Iowa City Approves First Reading of New Ped Mall Regulations
By Gregg Hennigan, Reporter
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Saying bad behavior downtown has gone too far, the City Council Tuesday night voted in favor of tougher regulations in downtown Iowa City.
Some community members, however, said the proposals seemed to target the homeless and objected to restrictions on the use of public space.
“You might as well make a law that it’s illegal to have water in your basement,” said Caroline Dieterle of Iowa City. “It’s going to happen.”
The ordinance would restrict panhandling, the storage of personal items and where people can lounge downtown. The City Council voted 6-1 on the first of three readings needed to adopt the ordinance.
The action follows what city and downtown business officials say is a growing number of complaints about aggressive panhandling, fighting, vulgar language and loitering on the Pedestrian Mall.
Supporters of the ordinance say the problems are especially acute on the north end of the Ped Mall by Washington and Dubuque streets. That’s where people who are homeless or appear impoverished tend to congregate.
“I’m on the Ped Mall a lot, and I have never been uncomfortable like you are now,” said council member and downtown business owner Connie Champion, citing aggressive panhandling and sexual activity.
The ordinance would ban:
* Being in and lying on planters and sitting on those not designed for that purpose.
* Lying on a bench between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m.
* The storage of personal items in public spaces and large shopping carts, with some exceptions.
* The use of public electrical outlets.
* Soliciting money on sidewalks where parking meters are present. Panhandling also would be banned at the three public entrances to the Ped Mall at Linn, Clinton and Dubuque streets.
Jim Throgmorton, who cast the dissenting vote, said he thought many of the current problems were the result of space being restricted by the construction of a 14-story building on the Ped Mall. The project has taken over a small park near where the people accused of causing problems congregate.
Just before 7 p.m. Tuesday, there were about two dozen people in that section of the Ped Mall. They were mostly talking, but one person was sleeping on a bench, and another had a laundry basket and a large bag full of items.
At the council meeting, about a dozen people spoke on the issue, with their opinions mixed. The council did not get to the item until nearly 10:30 p.m. and voted shortly before midnight.
Crissy Canganelli, executive director of Shelter House, agreed there’s been a change downtown. But she said an ordinance will not be a long-term fix. Instead, she said, the community should realign its services to help homeless people who refuse help.
A violation of the ordinance would be a simple misdemeanor punishable by a $65 fine, but city staffers say that warnings would be used and that community service would be offered in some instances in lieu of a fine.
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