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Long live downtown IC

BY CHRIS CLARK | NOVEMBER 20, 2009 7:21 AM

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There is a way to change the perception of Iowa City’s downtown drinking culture that I think is neglected far too often: We have the power to improve it.

There is no way to deny that drinking is one of — if not the — most popular social activities on this campus. Drinking in college symbolizes college students’ rite of passage into the real world. It’s tradition.

But although our bars bring in a significant amount of revenue, the future of our downtown is in jeopardy because of officials at the UI and City Hall.

If they were here, you know exactly what the Beastie Boys would tell us. In fact, they would be screaming it directly into Herky’s ear.

So what’s the threat? The City Council has passed two ordinances in the past year that threaten the life of our campus: the 500-foot rule and the PAULA-ratio rule.

The PAULA-ratio rule requires Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargadine to recommend the non-renewal of any bar’s liquor license if the police issue an average of more than one PAULA per visit.

After Hargadine’s recommendation, the council votes to refuse renewal of the license, and the bar owners (so far) then appeal to the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division. (Note: If the council votes to deny renewal, that DOES NOT mean the establishment may no longer serve alcohol.)

The 500-foot rule comes into the picture if a bar is stripped of its license. If a downtown establishment has its license revoked and the building goes without a liquor license for a year, it cannot regain a liquor license. It will never be a bar again because the rule restricts bars from opening within 500 feet of another.

The PAULA ratio is not a solution to the root problem of over-consumption and violence. It’s a way to force bars either to close or to turn 21-only. These ordinances have the power to accomplish the 21-ordinance and more.

The situation is urgent. The students have a reputation within the local community of being ignorant on the issues. Recently, Mike Porter, owner of One-Eyed Jakes, Summit, and Vito’s, filed a lawsuit against the city, contending that the PAULA ratio is too vague and arbitrary. Summit’s PAULA ratio is the highest in the city, but the bar is also one of the largest. The PAULA ratio is assessed the same way, regardless of its capacity.

While Porter said the most influential way for students to help the cause would have been to vote in the City Council election earlier this month, he thinks they can still have a voice.

“I’m not saying [students] should be overly interested in politics,” he said. “If they don’t like what’s going on or if there are issues out there that affect them, call the city councilors and let them know what their opinions are. The city councilors need to hear their opinions.”

Although the city is enforcing misguided alcohol policies, students should recognize that we are gaining a reputation for being out-of-control crazies — and we need to make an effort to act more responsibly.

Keep drinking and partying downtown, but make a concerted effort to avoid fights. Or if that’s too hard, try having fewer drinks so you don’t get to that point. Look out for the safety of others. Both Iowa City and UI police are understaffed and are facing massive budget shortfalls. They are overworked and aren’t properly compensated for it. Take a little bit of the responsibility off of them, and take it upon yourself. It will be a good thing for everyone.

So go ahead and fight — just don’t fight each other.

Fight for your right to party.


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