UI, IC officials discuss altering PAULA ratio


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Some local leaders want to tighten restrictions on establishments with 21-ordinance exemptions.

In a recent report, the Iowa City staff members recommended that the City Council apply the city's PAULA ratio to restaurants and other businesses that are exempt from the city's ordinance barring those under the legal drinking age from being in businesses after 10 p.m.

"I think that these recommendations are geared at reducing underage consumption." said Eric Goers, an assistant city attorney. "We hope it will have a positive effect in that regard."

Currently, establishments whose food and non-alcohol revenue outpaces alcohol revenue are exempt from the 21-ordinance, and they don't have to meet requirements of the PAULA ratio — the number of underage drinking tickets issued compared with the number of police visits.

And while the Partnership for Alcohol Safety recommended a 0.5 PAULA ratio requirement for businesses with exemptions, city officials proposed a lower ratio of 0.25.

"I would think that the majority of restaurants wouldn't have any difficulty meeting these standards," Goers said. "I don't think any of them will pose a burden to any of the restaurants."

The report shows only three establishments with restaurant exemptions from the 21-ordinance exceeded a PAULA ratio of 0.25 for the 12-month period ending Sept. 30: the Airliner, Sam's Pizza, and the Summit.

Kelly Bender, coordinator of the campus community-harm reduction initiative, said the goal is to view exemptions as a privilege that can be taken away.

"But the important point is that most of the bars and restaurant owners are responsible, but the playing field has become unlevel because a few businesses are drawn by the financial incentive of allowing underage access," Bender said.

Currently, establishments with an entertainment exemption — based on offering a certain number of live presentations each year — must meet a 0.5 PAULA ratio. The partnership suggested bumping that down to 0.25. Currently no establishments with entertainment exemptions have a PAULA ratio above 0.25.

Tom Lenoch owns the Library, 113 E. College St., which has a temporary exemption from the 21-ordinance because it is in its first six months of business. He said he is concerned about equal enforcement.

"My concern is I'll play by whatever rules as long as they are equally enforced and measurable," he said, noting past enforcement of the PAULA ratio has been unequal. "However, based on my business on numbers, I'm doing well so far."

Another recommendation could require restaurants exempt based on food sales to have kitchens open at all times.

"There's no point in permitting a "restaurant" to allow underage patrons past 10 p.m. so they can order food if they can't order food," Goers said in the report. "We would recommend that exception certificates based on other business income should only be effective while that other business aspect is open."

Overall, the Partnership for Alcohol Safety officials said their goal is to maintain downtown as a place everyone can enjoy, Bender said.

"[The point is ] the bar understands that it has a responsibility," Bender said. "It is possible. It's done all the time. It just takes a lot of effort."

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