Manolo Reyes was riding through Miami’s Shenandoah neighborhood Monday afternoon with his assistant, Jose Regalado, when he spotted a stray shopping cart along Southwest 17th Street between 21st and 22nd avenues.
“I wish you were here with me,” Reyes, Miami’s District 4 commissioner, told a reporter who had called to discuss that very issue. Reyes and his staff have been seeing so many abandoned carts on sidewalks, in roadways and pushed into shrubbery lately that they’ve started taking pictures to prove their point. “I’ve received a lot of complaints from the neighbors,” Reyes said.
On Thursday, the Miami City Commission unanimously approved a first reading of Reyes’ proposal to hold grocery stores accountable for shopping carts that escape their property. The ordinance would require owners to submit a plan to the city outlining how they will keep carts on-site and collect them as needed.
Among the options they could choose from: an electronic wheel-locking mechanism, a physical barrier or alarm system, or a designated employee to escort customers to their cars.
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Under the ordinance, stores would also be required to label their carts with the store name and manager’s contact information.
Owners who fail to submit a plan would be subject to fines of $250 per cart. And the city’s code compliance officers and Neighborhood Enforcement Teams would be charged with removing carts found on public property. For carts that are properly marked, the city would notify the store, which would then have 15 days to retrieve it. After that, the city would sell it.
For unmarked carts, officials would place a notice on the cart giving the owner 18 hours before it could be seized and sold.
Small stores with no more than 15 carts could pay $500 to apply for an exemption from the ordinance.
Reyes said he increasingly sees stray carts on sidewalks and blocking roadways, posing a hazard for drivers and pedestrians. Sometimes, he sees kids playing with them.
Members of Reyes’ staff shared photographs with the Miami Herald of stray carts in his district in recent days, including one in the street at Coral Way and 28th Avenue and three more sitting together on a sidewalk at Coral Way and 32nd Avenue.
In a Coral Gate neighborhood group on Facebook, several residents have raised the issue in recent weeks. One posted a photograph on June 29 of an abandoned cart on a grassy area — right next to a “No Dumping” sign.
“Why do we always have these shopping carts in the neighborhood?” the resident wrote.
Steven Ferreiro, Reyes’s chief of staff, replied in the comments: “Our office is working on legislation to control and stop this epidemic.”
A spokesman for the Florida Retail Federation, which represents retailers around the state, reviewed the city’s proposed legislation and said it would be harmful to local businesses.
“This proposed ordinance actually punishes the retailer twice,” spokesman James Miller said in an email. “First, the retailer is already losing money by having a cart stolen or damaged, and now the ordinance would punish them financially a second time for this theft or confiscation.”
Miller said shopping carts can cost between $150 and $300.
Miami-Dade County has its own regulations on carts, but Reyes says they’re too vague. The county rules require grocery stores to affix the name of the store and contact information to their carts, much like Miami’s ordinance would. But while the county spells out penalties for individuals who steal carts, it does not address penalties for the businesses that own them.
Miller contends the state law is sufficient. That statute says stores can be fined only if an owner or employee removed the cart from the parking area.
“We believe the focus should be on more stringent enforcement and compliance with current law, rather than creating new burdensome regulations,“ Miller said. “We hope the City of Miami will recognize the negative impact this ordinance will have on their local business owners and rescind the proposal.”
City officials said the goal of the ordinance is not to impose any harsher enforcement on residents who steal carts. That includes the homeless, some of whom use shopping carts to transport their belongings. Police across the county have arrested 58 people for possession of a shopping cart in the past three years, according to the Miami New Times.
Illegal possession of a shopping cart is a first-degree misdemeanor carrying a one-year maximum prison sentence under Florida law. But District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell worked last year to encourage Miami police to treat it as a civil citation.
“I really believe that’s an overuse of our police resources and it’s putting people in the jail system that don’t need to be,” Russell said Thursday.
Reyes agrees that arrests are not the goal.
“I don’t want them to be arrested,” he said. “If the merchant allows them to take them, they should be responsible for picking them up. That’s the only thing I’m saying.”