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By Shawn Raymundo
A new city ordinance set to take effect in the coming weeks will prohibit people from possessing a shopping cart that was illegally taken from a business—largely impacting some homeless individuals who have used carts to store and move their belongings.
In a unanimous vote at its Jan. 18 meeting, the council introduced the ordinance to address the unauthorized removal and possession of shopping carts, as well as update the city’s policies on removing and storing the personal belongings of homeless people.
State law already bans people from removing shopping carts from the parking lot or premises of a business without its permission, City Attorney Scott Smith has explained. While Orange County deputy sheriffs can enforce those laws, city personnel couldn’t.
However, under the ordinance, which the council is expected to formally adopt at its Feb. 1 meeting, the city’s code enforcement officers will have the authority to cite those found possessing a shopping cart unlawfully.
The ordinance’s section on shopping carts, Smith noted in his report to the council, includes similar regulations that other Orange County cities including Dana Point, Orange, Sana Ana and Stanton have adopted.
When the ordinance goes into effect, it will also prohibit the storage of non-essential personal property on city land and easements, as well as update the procedures for owners to retrieve belongings that the city removed.
Items considered as essential include tents, bedding, blankets, sleeping bags, clothing, identification, medical documents and medications, among other things.
The ordinance, Smith explained to the council during a previous discussion on the topic, “very narrowly describes what abandoned property is (and) very generously what stored property is, to ensure that when we find things associated with an unhoused person they’re posted and stored for a while.”
Unless the belongings were abandoned, the city must store the removed items—essential and non-essential—for 90 days and display a post-removal notice, allowing the individuals to reclaim their property.
If any property is found in critical-use areas—within 10 feet of driveways, loading docks, bridges and train tracks—the city is not required to post a pre-removal notice. The same goes for non-essential property stored in non-critical-use areas.
The city, however, would be required to leave a 24-hour pre-removal notice when code compliance officers come across unattended essential belongings found in non-critical use areas or if the stored property is located within 15 feet of a homeless encampment, according to Smith’s report.
Just before the council’s vote, San Clemente resident Jenifer Massey expressed concern with the city removing essential belongings such as sleeping bags and blankets that homeless people rely on, particularly this time of year, to stay warm.
“It’s the city’s responsibility to deal with our own city’s homeless population, and if we take away their personal belongings, that leaves them even 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.”
The council’s 5-0 vote to introduce the shopping cart ordinance came the same night it authorized the city’s homeless outreach coordinator, Karlie Hunter, to offer homeless individuals Uber or Lyft services to get to Sana Ana, where there’s a wintertime emergency shelter.
The rideshare service, Mayor Pro Tem Chris Duncan explained in his motion to the council last week, would only be offered on a case-by-case basis and on nights that are “particularly cold.”
“So, not as a regular program but just have that flexibility, so if we see people shivering, ‘Here’s a quick ride up to the shelter,’ ” said Duncan, who last month proposed the city use some of its Senate Bill 2 grant funds to create an immediate shuttle transportation program to the armory.
Duncan’s initial proposal in December had failed to garner enough support from the rest of the council, which instead agreed to have staff come back to the Jan. 18 meeting with a full report on logistics and potential costs.
To stay at the California National Guard Armory, individuals must meet at one of two bus pick-up locations in Santa Ana by the late afternoon each day.
Code Compliance Manager Adam Atamian told the council that the city offers San Clemente’s homeless bus passes to get to Santa Ana and back, as well as a map showing how to get to the armory’s pickup locations. However, he added, no one accepted the passes in December.
“My interest was helping, protecting the homeless during the coldest weeks we had. I think we missed the moment,” Duncan said last week, adding: “We haven’t gotten any takers from this program; that’s good information to have, so I don’t think I would continue with a shuttle program at this point.”
Duncan on Tuesday, Jan. 25, acknowledged that while he hasn’t spoken with city management or code compliance on establishing any parameters for the rideshare service, his intention was to give Hunter the latitude to determine when someone should be offered a ride based on their needs.
“What was forefront in my mind was the elderly gentleman who was a San Clemente native who passed away outside the senior center, and making sure we do everything we can so that doesn’t happen again,” Duncan said, referring to Steven Richard Riley—the homeless man who was found dead a year ago this week.
The city manager’s office on Tuesday said it was unavailable to provide comment for the story.
Shawn Raymundo is the managing editor for Picket Fence Media. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.