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Should voters rescind the 21-ordinance?

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | NOVEMBER 01, 2010 7:15 AM

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Editor’s note: While the Editorial Board staunchly opposed the 21-ordinance when councilors first brought it up earlier this year, the composition of the board has changed. The issue has intractably divided the Editorial Board and precluded a unanimous endorsement supporting or opposing 21-only.

YES

Barely past its five-month anniversary, the fate of the 21-ordinance now lies in the hands of Iowa City residents. While both sides have clearly presented their arguments, I’d like you to consider why I voted to overturn the ordinance: The overconsumption problem isn’t constricted to the confines of bars. It’s an underlying public-health issue we need to address.

By the end of high school, 75 percent of teenagers have consumed alcohol at some point, according to a 2005 Students Against Drunk Driving report. In addition, a study from the 2009 National College Health Assessment found the national average for binge drinking at universities was 44 percent. In the same study, 70 percent of University of Iowa students reported binge drinking in the previous 30 days.

These statistics highlight a simple reality: The issue is not solely caused by the faults and mishaps of establishments downtown. Rather, it is an ongoing public-health issue that will continue to persist regardless of the bar-entry age.

While the pro-21 side has conjured up evidence that shows crime decreasing in nearly every area since the ordinance was first implemented, there are two reasons I remain unconvinced I should jump sides just yet.

First, the data collected failed to include UI police statistics. Once the anti-21 group took into account both Iowa City and UI police numbers, it found rates of some crimes have actually increased between June and September, compared with last year.

Officers charged or arrested 1,398 people for alcohol offenses in 2009 and 1,427 this year, a roughly 2 percent increase. While the small uptick may not influence everyone, the fact of the matter is, there are still 19- and 20-year olds binge drinking. In addition, UI police numbers show alcohol-related arrests have jumped from 369 last year to 804 this year.

And while pro-21ers eagerly search for results that will aid their side, it’s clear the ordinance is drastically affecting the downtown atmosphere, making businesses and employees suffer. (Full disclosure: I work at 3rd Base bar, also known as the Fieldhouse.) And the real problem — binge drinking — is being obscured and not adequately addressed.

Contrary to what some may think, downtown is more than just a drinking destination for careless college students to consume copious amounts of alcohol. It also contains a plethora of live-entertainment venues and specialty shops that are unique to Iowa City. It’s no secret that if this ordinance passes, the downtown as a whole would suffer.

Binge drinking has undoubtedly become an problem among college students. However, I’m not persuaded that prohibiting underage people is the solution. While there are certainly faults with both sides of the 21-only debate, I encourage you to vote “yes” — and save downtown Iowa City.

— Taylor Casey

NO

Students: This will not come as a shock, but I think we have a drinking problem. It’s high time we owned up and started taking the steps towards a long-term, resolute solution. The 21-ordinance is the first stride in the right direction.

Regardless of the presence or absence of an age-limiting ordinance in Iowa City, college students have always — and will continue to drink — in these locations. Still, the effective prohibition of underage patrons from bars is a justified attempt to remove one place for those underage to illegally consume alcohol. This has been a constant source of trepidation for the university community — thus, the ordinance’s raison d’être.

The public rightly petitioned for a vote on the matter, but the five-month period since enactment is a statistically insufficient amount of time to test the ordinance. We can’t even seem to get reliable statistics on which to base our votes and opinions.

When University of Iowa police numbers were combined with Iowa City police statistics, alcohol-related arrests and charges from June to September 2009 stood at 1,398; this year, there have been 1,427 in the same stretch. One must also remember that this year has seen the UI’s largest-ever freshman class, and supplementary “party patrol” police beats have been instated. (Not to mention, these numbers show only about a 2 percent increase.)

There’s been anecdotal evidence thrown around as well: UI Hospitals and Clinics ER doctor Michael Takacs told The Daily Iowan last month he’s seen a “sharp decrease” in alcohol-related student admissions. And UI senior Greg Pelc, who has lived in the residence halls for all four years, wrote a guest opinion last month lauding the much-improved dorm environment.

In contrast, Matt Pfaltzgraf, the campaign manager for the anti-21 group Yes to Entertaining Students Safely, said during a mid-October debate, “[Drinking is] in apartments, it’s in houses, it’s in dorm rooms — it’s everywhere no one can identify if they’re of age, if they’re over age, what they are drinking, and how much they’ve had to consume.”

There are downsides to a 21-only Iowa City. For example, houses offer a refuge for the night and friends to monitor behavior — at least more than most bartenders would.

The ordinance should remain in place for two reasons, however: First, the legal age to imbibe is 21. Like it or not, the Iowa City is also subject to this law, despite many bars having skirted it in the past.

This is not a new situation. But with the 21-ordinance, elected officials are actually making an attempt to enforce the law. Second, past attempts to address the binge and underage drinking phenomena have failed. The ordinance offers not only a partial solution but the promise of further action.

Join with me in voting to retain this sensible ordinance.

— Kirsten Jacobsen


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