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Officials say repeal of 21-ordinance would have varying effects

BY JULIA DAVIS | NOVEMBER 01, 2013 5:00 AM

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Since its controversial passage in 2010, the debate about the 21-ordinance has been continuous, and it has only intensified in recent weeks leading up to the Nov. 5 election — when people will vote to repeal or uphold the measure barring anyone under 21 from being in bars after 10 p.m.

Many leaders in the community remain convinced the ordinance will not be repealed come Election Day, and they stand by the point that it has positively affected Iowa City in many ways.

“There’s not a silver bullet to eliminating the harm that’s related to excessive consumption of alcohol,” Partnership for Alcohol Safety Member Susan Assouline said. “There are many different things that need to happen, but reducing the opportunity to have alcohol is one of those things, and the 21-ordinance contributes to making it less available.”

However, if enough voters vote “Yes” to repeal the ordinance, the opinions from Iowa City leaders of how downtown would be affected tend to vary.

Although he supports the 21-ordinance, developer Marc Moen, owner of the Moen Group, believes there is an inaccuracy in the degree to which many officials are saying the city would deteriorate if the ordinance were repealed.

“I don’t know what it would do to the city if the ordinance were repealed,” he said. “I don’t think it is going to be a ‘the sky is falling’ scenario. I don’t buy into that. We will be fine either way.”

Many opponents of the ordinance cite the crime statistics as an obvious indicator that the ordinance has been successful thus far.

“You can imagine that things would go back to something similar to what they were before the ordinance, and if that happened we would see more fights, more assaults, more sexual assaults, more intoxicated pedestrians, and more OWIs,” said Tom Rocklin, the University of Iowa vice president for Student Life.

One factor in the number of assaults police handle has to do with the time students leave the bars.

“If 21-ordinance were taken away, we would see students at the bars until closing time, and then we would have everyone leave the bars and there would be a huge ‘bar rush,’ as we call it, which is just a crowd of people on the Ped Mall,” Iowa City police Sgt. Vicki Lalla said. “[These bar rushes] often lead to assaults.”

City Councilor Susan Mims also expressed concern about the number of assaults going up in the event the ordinance gets struck down.

“I think we would see more people underage downtown drinking late at night,” she said. “I would hope we wouldn’t go back to the fights and assaults that we had before, but I think the only way to assure that is to hold up the ordinance.”

Taking a different stance, one downtown bar owner believes the ordinance has been detrimental to venues and is not worth keeping in place.

“When I talk to students, they tell me they are still drinking  — just in dorms and at house parties,” Union Bar owner George Wittgraf said. “If [the 21-ordinance] were repealed, the only effect would be people coming out later. All those underage kids would come in around 10 instead of 7, like they are doing now.”

Moen said the support of underage people in bars causes a divide in the city between government and the Iowa City downtown businesses.

“In the past, there was also a fair amount of tension between the city and bars, which I think we would start to see again if the ordinance were to be repealed,” he said.

Since the ordinance has been put into effect in Iowa City, the improvements to downtown have been obvious, he said.

“I think before the ordinance, the scales had just gotten out of balance, so drinking was just sort of the main event, and I think now that people are finding alternatives,” Moen said. “If [the ordinance] is repealed, I think that the progress that’s been made is going to be at risk, but we will have to wait until next week to see if that happens.”


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