COURTESY OF RIDA CABANILLA
Shopping carts full of the belongings of unidentified individuals line Pupukahi Street in lower Waipahu.
No more studies -- get rid of stolen shopping carts that clutter our streets
One might think that the process to remove shopping carts from public spaces is as simple as identifying the cart's owner and then contacting the merchant to come and get it. This might work for those carts that are easily accessible, but not for those left in streambeds, underneath overpasses or wedged into the bushes.
These carts usually get the attention of community cleanups and are put in tidy piles. If they are in good shape, the merchants can come and reclaim them. But what about the carts that are being used by someone without the owner's permission? Do merchants file police reports? Are there any laws making it a crime to use and occupy a stolen cart?
A police officer told me that all a merchant needs to do when trying to retrieve a stolen cart is call the police department so an officer can help the merchant reclaim it. In reality, though, merchants aren't doing this.
Here is what I have learned about the life of a shopping cart gone astray. If the cart is found off property, the merchant will retrieve it when notified or on their own cognizance when roving neighborhoods.
However, if the cart appears to still be in use -- albeit unauthorized use, and parked on a public thoroughfare -- the merchant will not remove the cart. I have yet to discover one instance in which a merchant filed a police report to have a shopping cart returned. This leaves the community with the task of having to deal with it.
That is where I stepped in and introduced House Bill 2784 to address this condition. The City and County of Honolulu's Department of Environmental Services has a refuse division that deploys a service to remove bulky items from our neighborhoods. This service will not engage in removing those carts that are being claimed by a person or tended to as personal property, no matter where it's located on public property. My proposed legislation would have indemnified the city workers responsible for picking up refuse from any lawsuits claiming wrongdoing in deploying a removal process to have carts that are housed, stored or parked on a public road.
It doesn't matter if it's Donald Trump claiming the cart or a vagabond, for the cart is as much a "3-D graffiti" object as is a car battery, tire, washing machine or mattress that adorns the roadside. My bill had nothing to do with homelessness, nothing to do with civil rights, other than the fact that a provision in the bill afforded anyone with property in a reclaimed cart up to 45 days to retrieve their property from a secure storage facility before it would be disposed of. This would not have to transpire if the person using the cart without permission would remove their belongings from it when first asked to do so.
The current situation is this: If a person is riding their skateboard down a city street, the skateboard can be confiscated by a police officer. But if a person finds a shopping cart, or a whole string of them, puts their things in them and uses a city street to house these carts, no law is available to take the carts away. So long as merchants don't press charges to reclaim their wayward carts, government is unable to act. This is unacceptable.
Bulky item refuse workers don't want to fill up the landfill with shopping carts. That is why I included a provision within the bill to recycle the carts that were not claimed during a 45-day holding period. The money generated from the recycling would be used to augment the cart removal and storage operations to minimize any expense being passed on to the taxpayer. To further help defray costs, the cart retrieval and disposal process would attach a $50 fee to merchants who fail to file police reports and take responsibility to reclaim and retrieve their own property, rather than leaving it up to the community to deal with the problem.
If you don't like my bill, please check out three other places in our country where they took action to remove this type of community blight -- Clark County, Nevada; Houston, Texas; and Oregon. In a nutshell, elected leaders in these places decided that it was not permitted to leave a shopping cart out in the street and rather than study it, like our City Council is doing, they took action and found that win-win piece of turf that made the merchants, government authorities and residents alike proud of what they could accomplish together.
When my bill died, it was explained to me that this was really a city home-rule issue and the state should look the other way and wait for the city to act. While city officials are consumed with studies as to what a runaway shopping cart looks like, feels like, weighs and how it rolls, I implore them to take one look at the photo that depicts a condition that has gone on in the same location for some six months without remedy. How much longer are they going to take to study that?
Rida Cabanilla Arakawa represents state House District 42 (Ewa Villages, Ewa Beach, Honouliuli, West Loch Estate and lower Waipahu).