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Community reacts to new Ped Mall ordinance

BY ABIGAIL MEIER | SEPTEMBER 23, 2013 5:00 AM

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Darcy Norem came to Iowa City in 2010 to look for work in construction but was unable to find a job. Without a job or source of income, Norem said, he was forced onto the streets and lost his leg due to frostbite in winter. He used the Pedestrian Mall as a safe place to gather with his friends, but now he faces new living restrictions.

“I have nothing, no home,” Norem said. “When a person doesn’t have a place to go, where else are we supposed to go?”

Following the recent passing of a new ordinance that will restrict certain behavior downtown, community members have expressed conflicting opinions about its approaching implementation.

On Sept. 17, the Iowa City City Council passed the ordinance on a 6-1 vote, with Jim Throgmorton having the dissenting vote.

The ordinance specifically prohibits the storage of personal property downtown, the use of public electrical outlets for personal property, soliciting at parking meters and Pedestrian Mall entrances, lying on planters, and lying on benches from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. It will go into effect on Thursday.

“Ordinances like these will have a learning curve,” said Iowa City police Officer David Schwindt. “My goal is to enforce and educate without pushing people out of the area.”

Schwindt plans on working with people to make sure the public understands the new loitering policies before issuing citations.  He plans to enforce the law by passing out informational fliers with a map of areas affected by the new law in the hopes it will reduce the number of violations.

“Voluntary compliance is always our goal,” said Geoff Fruin, the assistant to the city manager. “It is our hope that we will not have to write any citations related to the new regulations.”

Before a citation is issued, a oral warning is required by the ordinance. Fruin said he hopes this new ordinance will work in tandem with other ongoing efforts to make the downtown a more inviting and welcoming space for all people to enjoy.

Throgmorton said he anticipates problems will arise from this new ordinance.

“The ordinance is unlikely to improve the situation and might make it worse,” he said. “It may even shift the problem somewhere else.”

He said the only good thing about the new ordinance is that it turns the public’s attention to the deeper issue of homelessness in the city.

“The best thing that came out of the debate is that we have an opportunity to create a better community wide response to the underlined problem,” he said.

The Daily Iowan previously reported that City Councilor Connie Champion said she had concerns related to safe behavior in the downtown area.

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

Norem said the city should try to provide more for the homeless community in Iowa City instead of pushing them away. The Nevada, Iowa, native said he does not plan to seek out legal help, but if given the chance, he would be willing to sign a petition.

University of Iowa junior Nicholas Eastburn said he, too, hopes the city will address the larger issues.

“I think the city is finally realizing we have a homeless problem and that we need to do something about it,” he said.

Saf Ibrik, the owner of Aspen Leaf, 125 S. Dubuque St., he said the city’s decision will make the area a safer place to be.

“Whatever the city and the community tries to do to help the safety of everyone that walks through the area, we are all for it,” Ibrik said.

Schwindt said the goal of the ordinance is to not push anyone out of the area or discourage anyone from coming. He hopes to enforce the idea of creating an environment that is safe and everyone can enjoy.

“This is not the city’s attack to homeless in downtown,” Schwindt said. “There is nothing preventing the people from downtown from being there, and I want to make sure everyone feels welcome.”


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