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City Council moves on Ped Mall ordinance

BY REBECCA MORIN | SEPTEMBER 04, 2013 5:00 AM

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Despite proposed changes by one city official, the Iowa City City Council has continued to move forward with a proposal that drastically changes loitering policies to the city’s core.

By a 5-2 vote Tuesday evening, the Council approved the second consideration for a new ordinance that will put strict limitations on several activities becoming more common downtown. Councilors Susan Mims and Jim Throgmorton cast the dissenting votes.

“I commend the people who have spent a lot of time and effort trying to come up with a plan or an ordinance that would address these issues,” Mims said. “I think with potential revisions that Jim has offered tonight, I’m not comfortable moving forward with this.”

Specifically, the new ordinance prohibits the storage of personal property downtown, the use of public electrical outlets, soliciting at parking meters and Pedestrian Mall entrances, and lying on planters and benches from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Throgmorton proposed to add four new clauses, which he said would bring other values to the ordinance. The council voted 5-2 to exclude the new clauses in the ordinance.

The new clauses would have allowed the city to recognize problems associated with homelessness and transience, such as mental illness, drug addiction, and alcoholism. The councilors voting against the clauses say they are issues not in their power to solve.

The clauses also would have committed the city to treating all people with respect and recognizing public spaces allow for the interaction of people with different morals and standards of proper dress and behavior. 

Throgmorton also proposed an emphasis on voluntary compliance to the new ordinance and an amendment of paragraph 6E.

Under paragraph 6E as it currently reads, unattended personal property may be seized if the owner is not within 20 feet of the property, excluding people who are accompanying children using the playground equipment or to a bicycle parked in a bike rack.

Throgmorton’s proposal would add a new paragraph that would prohibit that law to go into effect until the city or an authorized entity provide one or more alternative locations for the temporary storage of personal possessions.

“I think it’s simply wrong to say to the cluster of street people down there ‘you may not bring your possessions down there,’ ” he said.

If the ordinance were to be adopted, Iowa City police Officer David Schwindt, who has the downtown beat, launched a program that would allow some individuals caught engaging in the prohibited activities to participate in community service to work off a fine.

The program is to begin Thursday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and will continue every Thursday after.

Local citizens voiced concerns on the ordinance at the meeting Tuesday night.

“Restricting the public use of a public area, so no lying on benches, no plugging in electronic equipment, limiting space for personal belongings per person, and the question really on my mind is it going to work,” said Beth Ingram, an Iowa City resident who serves as an associate provost at the University of Iowa. “It feels like we’re trying to solve this problem by adding more restrictions to the public space.”

Representatives from the Downtown District also expressed their opinions on the ordinance at Tuesday’s meeting.

“One thing that I want to make sure and clarify tonight for all is that this is one tool that we can use to help establish some order downtown in the Ped Mall,” said Nancy Bird, the executive director of the Downtown District. “There are a number of downtowns across the nation that have been through this issue where it’s a very public space, we have a lot of pedestrian traffic, and it’s up to business districts like ours and cities that host these amazing spaces to make sure and keep them safe and enjoyable for all people.”

Rodney Cole, a candidate for City Council, also voiced his opinion with the ordinance.

“We use the instruments of coercion rather than listening,” he said. “The most troubling thing for me is that this council is not using a balanced approach.”


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