The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors decided to look into ordinances to regulate unauthorized camping and address abandoned shopping carts in unincorporated county areas, at the suggestion of supervisor Tom Patti during their meeting on Tuesday in Stockton.
“It’s not that I’m looking to impose punishments on campers, but I do think we need some degree of regulation,” Patti said.
Homeless encampments can create public health and safety issues, Patti said, and abandoned shopping carts can interfere with both pedestrian and vehicular traffic in addition to creating a public nuisance.
Referring to the shopping-cart issue, Patti recently praised Lodi for making strides to address the problem. Lodi calls on businesses to keep track of their carts, which can cost up to $500.
“The greatest success is, honestly, the stores taking a look at their process and making sure they’re doing everything they can to secure their property,” said Craig Hoffman, City of Lodi senior planner.
Community assistance helps, too, Hoffman said, noting that the Lodi Grape Festival and Event Center has provided space for waylaid carts to be stored. Hoffman said he has helped, too.
“On the weekends when I’m driving around and see a cart, I throw it in the back of my truck if it has the name of store on it, and I return it to the store,” he said. “I think it’s important we all do that.”
Supervisor Chuck Winn suggested that his fellow board members look at similar ordinances passed by neighboring counties, such as retrieval plans for abandoned carts or electronic locks for shopping carts to prevent them from being stolen, so that they can give more specific directions to county staff.
“There’s plenty of material available for us as supervisors to review,” Winn said. “I would offer that each one of us provide a sample of an ordinance that we can give to county counsel so we can go over it piece by piece.”
County counsel Mark Myles asked each board member to provide a list of elements they would like included in a potential ordinance so that he and his staff can meet with stakeholders, such as the San Joaquin County Continuum of Care before crafting the ordinance itself.
“I think we can all agree that we need to take a holistic look at this,” Patti said. “That’s why I brought this forward, so that we can begin this discussion.”
Most of the cities in San Joaquin County, including Stockton, have ordinances that address the abandonment of shopping carts, placing responsibility on the people who take them, the businesses that fail to keep track of them, or both.
The seven cities’ ordinances on encampments dance around specifically mentioning the homeless, avoiding legislating against a specific class of citizens and doing what has been referred to by rights groups as “criminalizing homelessness.”
Stockton Record reporter Roger Phillips contributed to this story.