In a renewed push for 21-ordinance, UI, City Council team up

BY EMILY BUSSE | MARCH 03, 2010 7:30 AM

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The 21-ordinance has a better chance of passing this time around, officials said on Tuesday.

The comments follow Mayor Matt Hayek’s request for city staff to draft such a measure at the end of Monday’s City Council meeting.

More city councilors say they support it, and an official endorsement from University of Iowa administration announced Tuesday could give backers of the proposal momentum they were missing in 2007.

That year, an overwhelming number of students turned out at the polls to help vote down a draft of the same ordinance. The UI maintained a neutral stance, a decision UI President Sally Mason later regretted, spokesman Tom Moore said on Tuesday.

Two years and four months later, UI officials say it’s a different story.

“The big reason we’re taking a position now is that things have changed,” said Tom Rocklin, the UI interim vice president for Student Services. “The council has tried a number of ways to counteract underage drinking. Though they’ve seemed reasonable, they just haven’t worked.”

After numerous unsuccessful attempts to temper underage drinking in the bars, a majority of the councilors are fed up.

Hayek had said he was opposed to the 21-ordinance when running for a seat in 2007. He said things have changed.

“The bars are saying they can’t fully control underage drinking in their establishments,” Hayek said. “One tool we have not tried is 21-only.”

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Councilor Connie Champion, who didn’t support the ordinance in 2007, said the bars have run out of chances.

“I warned them if you don’t clean up the bars, I will support 21,” she said. “We have passed so many ordinances trying to control the bars. We can control the age.”

Iowa City-area resident Jim Clayton, who was instrumental in getting the measure onto the ballot 2007, said the ordinance was a major goal of the Stepping Up initiative created by UI officials 14 years ago.

“I’m delighted that this time the university is jumping in with both feet at the beginning and not being silent,” Clayton said.

While a lack of councilor support pushed the measure onto a ballot in November 2007, the council will likely pass it as an ordinance this time around. It could still come to a vote if the public gathers enough signatures for a referendum within 60 days.

But officials said the result with a vote may be different, too, if students don’t create a strong, organized opposition as they did a little more than two years ago.

As cofounder of Student Health Initiative Task Force, the anti-21-ordinance group in 2007, UI alumnus Atul Nakhasi called the reappearance of the idea a “disservice” to citizens who voted it down before.

“It’s unfortunate to see more attention and resources being taken away for a situation that needs surgery, not a Band-Aid,” he said.

Councilors said they hope to begin the first of three readings of the ordinance in three weeks.
But many fear it will merely push dangerous boozing into neighborhood house parties.

“If you push the bubble down in one place, it just pops up somewhere else,” said Iowa City Councilor Regenia Bailey, the only councilor against the measure.

Both UI Provost Wallace Loh and Rocklin said a lot of drinkers downtown come from surrounding towns and wouldn’t attend UI house parties.

Nancy Carlson, the spokeswoman for the College Green Neighborhood Association, said she is resisting the 21-ordinance because of the potential increase in the number of house parties.

“I want the drinking downtown and away from me,” the 62-year-old said, recalling instances in which kids from house parties peed on her lawn or threatened to hit her.

Ames police Cmdr. Mike Brennan said the most common way officers discover house parties is after neighbors call with noise complaints. All bars in Ames have been 21 and over since the 1980s.

Iowa City police Sgt. Denise Brotherton agreed house parties may increase with a 21-ordinance, but she said three house parties would be easier to control than 42 bars.

Bar owners want to keep 19- to 20-year-olds in their establishments, as well.

Mike Porter, who owns several downtown bars, said he’s questioning the legality of the ordinance, noting anyone over 18 is an adult in Iowa.

A Daily Iowan survey produced a similar response. Out of 41 students, 32 opposed the ordinance.

But Loh said to remember the UI is trying to send a positive message with its support of the ordinance. If passed, the ordinance could transform Iowa City for the better, he said.

“It changes the culture and climate of the place,” Loh said. “It sends a message that we really care. This is not about prohibition, this is about safety.”

DI reporters Jordan Fries, Grace Savides, and Kathryn Stinson contributed to this article.

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