Groups divisive on pending 21-ordinance controversy

BY EMMA WILLIS | JULY 02, 2013 5:00 AM

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While the return of the controversial 21-ordinance to the voters appears likely, members of the Partnership for Alcohol Safety and University of Iowa Student Government say they aren’t surprised the issue is creeping back again.

Mayor Matt Hayek and the majority of the Iowa City City Council have long maintained that they will vote down the new proposal, citing several positive outcomes coming as a result of the current ordinance.

The alcohol panel is a partnership between the UI and Iowa City that identifies strategies to reduce high-risk drinking. The project, which began in 2009, is meant to promote a safe and vibrant downtown.

According to a 2012 alcohol-panel report, since 2009, there has been a 46 percent decline in the number of PAULA citations and a 10 percent decline in students experiencing negative consequences from imbibing.

Tom Rocklin, the alcohol-panel co-head and the UI vice president for Student Life, said he’s seen a wealth of improvements as a result of the 21-ordinance, noting the community has become healthier, safer, and more vibrant.

“I cannot imagine why any responsible community member would want to turn the clock back,” he wrote in an email.

Kelly Bender, a alcohol-panel coordinator and the UI campus-community harm reduction initiatives coordinator, said because a few bars remain unsuccessful with the changing downtown model since the 21-ordinance went into effect, she is not surprised that the city is once again going through the age debate.

“It could really help their bottom line if we could go back to the old environment,” she said of the liquor-licensed establishments. “This is not about health and safety; this is really about self interest and that is it.”

Along with Bender, Doug Beardsley, Director of Johnson County Public Health, said the partnership does not take a particular stance on the 21-ordinance.

“If it’s illegal for persons under 21 to drink, why would they be in establishments whose primary means of income is selling alcohol,” Beardsley said. 

UISG President Katherine Valde said she she’s “all but certain [the] council is going to vote it down”. Though UISG has not discussed its stance on the matter, Valde said, she sees the danger in staying in a bar after the 10 p.m. cutoff, especially when it comes to graduating.

“I don’t think it helps any students with black marks on their records,” she said.  

As a lifelong Iowa City resident, she also sees the benefits of the ordinance for downtown, helping diversify the culture beyond one particular segment.

UI senior and nursing major Emma Carroll, however, thinks the current law is harmful for the greater downtown business market.

“Their livelihood is being damaged,” she said about the remaining bars.

Carroll said she also sees harm in the ordinance as a constant reminder because it’s brought to the forefront as students wait for the clock to strike 10.

“It’s a phenomenon,” she said. “It’s all they can think of.”

Fellow supporter David Villanueva said even with the university’s heavy involvement in reducing underage drinking, there are different ways to produce reductions.

He suggested the UI invest more into the creation of smaller classroom sizes that he believes could improve the overall learning environment.

“I think my tuition money could be better spent,” he said.

After enrolling in a statistics course at the UI, Villanueva said, he learned that numbers, including Iowa City crime and arrest rates, can be skewed.

In a June 28 interview with  The Daily Iowan, UI President Sally Mason said she wishes current students could see Iowa City at pre-2010 levels, when the ordinance was not yet in place.

“It had become very unsafe in downtown Iowa City on weekends,” she said. “I just don’t want to see that happen again.”

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