The ordinances focus on unauthorized removal of shopping carts from establishments and prohibiting tents in city parks

SAN LUIS OBISPO — At a recent public hearing held during a Special Meeting of the San Luis Obispo City Council, two new ordinances were introduced to address impacts arising from deleterious and illegal activities in public spaces. The first ordinance pertains to the unauthorized removal of shopping carts from retail establishments, and the other amends an existing ordinance to prohibit tents and similar structures in City parks.

Unattended shopping carts outside the premises of retail establishments can interfere with pedestrian and vehicle traffic; the use of public streets, sidewalks, public areas, and public rights-of-way for their intended purposes; and can create dangerous conditions for users of those public spaces. Abandoned carts also contribute to litter, clutter, and visual blight in San Luis Obispo’s beautiful natural areas and can also become hazardous to streams and riparian areas.

“Throughout the years, the City has removed hundreds of abandoned shopping carts from public spaces,” said Shelly Stanwyck, Assistant City Manager. “And, unfortunately, in many cases, these carts create accessibility issues on our sidewalks and end up in creeks causing environmental damage.”


The “shopping cart” ordinance (Chapter 8.10) prohibits the removal of shopping carts from the premises of retail establishments and designated parking areas without the authorization or consent of the cart owner. Additionally, it requires businesses to properly label each cart to identify its ownership, implement signage in parking areas that warns that removal of carts from the premises could result in a fine, secure carts during off-hours, and take on the responsibility of retrieving carts that have been abandoned on either public or private property. 

While the new shopping cart ordinance will assist in keeping San Luis Obispo’s parks cleaner and safer, the recent influx of tents and similar enclosed structures at public parks has disrupted the intended public use of these recreational areas and raised resident concerns. Unlawful activities, including illegal drug use, have been exacerbated by the encroachment of unpermitted tents resulting in increased adverse or aggressive behaviors in parks. In addition to creating opportunities for negative behaviors, tents interfere with park maintenance and the general public’s use and enjoyment of these spaces.

“Prohibiting the use of tents or similar enclosed structures in public parks and recreational areas is critical for us to be able to continue providing safe, inclusive, accessible, and clean parks for the entire San Luis Obispo community, which is a top priority for our Parks and Recreation Department,” said Greg Avakian, Parks and Recreation Director.

The clarifying language about Tent and Enclosed Structure prohibition (amendment to Chapters 12.04 and 12.20) will be applicable to all members of the community and help ensure that the intended use of San Luis Obispo’s parks by the general public for safe, lawful, and peaceful leisure and recreational purposes during park hours of operation can occur. It is important to note that the proposed amendments do not preclude the use of open-sided shade structures, blankets, and lawn chairs. 

“While neither of the ordinances directly regulate any particular group based on status, we are aware of concerns among homeless advocates related to regulating these areas,” said Derek Johnson, City Manager. “However, our number one priority is the health and welfare of all those that live, work and play in the City of San Luis Obispo. We will continue to advocate to the County and State of California for more social and mental health services in our County.”

With this in mind, the City is continuing to also prioritize housing and homelessness as one of its major goals over the next several years. In fact, the proposed work program to address this goal will be discussed in detail at the Apr. 20 San Luis Obispo City Council Meeting as part of the 2021-23 Financial Plan.

To date, the City has taken on, led, and contributed to a number of initiatives to meet the ongoing challenges related to unhoused individuals through a combination of outreach, services support, and regulation. These strategies include a wide variety of direct expenditures to help fill a gap that exists in regional services, such as the City-funded Grants-in-Aid program. This program supports activities by non-profit social service providers, some of which benefit unhoused residents with important mental health services, shelter services, and a wide variety of other programs.

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