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Ped Mall ordinance passes final test

BY REBECCA MORIN | SEPTEMBER 18, 2013 5:00 AM

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Change is coming now that the Iowa City City Council has approved a new law that drastically changes loitering policies in the city’s core.

By a 6-1 vote Tuesday evening, the council passed and adopted the new ordinance that will put strict limitations on several activities that are common downtown. City Councilor Jim Throgmorton cast the dissenting vote.

“I’m not against homelessness, they don’t frighten me, and I’m not against poverty, they don’t frighten me, either,” City Councilor Connie Champion said. “What frightens me is the behavior of some people.”

A new ordinance was also passed and adopted with a 6-1 vote that authorizes city officials to seize unattended personal property located on the right of way. Throgmorton cast the dissenting vote.

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

Representatives from the Downtown District supported the passage of the new law.

“The ordinance proposal that has come to play has really raised the local attention on the need to help address homelessness in the community,” said Nancy Bird, the executive director of the Downtown District. “We are not trying to establish an approach to homelessness, what we’re trying to do is provide a tool to law enforcement and our community policeman strategy.”

In another attempt to revise the initial proposal, Throgmorton proposed to add four new clauses; however, he opted to revoke his proposals.

The new clauses would have allowed the city to recognize problems associated with homelessness, such as mental illness, drug addiction, and alcoholism. Throgmorton noted that the problems are not unique to Iowa City and are not within the powers of the city to solve.

In addition, 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 brought forth two motions to the council. The first motion that would have instructed staff to not enforce the personal-possession provisions of the ordinance until a there was a location for safe and secure temporary storage for personal possessions. It was turned down with a 6-1 vote.

The second motion that would have directed the staff of Johnson County Local Homeless Coordinating Board to assist in developing the details of how Housing First and the Frequent User Service Enhancement model can be applied to the problem of homelessness and associated ills was also turned down to be discussed at a work session on a 6-1 vote. Throgmorton voted to discuss the motion at a work session.

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

One local church voiced its concerns and suggested alternatives issues that should be addressed rather than the ordinance at the meeting.

“I as a member of Trinity board, says Trinity does stand to work with City Council, with the Downtown District, with agencies working with homeless to find not just a temporary fix,” said Phil Kemp, a member of Trinity Episcopal Church.


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