Up until now, I have tried to keep my "street cred" on the down low in blogging as Gark. But, many readers know that I am Garry Klein and I ran (unsuccessfully) for City Council in Iowa City in 2005. So the following can be taken in the spirit it is offered.
When I ran for city council, the "21 Ordinance" was looming large on the horizon. At that time, I thought that passing an ordinance from the council would have significant consequences (mostly negative because there was no discussion of what other tools were needed, past the ordinance, to make it workable). Certainly alcohol abuse is a significant issue in our community--the results of binge drinking in terms of risk to self (and others--DUI, rape, assaults, etc.) can't be ignored.
In this go round because it is a referendum item, the council candidates are quietly betting on or against it passing and publicly discussing what will be needed if it does. For instance, with a designated "redlight district," you can mass police patrols to enforce law, but what happens when you spread underage drinking out into the neighborhoods? It means you will need more public safety officers. Certainly the police chief is pushing that point with a request for 40 additional officers.
The Catch 22 is that bars equal tax base and Iowa City government doesn't want to detract from its tax base. I'm sure if bowling alleys did as well as bars, downtown would be covered in bowling alleys.
This kind of conflict of values is not new, but the balance between the welfare of the public's health and the welfare of the city's tax base is the dance that voters will participate in and ultimately decide on.
There is a lot of information available, both from the "for 21" side and the "no to 21" sides, but what is true will be harder to decipher. If you want to start educating yourself, here are two places to begin:
The nature of referendums is that they are better for yes or no questions. The 21 referendum will simply answer the question "should people under the age of 21 be allowed in bars after 10 pm?" It will not deal with the problem of underage or binge drinking (at any age).
This is a larger issue. In a culture that embraces alcohol as socially okay, unless we are willing to devise a community strategy with a lot more tools than kicking people under 21 to the curb at 10:00 pm and a keg registration law, we may have the experience that Ames had with VIESHA, UNI had in the past (and they actually had and repealed the 21 there), or East Lansing did a year or so ago.
To all the candidates that have entered the fray, it is my sincere hope that you have thought carefully about what your solutions to this issue are and can articulate them well. It is further my hope that you listen to both sides of this issue very carefully. This is a wedge issue for this campaign and it may be all anyone will want to know about you.
I believe, and voiced this in 2005, we need a community solution for a community problem. City Council would better be used to form a community task group to look into a holistic solution to alcohol abuse than to create a piecemeal approach via referendum.
However, because City Council has vacated its responsibility to do this up to now, if the referendum passes, a standing commission should be formed to deal with the consequences, both intended and unintended.