prohibiting the same problem.
“It’s just like shoplifting, and the consumer pays for that loss,” San Clemente Mayor Gene James told The Epoch Times. “So we need to protect our retailers.”
Additionally, the ordinance allows the city in coordination with constitutional standards—particularly The Fourth Amendment—to remove abandoned, non-essential personal property left near city-owned and operated critical infrastructures such as hospitals, fire or law enforcement stations, and public utilities.
During the public comments, one resident said she was concerned about the city taking away personal belongings from someone who uses a shopping cart to transport and store items, like a sleeping bag or blanket.
“If we take away their belongings, that leaves them more vulnerable to the weather, and their lives are at risk,” she said. “I just want you to think about other people’s lives who are less fortunate than we are.”
However, items like tents, bedding, bicycles, clothing, and other personal items that aid daily living needs are exempt from removal under the ordinance.
“This is not about seizing anyone’s property,” James said. “It’s about finding abandoned property and safeguarding it in a created system by which the owner can retrieve it from the city.”
James said between the city homeless outreach worker and the sheriff’s department homeless liaison officer that the retrieval system provides another option to return the property to its rightful owner.
It also allows city workers to maintain the cleanliness of the streets, sidewalks, and other public areas.
According to a 2019 countywide homelessness report conducted by county officials, the City of San Clemente counted 145 homeless people at the time.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the County of Orange has paused its annual count at the end of January. However, county officials are in the process of signing up volunteers for an updated count.
According to James, the city council estimates a slight potential increase in homelessness over the last two years.