Seventy-eight year-old Mrs. Tang leisurely pushed the red shopping cart out of the parking lot of the Hong Kong Super Market, through a busy intersection and onto a sidewalk.
This is how the Monterey Park resident normally transports her groceries — today, several plastic bags filled with eggplant, peppers and lettuce.
“If I take my time, home is about 15 to 20 minutes’ away,” she said in Chinese. Once she arrives, she’ll leave the cart out on the street because “someone will come by with a truck and pick it up.”
Someone invariably does. Grocery stores in Monterey Park and other cities are required to hire cart retrieval services to comb neighboring areas for loose trolleys. Work crews tell the city they collect about 200 carts a day. But they don’t get to them all.
“You see them everywhere now,” Council Member Teresa Real Sebastian said at a recent meeting. “You have to wonder how did they get so far into our residential neighborhoods?”
Worried about blight, the City Council is expected to approve new regulations on shopping carts Wednesday night. Grocery stores would have to increase the number of “shopping cart sweeps” from twice a day to four times. And warnings about the unauthorized removal of carts would have to be written on each one in Chinese, Spanish and English. (The city is about 67 percent Asian, 27 percent Hispanic, 5 percent white.)
Abandoned carts are a common problem throughout the country – the world, actually. But it can be a special challenge to promote shopping cart etiquette when the target audience does not speak the dominant language, or realize what they’re doing amounts to theft.
“Immigrants may come to the country and not really understand the social norms, the ways we do things here,” said Michael Huntley, Monterey Park’s director of Community and Economic Development.
Huntley said some immigrants are unaware that city code bans the placement of indoor furniture outdoors or requires lawn trimming.
“Part of what we have to do is education and helping them understand what they can or cannot do,” Huntley said.
Last month, officials from Monterey Park and Rosemead, which recently updated its shopping cart ordinance, joined a press conference organized by the group Chinese-American Elected Officials to raise awareness about rules on shopping carts.
In Monterey Park, where more than half of the population is foreign-born, there will be a special emphasis on offering translated outreach materials, such as posters at senior centers, and cards to be handed out to offenders.
Huntley points out many of them are low-income and can't afford a car. One option is for them to call the city's Dial-A-Ride service, and get a lift home from the grocery store for free or a nominal fee.
In the meantime, the city will continue its gentle approach with the elderly shoppers wheeling carts around the city.
“When we see a senior citizen using a shopping cart to take the groceries home,” he said, “we aren’t going to stop them in the middle of the street and force them to remove their groceries.”