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Mason reaffirms support for 21-Only ordinance

BY GRETA MEYLE | SEPTEMBER 25, 2013 5:00 AM

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With a Nov. 5 election quickly approaching, the fate of the persistently debated and controversial 21-ordinance has created a divide among local businesses, students, and government communities.
But following its 2010 passage, University of Iowa President Sally Mason said she has seen nothing but positives arise.

“I’ve always been in support of the 21-ordinance, and I’ve seen the difference that it makes when it’s been in place versus when it wasn’t in place,” Mason told The Daily Iowan on Tuesday. “The downtown in particular in the bar scene was not a healthy environment for our students.”

Citing overall benefits on the downtown scope and community, the Partnership for Alcohol Safety recently voiced its support for the ordinance’s continuation.

Kelly Bender, the Partnership’s harm-reduction-initiatives coordinator, said she agrees with Mason’s ideas and would hate to lose the progress Iowa City has made since the ordinance’s birth.

“We can also listen to business owners downtown and police officers who say they’ve noticed a definite calming effect since the 21-ordinance passed in 2010,” Bender said.

Bender said the main opposition to the ordinance was stirred by financial motives. Articulated by a minority of bars that have been unable to alter their business strategies to thrive under the ordinance, she said the motivation behind ordinance disapproval has remained mainly for economical reasons. As for students, Bender believes there is a divide in support.

“When we talk with older students they are satisfied with the way things are,” Bender said.  “They are not interested in making this an underage drinking destination. Certainly not all of our students are interested in drinking in a high-risk way, but I don’t think it’s too difficult to convince some new students that that sounds like fun.”

While Bender said she believes most seniors are not interested in changing the ordinance, one source is striving to prove otherwise.

Young Americans for Liberty President and UI senior Joseph Gallagher expressed strong concerns about Iowa City under the 21-ordinance. Students, he said, are in more danger now going to house parties, and he opposed Mason’s comments.

“I think the 21-ordinance has destroyed the economy of Iowa City and the safety of students,” Gallagher said. “This has only created a division between police and authority and students and that is going to continue if we do not stop this. We want to make a better, safer, and wealthier Iowa City for students and community members.”

Young Americans for Liberty is hosting a “Restore Iowa City” meeting in 30 Schaeffer Hall at 8:30 p.m. today to gather support for voting yes to repealing the ordinance. 

In May, Union Bar owner George Wittgraf and Martinis manager Josh Erceg filed paperwork to repeal the ordinance. Wittgraf said that changes in the downtown landscape, larger police presence, and a smarter populace of underage drinkers has led to greater concentration on downtown bars.

“Basically, just talking with students, this is something they want more than anything, and I think they should have it,” he told the DI in May. “They should be allowed to stay all night. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to leave at 10.”

Wittgraf and Erceg declined to comment Tuesday evening.

According to a spring 2013 report from the American College Health Assessment, alcohol use at the UI has decreased significantly since 2009, now reportedly at the lowest level in more than 20 years of data collection.

But those numbers don’t tell the complete story.

The grand total of alcohol-related incidents on campus, both criminal and noncriminal, have increased from 1,046 in 2009 to 1,719 in 2012, a recent statistical report by UI police indicated.

But in light of furthering criticism, Mason maintained that the overall downtown environment has ultimately benefited from the ordinance.

“It really was unfortunate that Iowa City became very attractive to lots of outsiders on weekends who came here knowing that they could prey on our students,” she said. “And I don’t think that’s good — for any reason. We pride ourselves on providing a quality education and a high quality of life for our students. That was not good or high quality life for our students. … So I think getting away from that, staying away from that, and not having a repeat of that is in everybody’s best interest.”


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